Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

22/12/2016

An article from Foreign Affairs discusses populism and its relationship to facism, “right-wing movements have mounted increasingly strong challenges to political establishments across Europe and North America, many commentators have drawn parallels to the rise of fascism during the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, a French court ruled that opponents of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, had the right to call her a “fascist”—a right they have frequently exercised. This May, after Norbert Hofer, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, nearly won that country’s presidential election, The Guardian asked, “How can so many Austrians flirt with this barely disguised fascism?” And in an article that same month about the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican U.S. presidential candidate, the conservative columnist Robert Kagan warned, “This is how fascism comes to America.” “Fascist” has served as a generic term of political abuse for many decades, but for the first time in ages, mainstream observers are using it seriously to describe major politicians and parties.

Fascism is associated most closely with Europe between the world wars, when movements bearing this name took power in Italy and Germany and wreaked havoc in many other European countries. Although fascists differed from country to country, they shared a virulent opposition to democracy and liberalism, as well as a deep suspicion of capitalism. They also believed that the nation—often defined in religious or racial terms—represented the most important source of identity for all true citizens. And so they promised a revolution that would replace liberal democracy with a new type of political order devoted to nurturing a unified and purified nation under the guidance of a powerful leader.

Although today’s right-wing populists share some similarities with the interwar fascists, the differences are more significant. And more important, what today’s comparisons often fail to explain is how noxious politicians and parties grow into the type of revolutionary movements capable of fundamentally threatening democracy, as interwar fascism did. In order to understand this process, it is not nearly enough to examine the programs and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, the personalities of their politicians, or the inclinations of their supporters. Instead, one must carefully consider the broader political context. What turned fascists from marginal extremists into rulers of much of Europe was the failure of democratic elites and institutions to deal with the crises facing their societies during the interwar years. Despite real problems, the West today is confronting nowhere near the same type of breakdown it did in the 1930s. So calling Le Pen, Trump, and other right-wing populists “fascists” obscures more than it clarifies.

Like many of today’s right-wing movements, fascism originated during a period of intense globalization. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, capitalism dramatically reshaped Western societies, destroying traditional communities, professions, and cultural norms. This was also a time of immense immigration. Peasants from rural areas, which had been decimated by new agricultural technologies and the inflow of cheap agricultural products, flocked to cities, and the citizens of poorer countries flocked to richer ones in search of better lives.

Then, as now, these changes frightened and angered many people, creating fertile ground for new politicians who claimed to have the answers. Prominent among these politicians were right-wing nationalists, who vowed to protect citizens from the pernicious influence of foreigners and markets. Fascist movements arose in almost all Western countries, from Argentina to Austria and from France to Finland. Fascists became disruptive forces in some countries and influenced policymaking in others, but they did not fundamentally challenge existing political orders before 1914. Their policies and appeal alone, in other words, did not make them truly dangerous or revolutionary. It would take World War I to do that.

That conflict killed, maimed, and traumatized millions of Europeans, and it physically and economically devastated much of the continent. “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime,” British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey remarked at the beginning of the war. And indeed, by the time the war was over, an entire way of life had vanished.

The year 1918 brought an end to the war, but not to the suffering. Europe’s continental empires—Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian—­collapsed during or after the conflict, creating a variety of new states that lacked any experience with democracy and featured mixed populations that had little interest in living together. Meanwhile, in many of Europe’s older states, such as Germany and Spain, old regimes also collapsed, making way for democratic transitions. But like the new states, most of these countries also lacked experience with popular rule—and thus the habits, norms, and institutions necessary for making it work.

To make matters worse, the end of the war, rather than ushering in a period of peace and reconstruction, brought with it an unending stream of social and economic problems. New democracies struggled to reintegrate millions of soldiers back into society and reconstruct economies that had been distorted and disrupted by the fighting. Austria and Germany had to respond to the humiliation of a lost war and a punitive peace, and both were hit with hyperinflation. Across the continent, lawlessness and violence quickly became endemic as democratic governments lost control of the streets and parts of their territories. Italy suffered through almost two years of factory occupations, peasant land seizures, and armed conflicts between left- and right-wing militias. In Germany, the Weimar Republic faced violent left- and right-wing uprisings, forcing the government to send in troops to recapture cities and regions.

Despite these and other problems, fascists at first remained marginal forces. In Italy, they received almost no votes in the country’s first postwar election. And in Germany, Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch flopped, ending with him and many of his coconspirators in jail. But as time passed, problems persisted. European economies had trouble getting back on their feet, and street brawls, assassinations, and other forms of social disorder continued to plague many European countries. By the late 1920s, in short, many Europeans’ faith in democracy had been badly shaken.

DEMOCRACIES IN CRISIS

Then came the Great Depression. What proved so catastrophic about that event was not the economic suffering it caused—although that was bad enough—but the failure of democratic institutions to respond to it. To understand the difference, compare the fates of Germany and the United States. These two countries were hit the hardest by the Depression, experiencing the highest levels of unemployment, rates of business collapse, and drops in production. But in Germany, the Weimar Republic then fell to the Nazi onslaught, whereas in the United States, democracy survived—despite the appearance of some pseudo-fascist leaders such as the Louisiana politician Huey Long and the radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin. Why the different outcomes?

The answer lies in the two governments’ divergent responses to the economic crisis. German leaders did little to ease their society’s suffering; in fact, they pursued policies of austerity, which exacerbated the economic downturn in general and the horrifically high rates of unemployment in particular. Strikingly, even the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, sat meekly by, offering little in the way of an attractive alternative program. In the United States, meanwhile, democratic institutions and norms were longer lived and therefore more robust. But also critical to staving off fascism was President Franklin Roosevelt’s insistence that the government could and would help its citizens, by laying the foundations of the modern welfare state.

Unfortunately for Europe, too many governments there proved unable or unwilling to respond as actively, and most mainstream political parties offered little in the way of viable alternative plans. By the early 1930s, liberal parties had been discredited across much of the continent; their faith in markets, unwillingness to respond forcefully to capitalism’s downsides, and hostility to nationalism struck voters as completely out of synch with interwar realities. With the exception of Scandinavia’s, meanwhile, most socialist parties were also flummoxed, telling citizens that their lives would improve only once capitalism had fully collapsed—and that they could do little to help them in the interim. (Socialists were also indifferent or hostile to concerns about national identity and the evisceration of traditional norms—another politically unwise stance during a period of immense social upheaval.) Communists did at least put forth a compelling alternative to the status quo, but their appeal was limited by an almost exclusive focus on the working class and their hostility to nationalism.

And so in all too many European countries, it was the fascists who were able to take advantage of the declining faith in democracy that accompanied the Depression. Fascists offered both a strong critique of the reigning order and a powerful alternative to it. They criticized democracy as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak and promised to replace it altogether. The new system would use the state to protect citizens from capitalism’s most destructive effects by creating jobs, expanding the welfare state (for “true” citizens only, of course), eliminating supposedly exploitative capitalists (often Jews), and funneling resources instead to businesses that were deemed to serve the national interest. Fascists promised to end the divisions and conflicts that had weakened their nations—often, of course, by ridding them of those viewed as not truly part of them. And they pledged to restore a sense of pride and purpose to societies that had for too long felt battered by forces outside their control. These positions enabled fascism in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere to attract an extremely diverse constituency that cut across classes. Although fascist parties received disproportionately high support from men, the lower-middle class, and former soldiers, they enjoyed a broader base of support than any other type of party in interwar Europe.

Despite all these advantages, the fascists still lacked the strength to take power on their own; they also needed the connivance of traditional conservatives. These conservatives—who sought to preserve the power of the traditional elite and destroy that of the people—lacked mass constituencies of their own and believed they could use the fascists’ popularity to achieve their long-term goals. So they worked behind the scenes to maneuver Mussolini and Hitler into office, believing that they could later manipulate or get rid of these men. Little did they know that the fascists were playing the same game. Soon after being appointed chancellor, in 1933, Hitler did away with his erstwhile conservative allies, whom he correctly viewed as a hindrance to his long-planned revolutionary project. Mussolini, who had been appointed prime minister in 1922, took a little longer to completely secure his position—but he, too, eventually pushed aside (or simply killed) many of the traditional conservatives who had helped make him Il Duce in the first place.

LESSONS FOR TODAY

So what does all of this say about Le Pen, Trump, and today’s other right-wing extremists? They certainly share some similarities with the interwar fascists. Like their predecessors, today’s right-wing extremists denounce incumbent democratic leaders as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak. They promise to nurture their nation, protect it from its enemies, and restore a sense of purpose to people who feel battered by forces outside their control. And they pledge to stand up for “the people,” who are often defined in religious or racial terms.

But if the similarities are striking, the differences are even more so. Most obvious, today’s extremists claim they want not to bury democracy but to improve it. They critique the functioning of contemporary democracy but offer no alternative to it, just vague promises to make government stronger, more efficient, and more responsive.

Current right-wing extremists are thus better characterized as populist rather than fascist, since they claim to speak for everyday men and women against corrupt, debased, and out-of-touch elites and institutions. In other words, they are certainly antiliberal, but they are not antidemocratic. This distinction is not trivial. If today’s populists come to power—even the right-wing nationalists among them—the continued existence of democracy will permit their societies to opt for a do-over by later voting them out. Indeed, this may be democracy’s greatest strength: it allows countries to recover from their mistakes.

But the more important difference between today’s right-wing extremists and yesterday’s fascists is the larger context. As great as contemporary problems are, and as angry as many citizens may be, the West is simply not facing anything approaching the upheaval of the interwar period. “The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would be always in revolt,” Leon Trotsky once wrote, and the same logic applies to the appearance of fascism. In the United States and western Europe, at least, democracy and democratic norms have deep roots, and contemporary governments have proved nowhere near as inept as their predecessors in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, democratic procedures and institutions, welfare states, political parties, and robust civil societies continue to provide citizens with myriad ways of voicing their concerns, influencing political outcomes, and getting their needs met.

For these reasons, the right-wing extremists in the United States and western Europe today have much more limited options and opportunities than their interwar counterparts did. (On the other hand, in eastern and southern Europe, where democratic norms and institutions are younger and weaker, movements have emerged that resemble traditional fascism much more closely, including Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.) As the scholar Theda Skocpol has stressed, revolutionary movements don’t create crises; they exploit them. In other words, true revolutionary threats to democracy emerge when democracies themselves create crises ready to be exploited by failing to deal with the challenges they face.

Things can change, of course, and the lack of true fascist movements in the United States and western Europe today is no excuse for complacency. But what the interwar period illustrates is that the West should worry more about the problems afflicting democracy than about right-wing populists themselves. The best way to ensure that the Le Pens and Trumps of the world go down in history as also-rans rather than as real threats is to make democratic institutions, parties, and politicians more responsive to the needs of all citizens. In the United States, for example, rising inequality, stagnating wages, deteriorating communities, congressional gridlock, and the flow of big money to campaigns have played a bigger role in fueling support for Trump than his purported charisma or the supposed authoritarian leanings of his supporters. Tackling those problems would no doubt help prevent the rise of the next Trump.

History also shows that conservatives should be particularly wary of embracing right-wing populists. Mainstream Republicans who make bogus claims about voter fraud, rigged elections, and the questionable patriotism and nationality of President Barack Obama in order to appeal to the extremist fringes are playing an extremely dangerous game, since such rhetoric fans citizens’ fear and distrust of their politicians and institutions, thus undermining their faith in democracy itself. And just like their interwar counter­parts, these conservatives are also likely enhancing the appeal of politicians who have little loyalty to the conservatives’ own policies, constituencies, or institutions.

Right-wing populism—indeed, populism of any kind—is a symptom of democracy in trouble; fascism and other revolutionary movements are the consequence of democracy in crisis. But if governments do not do more to address the many social and economic problems the United States and Europe currently face, if mainstream politicians and parties don’t do a better job reaching out to all citizens, and if conservatives continue to fan fear and turn a blind eye to extremism, then the West could quickly find itself moving from the former to the latter.

 

 

Putin’s man in the White House

16/12/2016
The piece notes “The Russian president and his country had played an outsized role in the U.S. election cycle, with Trump’s unwavering praise for Putin’s strong style of rule and the role of Russian hacker groups taking centre stage. In Russia, the American vote had also become a centerpiece of broadcasts by state media, which often recited Trump talking points about the election outcome being rigged and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s intention to start a war with Moscow. The Kremlin appeared to shed its anxieties over a Clinton presidency as the Russian parliament burst into applause as news of Trump’s victory speech was relayed to lawmakers. But for Putin, the outcome of the U.S. election is about more than executing Moscow’s strategy of breeding chaos during the presidential election and discrediting America’s political system. Russia’s intervention in Syria, coming on the heels of a deeper crisis triggered by the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine, put U.S. cooperation with Moscow on the table for U.S. and European policymakers but had few takers in the West. Now after more than two years of biting economic sanctions and international isolation, Putin has a way to restore Russia’s global status and reopen ties with the West — and its name is Donald Trump”.

The author argues “Those in the Kremlin do not “want to own Syria or Ukraine. They want their interests to be taken into account,” Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates and the former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council from 2004 to 2007, told Foreign Policy. “In a strange way, that entails working with the United States, albeit on terms more favorable to Russia.” And Putin may be able to reach those terms with Trump after he assumes office on Jan. 20, 2017. Throughout the election cycle, Trump made improved cooperation with Moscow a tenet of his campaign and a consistent policy position. The Republican president-elect touted that he will “get along very well” with Putin and showered praise on the Russian leader, calling him a “better leader than Obama.” Other campaign comments indicate that his administration would be willing to roll back Washington’s current support for Ukraine, anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria, and even NATO members — which Trump has criticized for failing to pay their fair share of the costs for their security in Europe. These changes, according to Trump, would be justified by the possibility of enlisting Moscow’s support in the wider fight against the Islamic State and radical Islamic terrorism around the world”.

The writer contends that “In contrast, Hillary Clinton and the prospect of her presidency has been a point of contention in Russia since her term as secretary of state that began 2009 and ended in 2013 with frayed ties between Moscow and Washington. On the campaign trail, the Democratic candidate branded Putin a bully on the international stage and Trump as his puppet. In response, Russia’s state news outlets routinely portrayed Clinton as old, corrupt, and a danger to Moscow and the world. In the lead-up to the U.S. general election, relations between Russia and the United States have hit an all-time low in the 25 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union with the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, Putin has flexed Russia’s power in new and often unpredictable ways: tearing up nuclear agreements, deploying new nuclear-capable missiles to the exclave of Kaliningrad, and buzzing NATO planes and ships with Russian aircraft. And although the Kremlin is certainly encouraged by the prospect of a grand bargain between the United States and Russia, Moscow is still apprehensive about the real estate mogul taking the helm. Because though extending the olive branch to a Trump White House might improve relations with Washington, the Kremlin is aware of the growing anti-Russian sentiment among U.S. policymakers”.

Crucially he argues “It is hardly clear exactly how Trump will make it easier for Putin to advance his goals abroad, but Moscow is certain to capitalise on the turmoil that the unconventional Republican’s victory will sow in world capitals. “It’s better for Russia if the USA is in domestic political crisis, and a Trump victory would underscore exactly such a crisis,” Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told FP. In a search for cracks in the Western facade to exploit, Moscow is likely to try to use confusion over Trump’s victory to breed disunity on U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia. Both Brussels and Washington have renewed sanctions into 2017, but fatigue in Brussels is growing, and it is not assured that the European Union will maintain the economic measures without pressure from Washington. Should the EU sanctions fail to be renewed in January, it would be a massive victory for Putin — ending Russia’s isolation with the West and earning international recognition that the Kremlin has restored Moscow’s global influence lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union”.

He ends “In considering how to rebuild ties with a Trump administration and still balance its strategic interests in the Middle East and Europe, Herbst believes that the Russian president should be wary of “giving the president-elect reason to reconsider the views that he has expressed on NATO and Ukraine.” Moscow still controls the levers to ramp up the bombardment of Aleppo or spark new fighting in eastern Ukraine that could create a headache for President Barack Obama during his final weeks in office. Even now that Trump is slated to transition to the White House, the Kremlin still needs to be prudent about provoking Washington too far”.

 

“How Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen”

12/12/2016

A piece notes how Catholics in France are backing the presidential contender, “François Fillon will carry the standard for Les Républicains in France’s presidential election next spring. Competitors and commentators — indeed, many voters — were surprised by this outcome. Surprised because Fillon had long trailed in the polls; surprised because Fillon, a former prime minister, was long dismissed as the “eternal No. 2”; surprised because Fillon has promised, if elected, to starve the beast that the French fondly call l’état providence — the welfare state — a move that in France has not typically been a winning campaign strategy. But surprised, too, because, as the rest of the country is now discovering, Fillon is Catholic. Very Catholic. So Catholic, at least to the secular left, that a headline in the newspaper Libération screamed: “Help, Jesus has returned!” Fillon has never made any secret of his beliefs. He hails from the Vendée, the western region that was the site of a long and bloody resistance to the secular values, laws, and, ultimately, soldiers of revolutionary Paris. A lieu de mémoire, or site of memory, for French Catholics, the Vendée is famed for the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Pierre de Solesmes, where Fillon goes every year on retreat”.

It mentions that “In his campaign book Faire (“To Make”), Fillon, known for his reticence, nevertheless recalls with deep emotion his Catholic schooling, explains how it has shaped his worldview, and affirms: “I was raised in this tradition, and I have kept this faith.” And, as it turns out, legions of Frenchmen and women who have not kept their faith will nonetheless turn out in droves for a politician who has. These men and women are, in the controversial term coined three years ago by the sociologists Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras, les zombies catholiques of France. In their book Le mystère français, Todd and Le Bras tried to explain why, in a country where barely five citizens in 100 attend church, the weight of Catholicism is still evident. From the millions of parents who took to the streets in the mid-1980s to protest the Socialist government’s effort to merge private (and overwhelmingly Catholic) schools with public schools to the millions who, 30 years later, took to the same streets to protest the new (but hardly different) Socialist government’s effort to legalize gay marriage, these armies of French “zombies” would have overwhelmed the likes of Brad Pitt, let alone government ministers”.

The report notes that “But this is less World War Z than the newest chapter in the guerres franco-françaises — France’s long series of civil wars fought over the legacy of the French Revolution, which pit a secularist left against a traditionalist right. Todd and Le Bras marvel over the persistence of Catholic habits and values in regions where Catholicism has more or less vanished as an institution. “The most astonishing paradox,” they note, “is the rise of social movements shaped by a religion that has disappeared as a metaphysical belief.” Unable to resist the French weakness for paradox, Todd and Le Bras conclude: “Catholicism seems to have attained a kind of life after death. But since it is a question of a this-worldly life, we will define it as ‘zombie Catholicism.’” Zombie Catholics share certain symptoms: Not only do they hail from regions where resistance was greatest to the French Revolution, but they also have taken advantage of the benefits that flowed from that seismic event. Highly educated and meritocratic, they also privilege a traditional ordering of professional and domestic duties between husbands and wives; strong attachment to social, community, and family activities; and a general wariness over the role of the state in private and community affairs, including “free schools” (Catholic private schools)”.

Crucially the writer notes how “Fillon can check all of these boxes. His economic liberalism, in particular, has led critics to label him a French Margaret Thatcher. But Fillon’s genius was his recognition that France’s zombie Catholicism isn’t just a cultural identity but also a latent political one. Indeed, the zombies came out to vote for him in greater numbers than anyone had anticipated: In the second round of the primary, more than 4.3 million individuals went to the polls. For a party that had never before chosen a presidential candidate by primary, this was a stunning success. (It is important to note that the primary was partly open: Anyone who paid 2 euros and declared they held to right-wing or centrist values was allowed to cast a vote. Although estimates vary of the percentage of those from the left and center who voted, pollsters attribute the second swell of voters to those mobilized by Fillon’s candidacy.) Equally stunning is how the electoral map dovetails with the sociological map traced by Todd and Le Bras. For example, the Vendée and Brittany, the western regions that formed Fillon, are among what the authors call the most “anthropologically hardened” zombie Catholic enclaves — places where the church has vanished but its practices and values persist. Voters from these parts of France also rallied in greater numbers than elsewhere to Fillon, while in those regions identified by Todd and Le Bras as “anthropologically hardened” liberal enclaves — especially in the south, much of Paris (and the former “red belt” that surrounds it), and other large cities — voter turnout was significantly smaller. According to Jérôme Fourquet, the director of opinion and business strategies for French pollster IFOP, the takeaway was clear: Catholic, or at least zombie Catholic, voters played a “disproportionate” role in the primary”.

It goes on to mention how “Just how Catholic Fillon will remain during his campaign remains to be seen, but all signs point to his beliefs being both sincere and deeply held. When the French political scene was upended in 2012 by the monumental clash over the legalisation of same-sex marriage, Fillon never hid his opposition. Once the legislation was passed, Fillon acknowledged that the law must be respected, but he has also repeatedly voiced his opposition to the law’s so-called “excesses,” by which he means the right of same-sex couples to either adopt or use a surrogate mother. His hostility to the law attracted the support of Sens Commun (“Common Sense”), a deeply conservative Catholic organization tied to La Manif Pour Tous (“Protest for Everyone”), the political movement that led the massive protests against the same-sex marriage law. Frigide Barjot, the former leader of La Manif Pour Tous and a controversial figure, appeared at Fillon’s headquarters Sunday night to celebrate his victory. Fillon’s personal opposition to abortion — “Given my own faith, I cannot approve of abortion,” he said in early October — has also sent ripples of concern across the political spectrum”.

The piece contends “Equally unsettling have been Fillon’s remarks on Islam. Though not as provocative as Nicolas Sarkozy, who relentlessly played the “identity card” during his campaign, Fillon has nevertheless underscored what he considers to be the unprecedented challenge Islam poses for France. He insists on France’s “Christian roots,” a statement critics denounce as an implicit warning to French Muslims that they are not chez soi in France. He has claimed that there is a “concrete problem with radical Islam,” immediately adding, afterward, that “Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists, and Sikhs do not threaten our national unity.” Not surprisingly, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France issued a warning about Fillon’s candidacy, declaring that anti-Islamic remarks made by Fillon spokeswoman Valerie Boyer — most notably, that only Muslim extremists wear headscarves — represented “a small taste of what to expect” from a Fillon presidency”.

Naturally “the centre and left, the takeaway from all this has been panic: It is as if real zombies have invaded France. Some of the headlines in French media following Fillon’s primary win were nearly as apocalyptic as those in the United States following Donald Trump’s victory. When not stammering over the large cross Boyer wore during a press conference, the co-owner of the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper, Pierre Bergé, tweeted that Fillon’s supporters were no better than the Pétainists of Vichy France. As for Le Monde itself, an editorialist observed, simply, that Fillon’s victory revealed “the emergence of a Catholic and patrimonial right.” And yet, given the lamentable state of the Socialists, bled white by infighting and tied to the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic, Fillon seems likely to be the only thing standing between France and a National Front presidency in next spring’s election. The question now is whether he will be able to convince voters from the center and left to overcome their worries about his religion and his austere economic plans”.

It ends “It’s also an open question whether French Catholics — zombie and non-zombie alike — will maintain their own resistance to the National Front’s anti-Europe, anti-Muslim, and anti-liberal siren call. Fillon does seem to have harnessed what the religion specialist Henri Tincq calls “identity Catholicism.” Those Frenchmen and women, he said, “uneasy with a modernity that has largely erased Christian values from issues like education, family, work, and sexuality,” and increasingly ill at ease with transnational institutions like the EU and the transnational flow of peoples — especially when they are Muslim and hail from the Middle East — have increasingly been retreating to the ostensible safety of traditionally national institutions like the Catholic Church. Fillon is now offering them what seems to be a compelling political alternative to the sclerotic secularism of the left and unsavory heritage of the extreme right. But if this activation of Catholic identity already marks a shift in French politics, its ultimate significance is not yet clear. Much depends on the long-term direction taken by the newly awakened horde of zombie Catholics. Will they retreat further to the right and into the arms of the National Front? The late and great historian of French politics René Rémond always insisted that the more observant French Catholics are, the less likely they are to vote for the National Front. But this truism has, with time, frayed dramatically; moreover, it never applied to the zombies to start with. An IFOP poll taken after last year’s regional elections revealed that 32 percent of practicing Catholics voted for the National Front. Not only was this higher than the national average — 28 percent — of National Front voters, but it was also more than double the percentage of Catholic votes tallied for the party in 2014. As a headline in the Catholic magazine Pélerin announced, the “Catholic dam is collapsing.”

It concludes “The same poll revealed, however, that western France, Fillon’s homeland, continued to resist the National Front’s rise. Many Catholics, regardless of their religious practice, continue to feel repugnance in voting for a party whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, thrived on values they consider antithetical to their worldview. But it bears noting that his daughter, Marine Le Pen, continues to reinvent the National Front, also known by its French name Front National or FN. It was no accident that when Le Pen the younger recently replaced the traditional logo of the blue-white-and-red flame of the National Front with a blue rose, she also removed the very names “Le Pen” and “Front National” from the party’s graphics. Now, her public appearances are framed by “Marine” and “Au nom du peuple.” (“In the name of the people.”) As one of her advisors remarked, “Marine Le Pen is not the candidate of the FN but of all Frenchmen and women.” Fillon may have ridden a wave of the undead to victory in the primary. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Catholics — dead and undead alike — will stick by his side this spring.

“Anyone expecting Germany to fill America’s shoes will be disappointed”

08/12/2016

An excellent article in the Economist rejects the view that Germany will become the leader in liberal international globalism after Trump takes office, “To visit Berlin is to be confronted at every turn by reminders of the evils that Germans do. Memorials to the Holocaust and other wartime atrocities dot the city. In Kreuzberg, a scruffy-but-hip neighbourhood, posters and leaflets denounce milder German iniquities, from urban gentrification to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a hated trade deal between the European Union and America that the election of Donald Trump may have killed for good. Outside Germany, though, Mr Trump’s victory has left disaffected liberals gasping for German benevolence. Brexit, the refugee crisis and the rise of drawbridge-up populists across Europe had already punctured the West’s self-confidence. Now, after an election campaign in which Mr Trump trashed immigrants, vowed to rewrite trade deals and threatened to withdraw America’s security guarantee, the West’s indispensable nation appears to have dispensed with itself. Desperate for a candidate to accept the mantle of leader of the free world, some alighted on Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor”.

The writer points out that “It is easy to see why. Unflappable and patient, dedicated to the freedom she had thrust upon her as a young East German physicist in 1989, Mrs Merkel is a beacon to those who fear the flickering of the liberal flame. She likes markets, trade and good governance. Her commitment to helping refugees fleeing strife in Syria contrasts with the anti-migrant turn elsewhere in Europe. Mr Trump’s victory should extinguish any speculation that Mrs Merkel will not seek a fourth term as chancellor next year in Germany’s federal election; expect an announcement soon. Yet anyone expecting Germany to fill America’s shoes will be disappointed. Consider Mrs Merkel’s approach to crisis management, from the euro to Ukraine to refugees. Each played out differently, but Mrs Merkel’s prevarication was consistent: humming and hawing over bail-outs for indebted governments; taking Vladimir Putin at his word before realising he was a liar; reacting to the refugee surge rather than trying to prevent it. For those seeking stability, Mrs Merkel’s taste for hesitation may be a feature, not a bug, but it hardly makes for bold leadership”.

He correctly notes “Nor does German assertiveness inside Europe run smoothly. Seventy years after the second world war, protestors in Greece and Spain who resent Germany’s strict approach to fiscal stewardship still resort to Nazi tropes. The occasional attempt to form “anti-austerity” (read: anti-German) axes inside the EU elicits terror in Berlin. The world’s progressives may have loved it, but some in Berlin were uneasy at the chiding tone of Mrs Merkel’s letter of congratulation to Mr Trump, which pledged co-operation on the basis of a commitment to liberal values. “We are protected by our terrible history,” says Joschka Fischer, a former foreign minister. “You cannot say, ‘Make Germany Great Again’.” More importantly, Pax Americana has always required American bite. Germany, with a defence budget one-fifteenth that of the United States, no nuclear deterrent and an instinct for pacifism, has neither the ability nor the aspiration to act as the world’s liberal hegemon. This is a country that went through agonies over whether to arm Iraqi Kurds battling Islamic State. Inside Europe, let alone elsewhere, only France and Britain have the ability to project power, and that suits Germans fine. Put bluntly, if Mr Putin’s tanks roll into the Baltics it will not be the Bundeswehr that takes the lead in rolling them back”.

Rightly he points out that “Mrs Merkel’s ambitions are altogether smaller. First among them is to hold together the fracturing EU, via a blend of prayer and policy. Germany is pinning its hopes on France, its eternal partner inside the EU, electing a sane president next year—ideally Alain Juppé, the centre-right front-runner. Franco-German comity should help EU governments find common ground on defence co-operation, the focus of their efforts over the next few months. (Mr Trump’s questionable commitment to NATO should provide another spur.) Should the politics prove propitious, Germany may one day be open to more ambitious schemes, such as greater integration of the euro zone. But grand visions of EU institutional change, let alone a German-led reshaping of the world order, are off the menu in Berlin. The priority is stopping the rot. Meanwhile Mrs Merkel, her political capital depleted by the refugee crisis, must hold the line at home. Owing in part to the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the coalition that emerges from next year’s election will probably command a Bundestag majority far smaller than the one Mrs Merkel’s centrist grand coalition enjoys today. That will limit the chancellor’s room for manoeuvre, at home and in Europe. The political fragmentation is also disinterring old questions about Germany’s geopolitical allegiance. The Westbindung (Western integration), a staple of German foreign policy since Adenauer, is fraying as extremist parties on the left and right cosy up to Russia”.

He concludes “And what about Mr Trump? For now, Germany retains a touching faith in America’s institutions to rein in the president-elect’s worst impulses. But from his vicious campaign to the chaotic management of his transition, there is every sign that Mr Trump will prove to be another of the erratic politicians, like Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy, who have tested Mrs Merkel’s patience. Russia is a particular worry. If Mr Trump abandons Ukraine and allows America’s sanctions to wither, Mrs Merkel’s task of maintaining European unity will become almost impossible. Germany’s stake in the global liberal order is immense. Its export-led economic model relies on robust international trade; its political identity is inexorably linked to a strong EU; its westward orientation assumes a friendly and engaged America. All of these things may now be in jeopardy, and Germany would suffer more than most from their demise. But do not look to Mrs Merkel to save them, for she cannot do so alone”.

 

 

UK, leaving the single market?

01/12/2016

A news report from the Guardian notes that the UK is unlikely to stay in the single market, “Britain is unlikely to be able to remain a member of the single market, according to a document photographed in the hands of a senior Conservative official on Downing Street. A handwritten note, carried by an aide to the Tory vice-chair Mark Field after a meeting at the Department for Exiting the European Union, could be seen to say: “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.” And in a further embarrassment, it added “French likely to be most difficult.” It also suggests that a deal on manufacturing with the EU should be “relatively straightforward” but admits that services, such as in the financial or legal sectors, are harder. One idea cited in the note is a “Canada-plus” option, suggesting Britain could look to replicate the free trade deal hammered out by the EU over seven years with Ottawa. However, it suggests that the UK would be seeking “more on services” than was agreed in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (Ceta). A government spokesperson distanced Theresa May from the document, saying: “These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government’s position in relation to Brexit negotiations.” However, the fact they appeared to have been taken during a meeting with officials or even ministers – given May’s tight-lipped approach to the negotiating strategy – means that they will be pored over”.

The report adds “The woman carrying the document appears to be Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Field, who is vice-chair of the Conservative party, working on international issues and MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Field does not have a formal Brexit role but does take a keen interest on the impact that leaving the EU could have on the country’s financial services, many of which are based in his constituency, and is likely to have been speaking to senior figures about this issue. The notes also said: “Transitional – loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations.” That could suggest that ministers are not keen to enter a transitional deal after the end of the article 50 period, despite May hinting last week that this would be possible. Other comments include: “Difficult on article 50 implementation – Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first”, in reference to lead negotiator Michel Barnier. “Got to be done in parallel – 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won’t provide more detail,” it adds. “We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered Single Market.” The document appears to reflect a discussion about the prospect of a trade deal like that of Norway, which is a member of the European Economic Area”.

It points out that “That appears to refer to the drawbacks of taking on the Norwegian model, which has the country outside the EU and its customs union, but inside the single market. The reason Brexit supporters do not want to follow that idea is the requirement that Norway accepts free movement of people and is under the jurisdiction of the European court. The document was being carried out of 9 Downing Street, the Brexit department, and into No 10 Downing Street when it was photographed. It comes after reports that there is a sign on the DExEU exit doors reading: “Stop! Are your documents on show?”. It emerged on Monday that the government faces the prospect of a second legal challenge to its Brexit plans, with the group British Influence threatening a judicial review over whether leaving the EU means Britain must also automatically leave the European Economic Area and hence lose the free trading benefits of the single market”.

It concludes “She has made clear that there will have to be more controls on immigration from the EU and wants to see an end to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice – which is why many think Britain will come out of the single market. But the lack of further details from No 10 has alarmed many formerly pro-EU Labour and Tory MPs, who are increasingly cooperating in an attempt to stop a “hard Brexit”. Their key demands are staying as close to the single market as possible, a transitional deal to cushion the economic effect of leaving and more parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations. Some former remain politicians, including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major, are even pushing for a second referendum to allow the public to vote on or even veto any deal for leaving the EU. It was also reported in the Sunday Times that Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, backs a transitional deal with the EU to cushion the impact of Brexit for businesses until at least 2021″.

 

Europe’s own nuclear deterrent?

25/11/2016

Europe needs to think about developing its own nuclear deterrent strategy given concerns that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could scale back U.S. military commitments in Europe, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Roderich Kiesewetter, foreign policy spokesman for the conservative bloc in parliament, told Reuters that Germany could play an important role in convincing nuclear powers France and Britain to provide security guarantees for all of Europe. “The U.S. nuclear shield and nuclear security guarantees are imperative for Europe,” he said in an interview. “If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes.” Kiesewetter’s comments reflect grave and growing concerns across Europe about what Trump’s election will mean for the United States’ commitment to NATO and to providing a strategic nuclear deterrent against a potential attack by Russia. In his campaign speeches, Trump repeatedly called for Europe to do more for its own defence and said Washington might not defend a NATO member that had not shouldered its fair financial share of the costs of the alliance”.

“Increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010”

23/11/2016

The European Union agreed on Tuesday to increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010 after Britain softened its opposition, a breakthrough that may signal British support for defense co-operation even once outside the bloc. A day after agreeing a new defense plan aimed at making Europe less reliant on U.S. help, EU governments increased the 2017 funding of the European Defence Agency, which helps countries develop aircraft and other assets, by 1.6 percent, in line with inflation and taking the modest budget to 31 million euros ($33 million). While well below the 6.5 percent rise the agency wanted, it was the first time in six years that Britain has not blocked an increase at the agency whose budget has shrunk 15 percent in real terms, EU officials said.

Burden sharing in EU

17/11/2016

An article discusses the future of the military power in Europe, “No modern military today is complete without an air defense system — something that can protect citizens from intruding enemy aircraft. But for small countries, such acquisitions don’t come cheap. Just buying an air defense system costs almost $400 million; that’s not including maintenance costs, which tack on further millions of dollars. For a country like Latvia, whose tiny defense budget can barely cover the cost of the system itself, those kinds of numbers can push an indispensable piece of equipment out of reach — unless it can find a partner to team up with. Latvia and Lithuania, neighbours on the Baltic Sea, are about to try just such a scheme. As part of a plan about to be signed by both governments, the two countries will not only buy a host of equipment together but also share maintenance costs. It’s an effort that could foreshadow the future of European military cooperation — for better or worse”.

The piece goes on to point out “Ever since the United Kingdom, a longtime opponent of further EU military cooperation, voted this summer to leave the club, Brussels has revived its discussions about an EU army and a shared defense budget (or, at the very least, closer defense integration). Last month, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament that an EU military headquarters would be a first step toward building a joint military. But most experts believe a massive undertaking like a “European Army” is unlikely to come to fruition anytime soon. And the fact that EU countries still haven’t mastered the far simpler act of joint procurement is typically cited as a case in point. On paper, teaming up with an ally for joint military procurement seems like an easy choice. It’s not just that by ordering in larger quantities, countries can get discounts. By jointly ordering the development of new military equipment, friendly nations can also share the development costs. Successful joint procurements could, in theory, free up resources that could then be spent on other equipment. The buyers also get interoperable equipment — that is, weapons systems that can easily communicate with each other. That’s a huge plus for European countries, including NATO members and non-NATO members like Sweden and Finland, whose armed forces regularly exercise and conduct operations together”.

He notes that “such procurement efforts are still rare in Europe — largely because their history is full of disappointments. Take the A400M military transport plane. During the 1980s, eight European countries jointly commissioned the aircraft, which was being developed by companies from several of the countries. The partner countries were told to expect delivery of their planes by 2009. Though the Cold War ended in the interim, European armed forces still desperately needed such an aircraft to transport troops and equipment, especially during their joint operations in Afghanistan. Having the same transport aircraft fleet would have been akin to having identical bus fleets, even allowing countries to borrow from one another if necessary. But delays intervened — and then intervened again. The first planes were delivered just three years ago. By that time, several buyers had already given up and bought other planes, partly because design requests made by one of the countries had added significant weight to the plane, reducing its lifting capacity”.

Not supurisngly he notes that “Even among the closest of allies, joint procurements tend to go sour. The Swedish Armed Forces are about to end up with 48 cannons (officially known as artillery pieces) instead of the 24 they were originally looking for because procurement partner Norway decided the planned artillery didn’t fit its requirements. A recent attempt by the closely allied Nordic countries to jointly procure helicopters also failed, as did a planned submarine procurement by Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the end, only Sweden was interested in buying the submarines made by the Swedish firm Kockums. “We’ve not even been able to do anything with Finland so far, though of course I hope that will change,” said Sven-Christer Nilsson, the former chairman of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration. According to Dick Zandee, a senior fellow at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations and former head of the EDA’s planning and policy unit, joint procurements tend to go wrong for two reasons: diverging military requirements and conflicting industrial interests”.

He writes that for the EU defence remains exempt from standardisation, “European governments and defense contractors realize the current situation is untenable, particularly given that Russia is in the middle of a defense spending program aimed at increasing its share of modern weaponry from 10 percent of its arsenal to 70 percent. The EDA is gaining a bit more credibility in setting joint EU standards. NATO’s Standardization Office, which has been grappling with the same issues since the founding of the military alliance, is also running more acquisition programs than in the past. And on the contractor side, some companies including France’s Nexter Systems and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are successfully building a new generation of tanks and armored vehicles that will fit the requirements of both the French army and the Bundeswehr”.

He adds “There is some precedent for success: The Netherlands and Belgium’s naval cooperation program, Benesam, for the past two decades has featured not just joint training but operations as well, and the two navies share ownership and maintenance of a shared fleet. Benesam’s success is due in part to the fact that the two countries don’t have competing naval shipbuilders — and that their governments are willing to give up some military independence in return for pooled resources. Latvia and Lithuania, the two Baltic states about to embark on a large-scale partnership, are also lucky in that they, too, don’t have large domestic defense sectors to consider. Their plans also don’t require any attempt at joint development; they’ll only be buying off-the-shelf products built in other countries (and in many cases already used by other countries’ armed forces). Urbelis even says, optimistically, that Lithuania may team up with Latvia, Estonia, or Poland for further procurements. But the days of a true common market for defense, let alone an EU army, remain a distant dream — possibly one that will never come to pass. “Armed forces are the most powerful symbols of national sovereignty,” Linnenkamp said. “Countries want to have the ability to produce military equipment at home.” The irony, he added, is that although the steel, mortars, and tanks may still be produced at home, the computer chips that direct the equipment’s actions now mostly come from countries like Thailand”.

EU formally criticises Russia

26/10/2016

Over coming a wave of reluctance to antagonize Moscow, European Union foreign ministers are planning to formally and explicitly admonish Russia for supporting the Syrian government’s deadly assault on Aleppo, an attack that “may amount to war crimes,” diplomats tell Foreign Policy. The European ministers, who will meet meet on Monday in Luxembourg, are also expected to support the imposition of sanctions on as many as 20 Syrian government officials who have had a role in the bombardment. An earlier draft of the EU statement did not include a direct reference to Russia, but has been added at the insistence of the French, British and German governments. The move comes as Secretary of State John Kerry mounts a new diplomatic push to pursue a ceasefire for the besieged city at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on Saturday that includes representatives of Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” reads a draft joint statement obtained by FP. “The escalating violence in Aleppo is causing untold and unacceptable suffering for thousands of its inhabitants.”

“Less likely to ease sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine”

20/10/2016

Outraged by Russia’s intensified air strikes on rebels in Syria, the European Union is now less likely to ease sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine, diplomats say, and some in the bloc are raising the prospect of more punitive steps against the Kremlin. While the EU says conflicts in Syria and Ukraine need to be kept separate, the latest military offensive by Damascus and its ally Moscow on rebel-held eastern Aleppo further clouds the strained ties between Moscow and the bloc. That weakens the hand of Italy, Hungary and others who have steadily increased pressure for easing sanctions, returning to doing business and re-engaging with Moscow after first hitting it with punitive measures for annexing Crimea in March 2014″.

UK will block EU defence proposals

04/10/2016

Britain will resist new European Union defence proposals if it feels they undermine NATO, British officials say, in a warning to France and Germany that London will defend its military interests even as it negotiates to leave the EU bloc. Paris and Berlin proposed last week reviving EU common defense plans long blocked by Britain, partly to give the bloc a sense of purpose after Britons’ vote to quit the EU and also to counter the loss of the union’s biggest defense spender. Those plans include a joint and permanent EU headquarters for civilian and military missions, possibly in Brussels, which London says will drain away finite resources when NATO already has its military command center, also in Belgium. Most EU members, including Britain, France and Germany, are also NATO allies. But Europe wants to be able to act independently of the United States in its neighbourhood. While not proposing an EU army, Paris and Berlin see security and defense cooperation as one of the few areas where the remaining 27 EU governments could find common ground and show that the EU is still relevant after a British departure”.

Boring Brexit?

02/10/2016

An piece in Foreign Policy notes that how May intends to make Brexit boring, “Back in June, Britain’s decision to exit the European Union was the biggest thing in global politics. Flags were waved, slogans were chanted, joy and despair were unconfined. And now? There has been no Brexit recession. But there has been no Brexit decision, either. May has assured us that “Brexit means Brexit” — in other words, even though she voted to Remain, she will deliver on the voters’ decision to leave the EU. But what, precisely, does Brexit mean? On that score, it’s all gone quiet — and it will apparently stay that way for quite some time. In the interim, the British press can happily occupy itself with arguments about grammar schools and giving the departing prime minister a kick up the backside on his way out”.

The article writes “There are three reasons why May has succeed in lowering the Brexit temperature from rolling boil to gentle simmer. The first is that the topic is, by its very nature, hugely important but hugely boring. The headline slogan is “Take back control!” — but the mechanism of doing that involves unpicking thousands of regulations and scrutinizing dozens of potential legal frameworks. Even the big headline questions — such as whether Britain wants to remain a member of the single market (and enjoy tariff-free trade at the price of accepting unrestricted immigration) — break down into the question of what differentiates access to the market from membership of it into issues of financial passporting and WTO baselines and Canadian or Norwegian models. The second reason is that these technocratic issues are meat and drink to May. Her Tory supporters may be painting her as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. But there are aspects of her personality that are much closer to (whisper it) Gordon Brown. Like him, she successfully ran a major department (the Home Office rather than the Treasury) with a strategy of top-down command and control, mastering every detail while keeping both decisions and information as tightly controlled as possible. For May, inscrutability isn’t a bug — it’s a feature. The third reason, which is closely allied to this, is the extent to which May has stamped her authority on government — and on Brexit”.

He writes that “Her masterstroke was to hand control of the departments overseeing the process to three rival Brexiteers — Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis. Each has a healthy regard for his own ability and is not noted for a history of friendship or communality of political vision with the other two. Each also represents a separate institutional power base that will inevitably push against the others. (Not least because Fox’s and Davis’s departments, covering international trade and the Brexit negotiations, respectively, will need to filch staff from Johnson’s Foreign Office.) There is something else about this triumvirate: They are no threat to her. Johnson, the foreign secretary, is the biggest beast — May’s likely rival for the leadership until being knifed by his former Vote Leave comrade Michael Gove. But Fox and Davis were — to Westminster observers if not to themselves — on the downslope of their careers. The former, the international trade secretary, had left office in disgrace. The latter, having come in runner-up to David Cameron in the previous leadership contest, stormed out of the shadow cabinet to mount a quixotic campaign over civil liberties. It was a sign of their diminished standing, perhaps, that neither of the two was involved at a senior level in Vote Leave. And this, too, is crucial, because it has given May enormous room to maneuver”.

He notes that “During the referendum campaign, the Brexiteers made certain promises about what Britain would look like after Brexit: Britain’s EU spending (the largely mythical $462 million a year) to go to the National Health Service, a points-based immigration system, scrapping value-added tax on fuel. One by one, May has brushed these aside. She was not part of Vote Leave and does not feel bound by its specific pledges. So what will Brexit look like? It is impossible to tell what is happening behind the scenes, but so far any attempt by one of her three juniors to venture an opinion — whether it be Johnson’s sending her his thoughts on what the “red lines” in negotiation should be or Davis’s suggesting that Britain will probably leave the single market — appears to have been met with either a frosty silence or an outright rebuke by the prime minister. What Brexit means, in other words, is what May wants it to mean. And she isn’t telling anyone. In terms of taking the heat out of the issue, this has been a masterstroke. The dilemma facing her, however, is that at a certain point, masterly inactivity simply becomes inactivity”.

Crucially he contends that “In some respects, it’s already clear what May wants from Brexit. As home secretary, she was constantly determined to cut immigration and constantly unhappy at the fact that European rules (and her colleagues’ desire to protect Britain’s lucrative trade in educating foreign students) prevented her from doing so. She believes she now has a clear instruction from voters to control immigration, even if it means that Britain takes an economic hit from leaving the single market. But as for the rest of it? There are 1,000 decisions to make, each of them deeply contentious, many of which will need endorsement from a Parliament in which May has a slim majority in the House of Commons and a nonexistent one in the House of Lords, with interest groups and lobbyists and campaigners kicking up an almighty fuss all the while. The legalistic details involved mean that the process might, on many fronts, go rapidly from technical to nightmarish — as helpfully pointed out in a recent briefing paper by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. May would obviously prefer to formulate her plans in private: Davis has said that neither the public nor Parliament will be given a running update. But as Cameron found out when he was trying to win concessions from EU countries before the Brexit vote, getting your negotiations done in secret is next to impossible — as is coming up with deals that are acceptable to both your audience at home and your partners abroad. Meanwhile, there is an economy to keep on an even keel, a party to keep under control, and all the other duties of a prime minister to carry out”.

He ends “As of this week, May is mistress of all she surveys: streets ahead in the polls, unrivaled commander of the Cabinet, the previous Tory regime driven from power and, in the case of its leader, from Parliament. The problem for her is that whatever decisions she makes on Brexit, she will upset a large and vocal constituency. Perhaps that’s why she seems so happy to postpone them”.

“Democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”

29/09/2016

Poland’s constitutional crisis is discussed, “After simmering for nine months, the tension between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, is coming to a boil. The PiS government is attempting an unconstitutional takeover of the tribunal—ignoring its rulings, trying to pack it with new judges, and, most recently, threatening the head judge with prosecution. At stake are the survival of constitutional democracy and the rule of law in Poland. On July 27, the European Commission, which has been pressing the PiS to change course for months, called on the government to remedy the situation within three months or risk facing disciplinary proceedings that could lead to sanctions. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chair of the PiS and puppet master behind Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government, responded that he was “amused” by Brussels’ warning. In the weeks since then, the PiS has pressed on with its attacks”.

The report continues “The PiS is determined to defeat the Constitutional Tribunal because it is a major impediment to Kaczynski’s plan to introduce a populist electoral autocracy in Poland along the lines of Viktor Orban’s in Hungary. When Orban became prime minister, in 2010, he had a parliamentary majority large enough to legally rewrite Hungary’s constitution to help cement his grip on power. But in Poland, where the procedures for amending the constitution are more demanding, the PiS does not have that option, and many of its initiatives—including laws designed to control the media, limit civil liberties, politicize the civil service, and attack judicial independence—risk being declared unconstitutional. As a result, the government is engaged in a blatantly illegal effort to subjugate the Constitutional Tribunal. So far, the judges have held firm, ruling unconstitutional the very laws that the government has passed to attack them, such as its December 2015 law that sought to cripple the court by changing the rules governing its operations. But the PiS is growing more crude and aggressive, and its recent threat to prosecute the Tribunal’s top judge suggests that it may take more forceful action to crush judicial independence before too long. European leaders, meanwhile, are beset by crises—from Brexit to the refugees to continued economic weakness in the eurozone—and many may be tempted to avoid conflict with Warsaw. Yet the EU has no excuse for inaction. In the case of Hungary, EU leaders may have been caught unawares by Orban’s assaults on democracy. But Kaczynski and his PiS colleagues are hardly subtle about their intentions. Allowing them to stamp out constitutional democracy in one of Europe’s largest and most strategically important member states would mean the end of the EU’s “union of values” and would further damage its battered reputation”.

The writer goes on to add “The roots of the current constitutional crisis lie, ironically, with the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015. In its last month in office, the outgoing government appointed three judges to the Constitutional Tribunal to replace three who were retiring. That was perfectly legal. But the PO sought to further stack the deck by appointing replacements for two additional judges set to retire in December 2015, after the new PiS government would take office. The PiS-affiliated president, Andrzej Duda, refused to swear in any of the five judges, even after the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that only two had been nominated illegally. Instead, Duda swore in a slate of five different judges named by the new PiS-led parliament. The tribunal refused to hear cases together with the illegitimate replacement judges and a standoff with the government ensued. Since then, the PiS has passed laws designed to curtail the tribunal’s authority and make it subservient to the current parliamentary majority. The tribunal has judged the new laws unconstitutional, but the government has in turn refused to recognise those judgments. Quite simply, the democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”.

He notes that “In January of this year, the EU intervened. For the first time ever, the European Commission announced that it would be assessing the threat to the rule of law in Poland by activating the so-called Rule of Law Framework, which had been established in March 2014 in response to the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and the EU’s failure to confront it. Before then, the EU’s main disciplinary tool—Article Seven of the Treaty on European Union—was viewed by many as an impractical nuclear option: it allowed the EU to suspend voting rights and impose other sanctions on a member state, but only after other governments agreed unanimously that the state in question was in “serious and persistent breach” of the EU’s fundamental values. The Rule of Law Framework was conceived as a precursor to Article Seven—a means to gradually ramp up pressure on a member government. On June 1, 2016, after months of failed negotiations, the commission finally issued a formal Rule of Law Opinion expressing concerns over the appointment of new judges, the laws passed by the government concerning the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, the government’s non-implementation of the tribunal’s rulings, and the effectiveness of constitutional review in the country more generally. International pressure on the Polish government, including from the Obama administration, continued to mount in the run-up to the July NATO summit in Warsaw. On the eve of the summit, the Polish parliament rushed through a new law on the Constitutional Tribunal, which it claimed responded to EU and international criticism. But the European Commission made it clear that it saw these reforms as wholly inadequate, with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans declaring that “the main issues which threaten the rule of law in Poland that have not been resolved.” On July 27, the commission launched the next step in the Rule of Law Mechanism—issuing a Rule of Law Recommendation to Poland, which asked the PiS government to publish and implement recent Constitutional Tribunal rulings and assure that any further legal reforms would respect the tribunal’s judgments. The Commission warned that if Poland failed to act on these recommendations within three months, it might trigger Article Seven”.

Crucially he writes that “The EU’s failure to stand up to Orban in Hungary, however, does not inspire confidence about how it will act in Poland. But the situations in the two countries differ enough that Brussels may be able to do more this time. First, whereas Orban’s Fidesz party was able to entrench its hold on power through legal constitutional amendments, PiS is blatantly violating the Polish constitution and crushing the high court that is trying to defend it. This makes it much harder for European leaders to sit back in silence. Second, Kaczynski’s PiS has fewer friends in Brussels—and throughout Europe—than does Orban’s Fidesz. Fidesz is a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, and most EPP leaders have backed it throughout the deterioration of democracy in Hungary. The EPP has been willing to defend Orban out of partisan loyalty and because his party delivers the votes they need to dominate law-making in the parliament. The PiS, which belongs to the much smaller European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, is in a considerably weaker position. This weakness was on display recently, when members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted overwhelmingly (513 to 142 with 30 abstentions) for a resolution calling on the Polish government to respect democratic principles and the rule of law. The PiS’ political position is further damaged by the prospect of Brexit, since the largest party in the ECR, and one of the PiS’ staunchest defenders, is the British Conservative Party”.

Interestingly he writes that “But the Polish government still has an ace up its sleeve in Orban, who has explicitly pledged to block Article Seven sanctions against Poland. And therein lies a profound flaw in the EU’s approach to defending the rule of law and other democratic values. The threat looming behind the Rule of Law Framework is Article Seven, but the sanctions stage of Article Seven can only be triggered after there is unanimity among member governments. So long as the EU tolerates one autocrat—Orban—he can protect others of his ilk. The Polish government can count on the protection of Orban—as well as perhaps the leaders of the other Visegrad countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia)—and knows that ultimately Article Seven sanctions are unlikely to be imposed. But that is no reason not to trigger an Article Seven vote anyway. It is time for Europe’s leaders to stand up and be counted”.

He ends “Even a vote that fails to secure the unanimity needed for sanctions could be a galvanizing event, helping Europe’s democratic leaders remember what they and their union stand for. In the wake of such a vote, the EPP might finally eject and denounce Fidesz, a party that has not only undermined pluralist democracy but has eagerly stoked xenophobia. Talk among members of the European Parliament of cutting off EU funding to countries that flout European values is increasing, and even the failure of a vote against the Polish government might finally push leaders to get serious about using the power of the purse to deny autocrats the EU funds they use to prop up their regimes”.

May’s Brexit

17/09/2016

An interesting article in Foreign Affairs discusses Theresa May’s Brexit plan, “In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, in which 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union, many among the British electorate felt that the lights of economic integration had been extinguished and that dark times lay ahead for the United Kingdom. The febrile, early post-referendum atmosphere in Westminster was infused with recriminations over the toxic referendum campaign and the divisions within the government. A basic negotiation principle is to have unity on your side, and this was sorely missing—an inauspicious basis for embarking on what will be the most important and complex negotiation in the country’s history. But amid the tumult, there were some positive signs. A new Conservative leader, Theresa May, emerged from the political chaos and quickly showed the sort of steel that many party members admired in the United Kingdom’s only previous female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. After assuming the prime ministership in July, May dismissed potentially discordant ministers and appointed a finely balanced new cabinet. Although she herself had favoured remaining in the EU, she coined the mantra “Brexit means Brexit” and wisely named a former minister of state for Europe and “leave” advocate, David Davis, as secretary of state for exiting the European Union. The new secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, is another Brexiteer, as is May’s most controversial appointment: Boris Johnson as foreign secretary”.

The writer notes that “his appointment may prove to be a smart move. Johnson, who successfully led the Brexit campaign, draws a distinction between opposing the hegemony of the Brussels bureaucracy and pursuing broader relations with European countries. “There’s a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe,” he has said, “which, if anything, are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level.” He is a pragmatic politician who is not from the extreme “Eurosceptic” wing of his party and is immensely popular across a wide range of the population. (A May 2016 poll revealed that 52 percent of Londoners approved of his performance as mayor, although a post-referendum poll has shown a decline in his popularity.) May recognizes this and doubtless will be looking to him to engage thoughtfully with foreign leaders and, eventually, to help sell the final Brexit agreement domestically”.

The writer points of for the need for those with negotiating skills in the Civil Service across not just trade but a wide range of the areas. He adds that “Although it was reported at the time as an unpalatably harsh stance, the prime minister displayed her acuity as a negotiator by declining to assure European citizens already residing in the United Kingdom that they would be able to stay after the United Kingdom formally leaves the EU. She, unlike her rivals for the Conservative leadership, realised that this is a key negotiating point that should be yielded only in return for an equal or similar concession, possibly on an aspect of the free movement of people within the EU”.

He makes the point that “May has pledged not to invoke Article 50 until she has secured a “UK-wide approach” that addresses concerns in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The two regions voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and Scotland has threatened to hold its own “leave the United Kingdom” vote. May visited Edinburgh in mid-July and then ten days later traveled to Belfast, sending a clear signal of her commitment to include the concerns of the devolved administrations in the negotiations. Another issue is that no less than 11 national elections are scheduled in EU member countries over the next two years. The landscape will inevitably shift over the course of the negotiations. Reports now suggest that the British government will wait until after the elections in France and Germany next year to invoke Article 50, pushing the start of the two-year formal negotiation process to late 2017, which would provide additional time for the United Kingdom to prepare”.

Crucially he mentions that “A final consideration for the United Kingdom is to avoid having negotiations over the single market, with its “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people), be set apart from the negotiations over other concerns. Although trade and migration issues are high on the agenda, it would be a mistake for them to be negotiated within a single-market silo. It may be that an issue to be negotiated in an unrelated area, such as health, consumer protection, or rules for the digital economy, could provide an opportunity to create a deal on a difficult single-market issue. The next step, then, which British negotiators will constantly need to revisit and refine when they are at the negotiating table, is to to apply a relative value to each issue on multiple agendas from the perspective of each negotiating party. They will be looking for as many issues as possible where both (or multiple) parties attach a different value to the same issue. Looking back to the 1978 Camp David accords, it was assumed that it would be impossible for Egypt and Israel to agree on how to divide the Sinai, which they initially both wanted. But they wanted it for different reasons”.

The article ends “The Brexit negotiators need to look for issues that are of high value for one negotiator to gain on and of comparatively low cost for the other negotiator to concede. The more issues that can be identified where the cost and value to each side is different, the easier it will be to make multiple trades. Above all, the EU needs to establish clear rules on communication with the press and the public about the negotiations. These rules will call for the careful balancing of transparency with the need for discretion, so that deals can be made and discussed without being compromised by premature public revelations. The eventual agreement on the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU may be much more positive than the shrill debate in the aftermath of the vote on June 23, 2016, implied it would be. But once a comprehensive agreement has been reached, the British government will face a big remaining challenge: selling the package to a population that was so polarized by the referendum”.

Ireland’s choice, sovereignty vs money

05/09/2016

An article notes the tax affairs of Apple in Ireland, “American tech giant Apple had $234 billion in annual revenues in 2015. Now, it’s going to have to pony up $14.5 billion to Irish authorities for skirting taxes. That’s according to the European Commission, which announced Tuesday that Apple had paid a tax rate of just 1 percent or even less — .0005 percent, in some years — on its European profits while some of the company’s operations were based in Ireland. The commission determined such a low tax rate was illegal because it creates an illegal trade incentive. “Member States cannot give tax benefits to selected companies — this is illegal under EU state aid rules. The Commission’s investigation concluded that Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years, commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said in a statementTuesday”.

The report adds “The massive penalty is likely to send shockwaves through boardrooms of companies like Amazon and McDonald’s that have extensive operations in Europe. European authorities are investigating both companies to see if they paid their fair share of taxes. The ruling also puts the Obama administration in a tight spot. President Barack Obama wants to keep American companies in the country to contribute to U.S. revenue. At the same time, he doesn’t want European authorities to target American companies simply because they’re American and doing business in Europe. In a statement Tuesday, the Treasury Department said it was disappointed in the ruling”.

The piece goes on to mention “Republicans share the president’s frustration. In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said, “This decision is awful. Slamming a company with a giant tax bill — years after the fact — sends exactly the wrong message to job creators on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also in direct violation of many European countries’ treaty obligations.” Both Apple, which has been operating in Ireland since 1980, and the Irish government have said they would appeal the ruling”.

It notes “Andrea Montanino, director of global business and economics at the Atlantic Council who previously worked at the European Commission, put the blame for the mess on Dublin. “There are rules in Europe as there are rules in the United States,” Montanino told Foreign Policy Tuesday. “You have to comply with the rules. I would not say it’s the fault of Apple. Apple followed the rules. It is Ireland that broke the rules.”

Fox vs Johnson, round 1

26/08/2016

A report notes the emerging tensions between the UK ministers who oversee British exit from the EU, “Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, made an attempted power grab on key areas of Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office, writing to his colleague and the prime minister, Theresa May, in an effort to wrest control of Britain’s overseas economic policy, a leaked letter has revealed. Tensions have been escalating between the Foreign Office and Fox’s Department for International Trade, but the former defence secretary’s suggestion has apparently been given short shrift by No 10, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Within a fortnight of arriving at the newly created department, Fox wrote to Johnson, copying in May, to ask for economic diplomacy – a key function of the Foreign Office – to become part of the remit of his department”.

The report notes that “In the letter leaked to the Telegraph, Fox called for a “rational restructuring” of the departments and suggested that he take “clear leadership of the trade and investment agenda,” with Johnson leading on diplomacy and security, including oversight of the intelligence services. He wrote: “In my first few weeks as secretary of state for international trade, it has become clear to me that existing cross-Whitehall structures have meant that HM government has not taken the holistic approach it might have on trade and investment agendas.” Economic diplomacy was, he said, “crucial to delivery of the objectives I have been set by the prime minister as international trade secretary”. The letter went on: “I strongly believe this will be the only chance we get to materially change the approach we take to trade and investment and, as such, would urge you to consider this proposition favourably. If we fail to take this opportunity to restructure now, I feel we will have a suboptimal structure for the future.” Johnson is said to have firmly rejected the request, but agreed to second several members of staff to the new department to lend expertise”.

The piece notes that “A government spokesman said it would not comment on leaked documents. “Alongside other departments, the FCO [Foreign Office] are seconding a small number of staff with relevant expertise to the new Department for International Trade,” the spokesman said. “This is all part of the cross-government effort to ensure we make a success of Brexit.” Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said May was to blame for the jostling between the departments. “She created these three separate departments, not because it made sense in terms of coordinating Whitehall’s management of Brexit, but just to buy the loyalty of Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis,” she said”

It ends “The leaked letter is the second blunder for Fox’s department in recent days. On Friday, it removed from its website a confusing press release that appeared to announce that the UK would still trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules after leaving the bloc, “until any new trade deals are negotiated”. Trading under WTO rules would mean that businesses were subject to steep tariffs on goods exported to the EU, including a 10% duty on cars and 12% on clothing, and having no access to the EU’s service markets or financial service markets. The department said the press release had been issued in error”.

“Politicians need to respond to the howl of protest”

24/08/2016

A piece from Foreign Affairs notes how to unite the UK after Brexit, “The referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union has underlined the profoundly divided state of England. My middle-class friends and family based in the country’s south continue to bemoan the outcome of the referendum in tones more suited to a family bereavement than a political event. Meanwhile, in the north of the country where I grew up, there were celebratory street parties with revelers full of delight that voters had risen up and given the establishment a good kicking. Although the referendum revealed a riven country, it did not create it. It simply provided many voters who had effectively opted out of British politics an opportunity to get back in. Their opinions may be unpopular in some quarters, but their mobilization cannot be ignored”.

It goes on to mention “The Leave campaign’s dismissal of experts tallied with a pervasive mistrust of the establishment among those left behind by globalization. One incident at a town hall event sticks in my mind. A couple of colleagues and I were in Newcastle, in the northeast, discussing the fact that the vast majority of economists agreed that Brexit would lead to an economic slowdown. A two percent drop in the United Kingdom’s GDP, I said, would dwarf any savings the country would generate from curtailing its contribution to the EU budget. “That’s your bloody GDP,” came the shouted response, “not ours.” In deprived areas of the country, where jobs are insecure, wages are depressed, housing is scarce, and education levels are far below those in London, there is a profound unease with the kind of aggregate statistics bandied about by experts. Membership in the single market may have increased the GDP of the whole country, but it didn’t make a difference everywhere. Boston in Lincolnshire provided the Leave campaign’s biggest victory—76 percent voted for Brexit. The median income here is less than £17,000 ($22,600), as compared with £27,000 ($35,900) across the 20 local authorities where support for EU membership was strongest. For all the good that membership might have done for the economy as a whole, inequality has worsened. As one woman in Yorkshire put it to me, “I don’t mind if we take an economic hit. Our lives have never been easy, after all. But it will be nice to see the rich folk down south suffer.” Dramatic falls in the value of the pound or national income mean little to people who are already struggling”.

It goes on to mention, “The backlash from disappointed Remainers has been immediate. To date, a petition to annul the result on the grounds that turnout was below 75 percent and the winning side received fewer than 60 percent of the votes cast has received over four million signatures. Some members of Parliament have suggested that there should be a second referendum, or that the result of this one could be overruled by a parliamentary vote (the vast majority of British parliamentarians support Britain remaining within the European Union). Such talk is misguided and dangerous. To be sure, one-off referendums are not an optimal way of deciding complex political issues, and are even less so when there is no defined threshold for turnout or margin of victory. As leading economist Kenneth Rogoff has argued, it seems bizarre that such a crucial decision could be made by 36 percent of eligible voters. Further, the Remainers are also right to claim that the Leave camp proved adept at twisting the truth; its claim, painted on the side of its battle bus, that the United Kingdom pays £350 ($465) million per week to the EU was simply and provably false. And it is doubtless true that some people had not thought through what their vote would mean”.

He points out that “all that is in the past. Political campaigns are not usually beacons of honesty and straightforwardness. And the notion that large numbers of pro-Brexit voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse is both unproven and irrelevant. Voters knew the score before the referendum. It was a one-shot deal. The four million signatories of the petition are dwarfed by the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit. And it is hard to avoid the feeling that much of the Remain camp disappointment comes from people who are simply not used to losing votes that might negatively affect their own lives. As Manchester Professor Rob Ford put it, the English middle class is simply experiencing what UKIP voters have had to put up with for years. The fundamental problem with the idea of ignoring the outcome of the referendum, however, is political. The referendum was, in part, a political protest against a system that no longer adequately represents its people. Overturning the result, therefore, would simply make matters worse. And the backlash would hit the Labour Party worst of all. Many of the places where the Brexit campaign triumphed are areas in which Labour had been holding off a challenge from UKIP. Part of UKIP’s appeal—apart, of course, from being the only party in favour of a proposition that 17 million people supported—is its insurgent nature”.

He rightly points out that “the referendum result will affect their ability to do so. If the economists’ predictions are correct, Brexit will reduce the resources of the British state and hence its ability to act. Yet the levers that need to be pulled to address the kinds of issues that the vote revealed rest, nevertheless, in the hands of the British government. Training, education, the provision of adequate housing, and ensuring a more equal distribution of the spoils of globalization are all matters for which the British government has primary responsibility. Each would, in its own way, help to bridge the chasm that has grown between the globalized middle class and the white, blue collar working class. The rest of the world should watch the British response to this challenge with interest. The forces of reaction and revolt are on the march, whether via the Front National in France or the Trump presidential candidacy in the United States. In all these places, established parties, rather than dealing immediately with the legitimate grievances that have generated such anger, have waited until hurt feelings have grown into political movements capable of challenging longtime incumbents”.

He ends “As ever, no one would choose to start from here. The referendum will have severe consequences for the British economy and British society. Yet it can still serve as a wake-up call. Politicians need to respond to the howl of protest that woke them in the early hours of June 24. No longer can they simply plug their ears. Let that be the legacy of the European Union referendum”.

 

Brexit: cosmopolitan vs parochial

22/08/2016

An important piece discusses what the Brexit vote revealed, “Referenda are terrible mechanisms of democracy. As a case in point, the recent British referendum over the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU was a reckless gamble that took a very real issue—the need for more open and legitimate contestation in the EU—and turned it into a political grotesquerie of shamelessly opportunistic political elites”.

Of course referendums are not terrible. They can be very revealing and legitimate ways to engage the public on very specific and important issues but must take place within special settings. The public must be knowledgeable, not just about the topic in question but politics generally. The UK has very poor, almost non-existent civic education. If there was a profound well defined and serious course of political education in schools and democracy, the role of the citizen and the state from an early age this would dramatically increase the level of debate. Moreover, it would marginalise the dangerous, lying and biased press, for which the UK has become known and played such a role in the referendum. There was no such education and so people were easily confused and unable to tell fact from lies. Had they been better educated the result might have been very different.

The piece goes on to argue, “The raucous debate over the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the EU was riven with lies and misrepresentations, some of which are now being explicitly rolled back by Brexit advocates; even the British press rues its bombastic support for the Leave side. Unfortunately, many British voters appear not to have known exactly what the EU is, validating other recent research demonstrating a lack of factual knowledge about the union. Observers of the referendum should therefore be wary about drawing conclusions about broader globalization efforts, the Western order, the inevitability of the rise of populist anti-immigration parties, or the viability of the EU project overall. The answer to the breathless question posed in the New York Times on Sunday—“Is the post-1945 order imposed on the world by the United States and its allies unraveling, too?”—is simple. No, it is not. And yet the emotions and cultural chasms brought to bear in the Brexit vote cannot and should not be ignored. Brexit’s real lesson is that there is a consequential divide between cosmopolitans who view the future with hope and those who have been left behind and have seen their economic situations and ways of life deteriorate. The same story may well play out in the United States and elsewhere, with important electoral effects. But the Brexit story also speaks to the uniqueness of the EU as a new kind of polity with a profound impact on the lives of all within it”.

The article goes on to point out, “Although the Brexit referendum was a highly imperfect form of democratic representation, the emotions voiced by Leave voters were very real. They echo important and valid feelings of other populations across the Western democracies. There are two worlds of people, as analysis of Brexit voting patterns clearly indicated, that are divided in their experiences and their visions of the future. Educational attainment, age, and national identity decisively determined the vote. Younger voters of all economic backgrounds and those with a university education voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. Older voters, the unemployed, and those with a strong sense of English national identity sought to leave. The fight over Brexit is a reflection of the social exclusion that arises in a world of stark economic inequality. One way of thinking about the division is to see it as cosmopolitan versus parochial thinking, rooted in deeper social and economic trends that create their own cultural dynamics. Cosmopolitanism, a sense of belonging to a global community beyond one’s immediate borders, requires confidence in one’s place in the world and implies a hope about the future beyond the nation-state. The parochial view is tinged with fear about that future and a sense that societal transformation will leave the common voter behind”.

Correctly he points out that “In part, that fear reflects the opening of markets, but it is equally due to changes in technology and broader shifts in capitalism away from protection of both the middle and the working classes. These shifts can’t be blamed solely on globalization; they also have much to do with domestic politics and policy decisions. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, political choices have accelerated deindustrialization while decimating social safety nets and doing little to put the brakes on rising inequality. Given this harsh reality for the unemployed, the older, and the uneducated, the Remain campaign’s warnings about the economic disaster of Brexit carried little weight; many voters believed that their opportunities were closed off long ago. The clever marketing of the Brexit campaign, including the mantras “Take Back Control” and “Breaking Point,” spoke to very real senses of exclusion but offered few solutions; the reality is that British political dynamics, more than the EU’s rules, have created the United Kingdom’s social and economic problems”.

He argues that “The fight over Brexit is a reflection of the social exclusion that arises in a world of stark economic inequality. But the referendum should also be viewed in terms of a much longer history of political development and state building. The EU is far beyond a simple international organization or trade treaty, since it has accrued significant political authority across a wide range of areas. The rulings of the European Court of Justice, for example, supersede national law, and the laws of the EU have transformed everyday life in Europe, even as the Brussels bureaucracy and its fiscal presence remain tiny. Historically, new political authorities have emerged and evolved in messy, ugly, and often violent ways. National projects of unification have involved coercion, civil wars, and the brutal exercise of power. Questions of federalism in the United States are still being fought today. Although the nation-state seems universal and natural, there have been many other forms of government in Europe alone: the Habsburg monarchy, Italian city-states, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Hanseatic League, for example, have all come and gone. The EU, for all its faults, is an innovative new form, a polity in formation. Those under 45, and particularly those under 30, embrace it and see it as a natural and positive thing, a backdrop to their changed everyday lives that creates more opportunities than it closes down”.

It ends “Given history’s guide, we should not be surprised that the deepening of the EU has created a backlash. But we can be appalled by the craven opportunism and lack of political leadership in the United Kingdom and on the European continent in guiding this development. The EU will only work if all its citizens can imagine themselves part of a cosmopolitan, thriving democratic polity, one that balances local, national, and EU powers and creates economic opportunity. Listening to those on both sides of the cultural divide, and working to ease the economic inequality that underlies the division between the hopeful and the excluded, is the only way forward for the EU—and the rest of us”.

“May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other”

20/08/2016

In a piece from the Economist, the author argues that Boris Johnson has diminished the stature and relevance of the UK globally, “IF EVER you find yourself at a dinner party with British establishment types, ask them about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Jokes about gin-swilling, oikophobe globetrotters in linen suits will spill forth. The more chauvinistic may tut about that diplomat’s disease: “going native”, or sympathising more with foreigners than with folk back home. To sound clever, someone will decree that every prime minister since Thatcher has been his or her “own foreign secretary” (as if Churchill and Eden were remembered today for their education policies) and that the FCO these days is just a venue for formalities”.

The piece adds, “This image riles diplomats, and rightly. The essence of the grandest department on Whitehall is not that it deals with the world outside Britain. Practically every government body does that: the business department frets about foreign takeovers, the Ministry of Defence is hardwired into NATO, 10 Downing Street co-ordinates big summits. The point of the FCO is to go beyond the transactional focus of these branches, of fleeting political moods and fads, of narrow, immediate readings of the national interest. Its embassies are a nervous system conveying information, cultivating influence and generally providing a strategy for the country’s global role that transcends the next photo opportunity or crisis. Its goal is an influential Britain in an orderly world. Or, as Ernest Bevin, the post-war foreign secretary, put it: the preservation of every Briton’s ability to “take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please!”  It is in this context that the sudden and brutal humiliation of the FCO following Britain’s vote for Brexit should be understood. The swingeing budget cuts and departmental turf wars of recent years have been tough enough. But none of this compares with the indignities visited upon it in recent weeks”.

The author rightly points out, “Most colourful among them is Theresa May’s appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. The former mayor of London, who campaigned for Brexit, is affable and intelligent. But he is also unscrupulous and unserious. In Brussels he is loathed for his myth-making about the EU and for comparing the union to the Third Reich. German news readers struggled to stifle laughter when they read out the news of his promotion on July 14th. In Washington the reaction was no better: five days later the new foreign secretary grinned his way sheepishly through a press conference as American journalists read from his litany of undiplomatic remarks. In 2007 he compared Hillary Clinton to a sadistic mental health nurse, for example; the following year he described Africans as “piccaninnies” .  What possessed Mrs May? It seems the prime minister wants to pack Mr Johnson off to parts foreign, welcoming him back in London only to help her, a Remainer before the referendum, to sell an eventual Brexit deal with the EU to Eurosceptics. That is dismal. It treats the FCO, a giant national asset, as a tool of domestic political management and thus suggests a drastic downgrade of Britain’s ambitions on the world stage”.

The writer mentions that “So too does the prime minister’s creation of two new departments: one for Brexit and one for international trade. The former, in particular, will be composed from chunks of the FCO, including some of its brightest staff. Both are led by uncompromising Eurosceptics, David Davis and Liam Fox, who seem determined to nab further turf from the (in their eyes) all-too internationalist diplomats. Thus the FCO will now have to share facilities—like Chevening, the foreign secretary’s country retreat—and battle for influence with two rival outfits programmed to see other countries less as partners than as negotiating opponents”.

The piece mentions “A hint of what is to come came on July 20th, when Mrs May travelled to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. The prime minister received military honours and exchanged warm words with her German counterpart. Yet insiders detected a shift. For all the talk of co-operation on Turkey and the refugee crisis, in the German capital Britain is now seen less as a solution than a problem. As one local diplomat put it to Bagehot: “Here Britain now means Brexit.” For the foreseeable future, then, the country’s scope to play the expansive, agenda-setting role for which the FCO is designed is limited. Brexit talks will drain energy from other fields. The fragmentation of Britain’s diplomatic arsenal will Balkanise policymaking. Doors will close which once were open. Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, reckons the country could end up as “a bit player in support of policies developed in Berlin, DC and other places.”

It ends “Too gloomy, say some, pointing to Britain’s ongoing NATO membership, UN Security Council seat, Commonwealth links and economic and military heft. These things matter, of course. But quitting the EU denies Britain opportunities to make the most of them (consider its leadership, alongside France and Germany, in the Iran nuclear talks). The country’s temperamental and institutional tilt in a more zero-sum, nation-state-centric, sovereignty-first direction makes its existing strengths less valuable: a less open and collaborative ally to its friends. Mr Leonard calls this “strategic shrinkage on steroids”. He sees Britain taking a more craven stance towards economic powers like China and Russia, whose cash might help it plug the economic gap left by Brexit. Not everything about this is preordained. Perhaps Mrs May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other. Abroad she has opportunities to shore up some of Britain’s influence, says Brendan Simms, a historian of the country’s place in Europe: by striving to remain a useful ally to Germany, by amplifying Britain’s voice on defence and security matters (it is still a major player in NATO’s defences in the Baltics, for example) and by throwing herself into debates about the future integration of continental Europe. Britain’s stature in the world is shrinking. By how much is up to its leaders.

“Pensioners have preserved their privileges”

20/08/2016

A piece in Foreign Affairs discusses the need to cut pensions in Europe, “Since the outbreak of the European debt crisis, Greek retirees have become a scapegoat for the continent’s financial and political woes. International creditors were infuriated by the lavish Greek pension system, which allowed public employees to retire as early as the age of 50, and demanded radical overhauls in exchange for bailout funds. They got what they asked for; today, pensions in Greece are 50 percent lower than in 2010. As a result, about 45 percent of Greek pensioners receive monthly checks below the official poverty threshold. Yet the harshness displayed toward Greek retirees is unusual by European standards. The continent’s decision-making process is so heavily tilted in favour of the elderly that pensioners have preserved their privileges even in the face of stagnating growth, crumbling public finances, and skyrocketing youth unemployment. But as the young are pushed to the margins of society, Europe’s gerontocracy is becoming not only financially unsustainable but morally unbearable. Striking a balance between the conflicting interests of the old and the young is therefore necessary to ward off explosive intergenerational tensions”.

The piece goes on to note “Pensioners are a nearly unstoppable force in European politics. With a demographic weight of 130 million people—roughly a quarter of the EU population—they can alter the outcome of any election. But their influence is not just a function of their numbers. Retirees are also one of the most politically active groups in Europe. The Brexit referendum is a case in point. Although the vote was about the future of the United Kingdom, only 36 percent of Britons aged 18 to 24 showed up to the ballot box, as opposed to 83 percent of those over 65. Young people are overwhelmingly pro-European, and if more of them had voted, Britain would not be a departing member of the European Union. (Some millennials are now accusing their parents, not their peers, of having deprived them of a bright future.) All over Europe, political outcomes show a similar bias toward the preferences of the old. In 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rewarded her seniors with several pension giveaways for having supported her third reelection. British Prime Minister David Cameron promised during his reelection campaign to protect the entitlements of retirees, who, in his own words, “made this [the United Kingdom] the great country it is today.” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently toying with a similar retreat on pension reform, and French President François Hollande has barely attempted to tackle a pension deficit that is set to reach $23 billion in 2020″.

He correctly adds that “Seniors have also been spared from the effects of the financial crisis. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the austerity measures adopted by Cameron’s first cabinet reduced the income of the average household by about $750, while cutting the earnings of the average two-pensioner family by just $36. Even the reforms adopted between 2010 and 2014 mostly affected the entitlements of future pensioners. Italy raised the retirement age, Spain linked future entitlements to life expectancy, and France increased contributions paid by firms and workers. All shielded the pensions of those already retired. This is a familiar pattern for Europe: when unrealistic retirement promises conflict with the reality of an aging continent, politicians shift the burden onto the next generation”.

He posits that “In addition to political power, pensioners control a disproportionate amount of wealth. European governments spend, on average, 15 percent of their GDP on pensions, but only seven percent on education and family policies. The income of the median European retiree is as high as that of the median active worker, and in some countries is even higher. Finally, pensioners are less likely than the rest of the population to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This wasn’t always the case: in the 1960s, Britons aged 65 to 70 were in the bottom 25 percent of the country’s income distribution; now they are in the top 40 percent”.

The article contends that ” The intergenerational fault lines exposed by Brexit testify to growing disaffection with this system. Organizations such as the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations and the Intergenerational Foundation proliferate across the continent. Europe’s pay-as-you-go pension schemes are based on a promise between generations: today’s workers fund their parents’ pensions, while expecting their offspring to fund their own in turn. The system is vulnerable: it prospers only as long as each generation of workers expects to be at least as well off as the generation of pensioners it pays for. But this is no longer the case, and the temptation to stop contributing to a broken financial scheme is mounting. If enough people start questioning the system, it could implode. To avoid this outcome, European governments should strike a balance between three often incompatible principles: financial sustainability, intergenerational solidarity, and intergenerational fairness. Call it a retirement trilemma.  The principle of financial stability calls for a radical revision of the privileges enjoyed by current pensioners. Benefits should be reduced, and the retirement age should be raised to levels consistent with ongoing increases in life expectancy. This would align Europe’s pension systems with the recommendations of the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, and would be an important step toward sustainability. As the Greek crisis demonstrated, slashing pensions and postponing retirement may replace financial problems with a social catastrophe. That’s why, according to the principle of intergenerational solidarity, governments should allow for some degree of flexibility. Pensions should not just be proportional to lifetime contributions but should also be adequate to guarantee a decent lifestyle. In order to make the system financially sustainable, governments could levy a solidarity tax on the highest incomes and redistribute the proceeds among the poorest pensioners. Likewise, since even the most skilled workers usually lack the skills to keep up with disruptive technological change, workers hurt by automation should be allowed to retire early if necessary. But in exchange for being removed from a tough job market, they should give something back”.

He goes on to argue that “This is linked to the third principle, intergenerational fairness. At a time of stagnating growth and shrinking work forces, idle retirement is something advanced economies can no longer afford. Old people, especially those who retire early, should therefore actively contribute to the well-being of their societies. As long as pensioners are in good health, their benefits should become conditional on work in public institutions. This work should involve the skills acquired throughout retirees’ careers: retired teachers could volunteer in schools; retired doctors could volunteer in hospitals. Lord Richard, the former head of the British Benefits Agency, was criticized for suggesting something similar in 2012, but these active retirement policies would relieve distressed public finances, increase the self-esteem of the old, and make the pension system more acceptable to the young”.

He ends “Finally, in order for any of these reforms to be possible, it will be necessary to dilute the political power of the older generation. Proposed measures include lowering the voting age to 16, setting the minimum candidacy age at 18, and capping candidacy age at 65. To increase the low turnout rates of young voters, governments should invest in voter education programs through schools and media campaigns. And referenda on nation-defining issues like leaving the European Union should require a supermajority—especially in countries where the elderly represent the majority of the electorate. Europe needs some fresh thinking to address the economic and political costs associated with its aging population. Governments should opt for solutions that promote cooperation between generations and avoid short-sighted electoral temptations. Only then can they solve the retirement trilemma”.

“2016 is barely half-done”

18/08/2016

David Bell writes about the theory of 2016, “Back in the fall of 1989, as the Iron Curtain was crumbling country by country, some friends and I had an idea for a new college history course. It would be called “Europe Since Last Wednesday.” There are moments in history when time itself seems compressed, when so many shocking and important events crowd together that it becomes almost impossible to keep track of them. Lenin supposedly said “there are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.” (The remark, alas, is probably apocryphal.) Long before him, the French writer Chateaubriand quipped that during the quarter-century of the French Revolution and Napoleonic regime, many centuries elapsed. In late 1989, a single three-month period saw the end of communist power in Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as the U.S. invasion of Panama, and the Malta summit meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George H.W. Bush where the two leaders essentially announced that the Cold War had come to an end: many years’ worth of change crammed into a single season”.

He posits that “The past few weeks have certainly been vertigo-inducing. On June 23, the British shocked world opinion (and themselves) by voting to leave the European Union. On July 7, five police officers were shot dead in Dallas, prompting fears of widespread unrest in the United States. A week later the Islamic State took credit for the latest massacre to strike the West, a terrorist attack on France’s Bastille Day that killed scores in Nice, and before that event had even started to fade from the media, there was an attempted coup d’état in Turkey. Then came the police shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. All this took place, moreover, against the background of a horrific sectarian war with no end in Syria, heightened tensions between NATO and Russia, and the greatest political upheaval in recent American history, as a populist candidate with no experience in government completed his successful insurrection against the Republican establishment and became the party’s 2016 presidential nominee”.

It goes on to point out, “2016 is barely half-done, and it is entirely possible that the cascade of events we have been witnessing could accelerate, with unforeseeable consequences. It is worth remembering that disruptive events can trigger others in a variety of ways, even at a great distance. Sometimes the connections are clear; sometimes much less so. Most obviously, a disruptive event can spark direct imitation. In 1848, after liberal revolutions took place in Sicily and France, a wave of uprisings at least partially inspired by them spread to Denmark, the Austrian Empire, Belgium, and several German and Italian states. In 1968, student rebellions moved across the Western world in open imitation of and cooperation with each other, with the climax reached in Paris in May, when an apparent collapse of order led French President Charles de Gaulle briefly to flee to a military base in Germany”.

He notes “widespread disruption, with the wild anxieties and hopes that it generates, can lead to a sense that ordinary rules of behaviour are suspended, and that extreme measures must be taken. In the history of the Western world such patterns are linked to the most powerful of all Jewish and Christian prophecies: the coming of the Messiah; the Second Coming of Christ; Judgment Day. Since the beginning of the Christian era, hardly a year has gone by without some significant group of Christians insisting that the End Times have arrived. If such a conviction leads to aggressive action against supposed heretics or infidels, the resulting violence can lead others in turn to believe in Judgment Day’s nearness, in what amounts to a positive feedback loop of enormous destructive power. Some historians think that something of this sort happened during the Reformation, when Martin Luther’s break with Rome triggered widespread belief in the imminence of the Apocalypse, triggering violent conflict, triggering further apocalyptic belief, and so on. The result was years of bloody religious warfare that decimated much of Europe. Today, the fanatics of the Islamic State believe they are engaged in an apocalyptic battle between Muslims and non-Muslims for the future of the world, and with every atrocity they convince more people in the West that, on this point, they are right. The pattern is not necessarily religious, however. There are also secular versions of the Apocalypse story. As the Marxist hymn “The Internationale” succinctly declared: “’Tis the final conflict.” A belief that a world-defining struggle has arrived can lead to a suspension of the ordinary rules just as surely as a belief that Christ has returned, and produce just as great a cascade of violent disruption from a single event. The 9/11 attacks arguably had such an effect in the United States, with the Bush administration coming to believe that it needed to provoke a major war against a state that did not attack us in order to remove what it saw as an existential threat to the world order. It is not at all clear whether the volatile and anxious summer of 2016 will produce anything like the cascading upheavals seen in years like 2001 or 1989, and whether the current sense of accelerating time will persist. With luck, the current flood tide of bad news will in fact subside, and rest of this year will be remembered for placid dullness rather than bloody “interest.” We can hope that the year 2016 will not appear in the titles of the college history courses of the future. But as these historical examples suggest, there are all too many ways that the flames of violence and disruption can suddenly spread, and even whip up into a firestorm”.

 

The Lords delays Brexit?

10/08/2016

The House of Lords could derail or delay the process of leaving the European Union, a Conservative peer has said. Baroness Wheatcroft said she hoped that a pause in introducing Article 50 could lead to a second EU referendum and potentially the public changing its mind. “If it comes to a Bill, I think the Lords might actually delay things. I think there’s a majority in the Lords for remaining,” she told The Times newspaper. The courts are set to decide in the autumn whether the Government can trigger Article 50 without the consent of Parliament. The baroness said she would support the Lords delaying the move if Parliament were indeed given a say.  “I would hope, while we delayed things, that there would be sufficient movement in the EU to justify putting it to the electorate, either through a general election or a second referendum,” she said.

Russia, using hacking as a weapon

02/08/2016

A report discuss Putin trying to influence the US presidential election, “By breaching the servers of the Democratic National Committee and posting nearly 20,000 internal emails online, suspected Russian government hackers appear to have significantly expanded a tactic that Kremlin intelligence agencies have been using in Europe for years: using cyberweapons to try and manipulate elections and sway public opinion. In Ukraine, Russian-linked hackers broke into vote-counting machines in a failed attempt to throw a presidential election. In France, far-right parties opposed to European Union enlargement — a goal they share with Russian President Vladimir Putin — have received financial support from Russian banks. In Germany, the country’s growing right-wing party has sidled up to Putin’s political movement, and in the Netherlands, anti-EU activists forced a public referendum on a mundane trade pact with Ukraine after Russian-backed news outlets there stoked public concern”.

The piece goes on to mention that “While Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager has openly described the hack as a Russian attempt to help Donald Trump defeat the Democratic nominee, politicians in Europe have for years been struggling to detect and beat back the subtle ways Russian operatives try to exercise influence in their countries. The DNC hack — which is now being investigated by the FBI — simply marks the first time Moscow has taken that propaganda machine across the Atlantic. “They’re not just conducting cyber espionage to collect and analyze information,” said Justin Harvey, the chief security officer at Fidelis Cybersecurity. “This is collecting information to weaponize it or to affect a process within a country.” Fiona Hill, a former officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council, said the hack was evidence that Washington was “back into a kind of Cold War intelligence standoff” with Moscow. While Washington has been busy with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global counterterrorism campaign, and an attempted to pivot to the Asia Pacific region in recent years, she said that “the Russians never changed their intelligence focus” away from the United States”.

Naturally it writes that “The election of a President Trump would potentially deliver significant dividends for Moscow since the mogul has spoken warmly of Putin and questioned whether he would come to the defense of NATO allies if they don’t meet their commitments on defense spending. In the run-up to last week’s Republican convention, Trump operatives stripped language from the party platform calling for the United States to arm Ukrainian forces against pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east. Eugene Rumer, a former U.S. national intelligence officer for Russia, said the Russian penetration of the DNC servers fits into a longstanding pattern of how Moscow has pursued its objectives covertly and without leaving fingerprints. “It’s a pretty diversified toolkit of espionage, information operations, disinformation, bribery, hacking, and financial manipulation,” Rumer said. Intelligence operatives likely working on behalf of Russia have already shown themselves capable of obtaining internal U.S. government communications and leaking it to embarrass Washington. In 2014, audio surfaced online from an intercepted phone call between Victoria Nuland, a senior State Department official, and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, in which she proclaimed, “Fuck the EU.” The leak of the phone call was widely seen as an attempt to sour relations between EU negotiators working to defuse tensions in Ukraine and their American counterparts. In that respect, the eavesdropping and information operation was a success”.

It continues “Elsewhere in Europe, Moscow has spread its largesse in an attempt to boost the popularity of fringe parties who share Putin’s interest in preventing the enlargement of the EU and halting the process of European integration. The Political Capital Institute, a Budapest-based research institute, has identified 15 right-wing European parties in the U.K. Denmark, Italy, Austria, and throughout Eastern Europe that have proven ties to Russia. France’s Marine Le Pen has repeatedly sought backing from Russian financiers, as she has built out a political movement that would see her country follow Britain out of the EU. In February, her National Front party sought a $30 million loan from a Russian bank to compete in 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections. The request came after she took out $11 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014. That year, her father and the founder of the National Front, Jean Marie Le-Pen, also borrowed more than $2 million from a company owned by a former KGB agent”.

It notes how “In Germany, meanwhile, the right-wing AfD party is forging close ties with Putin’s political movement, especially between the two groups’ youth wings. The party’s skepticism toward NATO and the EU makes it a natural Putin ally, and AfD leaders make frequent pilgrimages to appear at conferences together with Putin confidantes. While the DNC hack has captured the country’s attention during a fraught political moment in American public life, analysts point out that many of the information operations that Russia has run in recent years actually haven’t been very effective. The Kremlin’s efforts to keep Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in power fell apart in early 2014 when he was ousted from office and forced to flee the country, and its attempt to disrupt Ukraine’s elections also fell flat”.

Interestingly the report adds “Some of the hackers responsible for breaking into the DNC are well known to U.S. intelligence. Cozy Bear previously broke into the unclassified email systems at the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On Friday, WikiLeaks posted a huge collection of emails that appeared to have been stolen from the servers. Their provenance and authenticity remain unclear, but that hasn’t prevented the messages from sparking a political scandal within the party. DNC boss Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned after emails surfaced showing her organization openly discussing ways of limiting Sen. Bernie Sanders’s chances of the nomination. On Monday, the DNC apologized for what it called “inexcusable” remarks in the emails. “The leaking suggests to me that the either the mission has changed or that this was the mission all along — to actually influence people’s opinions about the election,” said a person close to the investigation of the DNC breach and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss its findings. The FBI said in a statement that it is investigating the breach: “A compromise of this nature is something we take very seriously, and the FBI will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” On Monday, the Russian Embassy in Washington denied any involvement in the leaking of DNC emails. “We see the flood of inadequate and inappropriate allegations that yet again has inundated the U.S. media,” Yury Melnik, a spokesman for the embassy said in a statement. “One can only be surprised by such childish, groundless accusations that are far beyond reality.” American cybersecurity experts have come to a very different conclusion. Fidelis analyzed some of the technical data associated with the DNC breach and backed the conclusion reached by CrowdStrike that Russian intelligence was responsible”.

 

“Liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant”

29/07/2016

James Traub argues that liberalism is not working, “I was in Poland this year, I asked everyone how a nation that exemplified the commitment to liberal democracy had elected a party, called Law and Justice, which openly appealed to nationalism, xenophobia, and religious traditionalism. Quite a few people responded with a question of their own: “What about Donald Trump?” Wasn’t the United States, that is, heading in the same direction? Yes, I came back, but since liberal principles are more deeply embedded in American voters and institutions, Trump won’t win. Now I find myself wondering: Isn’t that more or less what David Cameron and other advocates of staying in the European Union told themselves about British voters? I wonder if the West is sleep-walking toward “illiberal democracy,” the ideology championed by Hungary’s Viktor Orban, emulated by Poland’s Law and Justice, and implicitly endorsed by Trump and many of the Brexiteers. Turkey’s increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone further down this road than anyone. These populists win elections by rallying citizens against what they describe as “liberalism” — secular hostility to majority religious values, a cult of individualism that undermines the collective good, a concern with immigrants rather than citizens, and a celebration of the free market that weakens state control. (See Orban’s 2014 speech on the subject.) It would be a mistake to think that those cynical tactics can’t work in the more evolved democracies of Western Europe. Austria, to take one more example, may elect Norbert Hofer, a frank Islamophobe who advocates widespread gun ownership to counter an alleged immigrant threat, in a presidential election to be restaged later this year”.

Traub goes on to point out “These are the stakes I was thinking of when I wrote last week that elites had a moral obligation to stand up to the politics of resentment rather than exploit them. I now understand, from the torrent of abuse I received, that a great many readers thought I was saying that people who take issue with the forces of globalization, whether from the left or the right, should defer to elites, the high priests of the globalized world. That’s a repellent thought. I regret the use of the word “elites,” which conjures up the Trilateral Commission or a Masonic temple. I won’t use it again. Now I will try to explain myself. Illiberal democracy is a highly effective political strategy because many of the constituent principles of liberalism, especially the ones seized on by the populists, are intended to serve as bulwarks against majoritarianism. Perhaps the first liberal was James Madison, who in the Federalist Papers made the case that democracies, by their nature, endanger the rights of political minorities and must design institutions to protect those rights. Over the course of the 19th century, liberalism evolved to include advocacy of civil liberties, free markets, and activist government. The high-water mark of liberalism was the mid-20th century, when the world was threatened by the totalitarian nightmares of communism and Nazism. For its great exponents, like George Orwell, liberalism meant anti-totalitarianism”.

He makes the argument that “there are good reasons why liberalism is in crisis and illiberalism in the ascendant. Political leaders must find a way of dealing with the breakdown of the liberal order if they are to protect and preserve its basic principles. As I’ve written in previous columns, even Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has bravely opened Germany’s doors to hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Afghan refugees, now understands that she has left her public too far behind and has instead struck a deal with Turkey to stanch the flow of migrants. And free trade has become politically toxic and will continue to be unless more is done to buffer the effects on factory workers and others who see themselves as getting the short end of the globalization stick. Policy must change both to cushion globalization’s effects and to create the political space so that liberal-minded leaders can pursue sound policies. But there is no policy change that will mollify people who can’t stand the way the world is going and want to return to a mythical golden age where women and Mexicans and refugees and gays and atheists didn’t disturb the public with their demands. Populist leaders have a message for them: Liberalism is a plot to keep you down. Social tolerance threatens traditional culture, an independent media tells self-interested lies, and extending rights to accused terrorists undermines public safety. (See this very bizarre 2006 speech by Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski.) Above all, as Turkey’s Erdogan tirelessly repeats, those who don’t share the majority’s views — ethnic minorities, secular elites, journalists — are enemies of the state and must be marginalized or crushed”.

Correctly he points out that these trends are made more dangerous by the post-truth age in which we live, “This is why I argued that rationalism itself is at stake and that the cynical fellow travelers of the illiberal democrats are feeding an anti-intellectual narrative. Michael Gove, until recently a contender to be England’s next prime minister, answered predictions — correct ones, as it turned out — that Brexit would lead to disaster by saying, “People in this country have had enough of experts.” The word “expert” is, of course, the pejorative term for someone who knows what he or she is talking about — like Gove, I imagine, who graduated from Oxford and spent years as a minister in Conservative Party governments. What Gove was actually saying was that people should be free to build gratifying fantasies free from unpleasant facts. Similarly, the Republican Party has spent years carving the path down that Donald Trump is now careening by telling voters that America’s borders are being overrun, a national default would bring no lasting harm, global warming is a hoax, and so on and so on. It wasn’t only Trump, but Ted Cruz and others, who campaigned on the need for massive increases in border security. Republican primary voters ate up this rhetoric — even though net immigration from Mexico is now flat. America has had enough of experts”.

He argues that “Absent a collective faith in reason, very little stands in the way of the gratifying fantasy, or the dreadful nightmare, that populists’ forge from voters’ hopes and fears. Of course, I don’t believe that deference to expertise, to technocratic knowledge, or even to science will defeat the scourge of illiberal democracy. Only good politics drives out bad politics. Perhaps only good populism can drive out bad populism. An obviously irate President Barack Obama recently argued that he, not Trump, was the real populist in American politics — since he cared about working people and Trump doesn’t. In fact, Obama’s remote, cerebral manner has, if anything, whetted the public’s appetite for a snake-oil salesman like Trump. We will always have charming scoundrels among us, but reckless populism is more pernicious than it was a decade or a generation ago. That’s not because Donald Trump and Viktor Orban are worse than their predecessors, but because so many people in the West feel cheated or betrayed by the impersonal forces of globalization and are seeking an alternate reality to occupy, whether Little England or Industrial Age America. The cynics who provide comfort for those delusions are as dangerous as the extremists”.

 

 

The press, democracy and Brexit

29/07/2016

An important article notes the decline of the British press, “There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has “the best journalism in the world.” At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC’s worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists who make important stories accessible and hold power to account”.

Correctly he notes that “At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief. At the time, it seemed like a new low for the industry. If the Leveson inquiry revealed the tawdry side of the media business in the U.K., however, the Brexit campaign has featured a different kind of journalistic abuse: contempt for basic norms of truth and accuracy”.

He points out that “In the lead-up to the June 23 European Union referendum, British mainstream media failed spectacularly. Led, inevitably, by the viscerally anti-EU Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Express, and Telegraph papers, most of Britain’s national press indulged in little more than a catalog of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies. It was a ferocious propaganda campaign in which facts and sober analysis were sacrificed to the ideologically driven objectives of editors and their proprietors. The interests of readers, much less the interests of British democracy, were barely considered. Three days after the vote, I spoke to a Labour Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in northern England with one of the lowest proportions of immigrants in the country. Despite this, a majority of her constituents had voted to leave the EU. Why? Mainly, she said, because they were convinced that waves of immigrants would soon overwhelm their communities, take their jobs, and undermine their way of life. They were particularly concerned about the looming massive influx of Muslims, given the imminent European debut of Turkey – a country that stands no chance of joining the EU in my lifetime, let alone in the next few years”.

He questions, “How did things get so bad? In part, you can blame the internet, which has gutted traditional business models of journalism around the world. British journalism has been particularly vulnerable: For historical and geographical reasons – partly due to early industrialization and partly due to efficient distribution networks in a small country – Britain has long enjoyed the largest national press in any mature democracy. Nine national newspapers (10, until March, when the Independent went online-only) still battle furiously for eyeballs. This is, in many ways, for the good. But this frantic competition for a diminishing pool of readers and shrinking ad revenue, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, partly explains why some publications have been willing to sacrifice basic journalistic norms of accuracy and respect for privacy. But a second, equally powerful reason is unique to the United Kingdom — the passionate right-wing ideology that drives many of those newspapers. The country has a long history of explicit partisanship in its journalism. While there has always been a predominance of right-wing papers (at times, very right wing: the Daily Mail famously supported pro-Fascist groups during the 1930s), in the past, this was partly balanced by the mass circulation of the Mirror newspapers. But the Mirror’s decline has been precipitate; the Mails online dominance, on the other hand, driven by its embrace of celebrity news and pictures (mostly of young women in various states of undress), has enhanced its popular and political influence. Led by the Murdoch-owned Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Telegraph, with the Times (also Murdoch-owned) in a supporting role, the partisan right now overwhelms the comparatively insignificant presence of the Daily Mirror and Guardian on the left, especially with the left-leaning Independent now relegated to an online-only presence. During the referendum campaign, this toxic combination of uncompromising devotion to a political cause and contempt for the truth played a major role in leading Britain down the Brexit road”.

He mentions that “In a June 18 blog post, journalism blogger Liz Gerard compiled a montage of front-page headlines in order to demonstrate how the constant reiteration of words such as “migrants” and “borders” in large, bold font systematically ramped up the xenophobic message. “Turks, Romanians, Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Albanians: millions of them apparently want to abandon their homelands and settle in the English countryside — and only leaving the EU will stop them,” Gerard wrote. “No claim was too preposterous, no figure too huge to print.” The tabloid campaign against the EU itself — its faceless pen-pushing bureaucrats, its absurd regulations, and how much it costs the U.K. as an institution — lent itself perfectly to the oft-repeated Leave mantra of “Take back control.” Perhaps the most egregious example was a front-page Daily Mail headline on June 16 (inevitably repeated by the Sun) claiming that a truckload of migrants had arrived in the U.K. demanding, “We’re from Europe – let us in!” The story ran despite video footage that clearly demonstrated the new arrivals had informed officials that they were, in fact, refugees from Iraq and Kuwait. In a futile attempt to demonstrate that they aspired to some notion of journalistic integrity, the following day’s paper carried a “correction” consisting of 54 words at the bottom of Page 2″.

The article goes on to point out that “This was a much-repeated pattern throughout the referendum campaign: Journalist Hugo Dixon, who founded a pro-Remain fact-checking site called InFacts, drew attention to both the number of inaccurate stories and the chronically inadequate “corrections” relegated to inside pages. The problem was compounded by the sheer weight of anti-EU press. According to a Loughborough University study, once newspaper circulation is taken into account, just 18 percent of media coverage was pro-Remain compared with 82 percent pro-Leave. It’s difficult to prove conclusively that this constant drumbeat of headlines directly influenced voters’ decision-making. What is clear, however, is that it influenced the national conversation and, in particular, played an agenda-setting role for broadcasters, which in the U.K. (as in most of Europe) are bound by strict impartiality rules and are therefore more trusted by consumers to provide a nonpartisan approach. Remain campaign strategists were confident that the message of economic risk would succeed – as it had in the Scottish independence referendum – but they did not factor in a deeply hostile press whose slogans served as an echo chamber that broadcasters could scarcely resist”.

He notes how “This echo chamber was particularly evident on the vaunted BBC, which, by an unfortunate coincidence, is immersed in negotiations with the government about the renewal of its 10-year charter, always a tricky and delicate task. As a result, its normally self-assured journalists have been obsessed with “balance”: Any argument that receives airtime is accompanied by a counterargument, however patently absurd. This silliness was on display, for example, during a broadcast on the highly influential Radio 4 Today program, which featured an eminent scientist on the huge scientific research risks of Brexit. She was then “balanced” by a marginal and wholly unrepresentative cancer specialist who had previously stood as a candidate for the anti-EU UK Independence Party. Overall, the BBC’s EU referendum coverage was much more inclined to follow rather than lead. Film director Lord Puttnam, the former deputy chairman of Channel 4, a competing broadcaster, memorably described the BBC’s journalism during the campaign as “constipated.” In her post-referendum media roundup, the Guardian’s Jane Martinson revealed that, within an hour of Leave’s declaring victory, Sun editor Tony Gallagher told the Guardian: “So much for the waning power of the print media.” There was a further twist a few days later, when, on one of the most dramatic days in British politics, prominent Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, long considered the most likely next Conservative leader, abandoned his leadership bid. A leaked email suggested that, among other obstacles to a successful bid, he didn’t have the support of Murdoch or Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. Even in the age of social and digital media, which so many commentators believe will democratize communications, old-fashioned media proprietors and editors still serve as political kingmakers in Britain”.

He concludes questioning if anything can change, “In the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal, Parliament did, in fact, accept Leveson’s key recommendation: that the press’s efforts at self-regulation should be periodically scrutinized by an independent body in order to ensure that it is abiding by its own Code of Conduct – whose first rule is that newspapers should “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. A Leveson compliant system would include regulatory sanctions for errant publications, such as equal prominence for corrections and fines for systematic code breaches. Had such a system been put in place, perhaps Brexit coverage would have been different. The kind of deliberate distortions that featured repeatedly across most of the tabloid press may have, at the very least, been discouraged by a regime that would oblige newspapers to print a front-page headline correction to counter a front-page headline lie. In any event, the new Conservative government, under huge pressure from the same press barons who undid Johnson, has stalled on implementing Leveson’s recommendations, and the British press today therefore feels free to break its own industry code with as much frequency and impunity as before 2011. To deflect criticism, it has established a “new” regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which is owned and run by the major publishers. As the referendum campaign demonstrated, IPSO has been ineffectual in holding its newspaper members to account. Those same commentators who preach the revolution of social media also like to cite new media like BuzzFeed, Vice News, and other online outlets as examples of greater plurality and more opportunities for journalists. These are all welcome additions, but so far they have been unable to compete with the legacy of traditional news brands, which are extending their online presence. According to some sources, the entertainment-focused Daily Mail website, which attracts upward of 200 million global visitors every month, is the most popular English-language site in the world. Perhaps that will gradually change. Meanwhile, broadcast journalism still aspires to the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality, and another hope lies in detaching those broadcast newsrooms from their mind-numbing dependency on agenda-driven newspapers”.

 

May’s Brexiteers, Johnson, Davis and Fox

27/07/2016

David Francis writes about the team for Brexit, “The prime minister who took power because of the Brexit just formed a cabinet shaped by the Brexit — but it’s not at all clear how that new government will actually manage the Brexit. The appointments by newly minted British Prime Minister Theresa May came quickly and in succession. Brexit opponent George Osborne is out as British treasury secretary, replaced by fellow opponent Philip Hammond, who left his job as foreign secretary. Hammond is being replaced by Boris Johnson, the flamboyant and controversial former mayor of London who championed the pro-Brexit movement”.

Francis writes that “Two new positions have been created to deal with the logistics of the Brexit. David Davis, a Eurosceptic conservative who campaigned to leave, wasnamed secretary of state for exiting the European Union — the so-called Brexit minister — created to guide the process to show the U.K. out of the EU. Liam Fox, another veteran of the Eurosceptic right, was appointed to the new role of international trade minister, charged with delivering the improved trade deals pro-exit campaigners promised the U.K. could get if it left the EU. He’s also pro-Brexit. In other words, five people — the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer, both anti-Brexit, and the foreign secretary, Brexit minister, and international trade minister, all pro-Brexit — are now charged with seeing Britain out of the European Union, which means they have to come to terms with 27 other nations on issues ranging from exports to migration to marriage privileges. It’s already shaping up as a messy and chaotic divorce”.

He points out that “The prime minister has said that she would not soon invoke Article 50, which would officially begin the process of formally removing Britain from the EU, before 2017 and that talks with Brussels should not be launched before the end of year. She said Britain needs time to develop its negotiating strategy. European leaders want May to get on with the Brexit, and have said no talks would start before London officially moves to leave. British officials want the U.K. to have access to the European common market, a notion powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected. She said there would be no “cherry picking” of what London wants to keep from its EU membership while jettisoning the aspects of the relationship it dislikes, such as policies allowing EU citizens to have passport-free travel to the U.K. Hammond has said talks between London and Brussels could take six years, four years longer than allowed by Article 50″.

The piece notes that “The truth is no one knows what will happen next simply because a nation has never left the European Union, said Nicolas Véron, a French economist and visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “A lot of things will happen in six months,” he told Foreign Policy on Wednesday, referring to May’s refusal to invoke Article 50 before 2017. “We don’t know what, but six months is a lot of time for unexpected things to happen in politics.” One immediate reaction was clear: shock that Johnson has become the new face of British diplomacy. The former mayor of London is known for getting stuck on a zip line and knocking over a Japanese child while playing rugby, as well as for odd statements about drugs and food. “It’s difficult to really make sense of the choices, especially Boris Johnson,” said Véron, who characterized the picks, and how they were made public, as chaotic. “The less chaotic choice is Hammond as chancellor. I struggle to make sense of the Johnson appointment in particular.” He added that he wasn’t familiar with either Davis or Fox. Mujtaba Rahman, a Europe expert at the Eurasia Group, told FP the makeup of the cabinet is a reflection of British politics more than it is an effort to put together a team that can deal with Europe; it’s slightly favoured in the pro-Brexit camp, just as the referendum was. He added, “Boris Johnson in particular is a serious risk, given his role in the Leave campaign and subsequent withdrawal from the premiership.” That’s because Johnson has, at best, a spotty reputation as a British diplomat. In the run-up to the Brexit vote, he compared Winston Churchill’s fight against totalitarian regimes in World War II with Britain’s efforts to leave a “federal superstate” and blasted President Barack Obama for his anti-Brexit stance”.

Correctly he point out Johnson’s myriad other gaffes, “Johnson has also praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for protecting Palmyra from the Islamic State. Then, in May, he was awarded 1,000 pounds, or $1,314, in a British magazine contest on who could write the most offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It reads:

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.

A 2015 trip to Iraq by Johnson has also proven controversial. Documentsreleased by the Foreign Office in January 2016 showed it had to pick up a bar tab run up by Johnson, block his planned trip to the front line of the war against the Islamic State, and stop him from driving a sports car out of an Iraqi showroom. Even May has been critical of Johnson’s ability as a statesman. Speaking in late June, before Johnson announced he would not be running for prime minister, she said: “Boris negotiated in Europe. I seem to remember [the] last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly new water cannon[s],” referring to anti-riot weapons Johnson secured as London’s mayor”.

The piece notes “When asked about Johnson’s appointment Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at Wednesday’s press briefing, “We’re always going to be able to work with the British, no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary because of our deep abiding special relationship with the United Kingdom.” He added the relationship between London and Washington “goes beyond personalities.” The other officials named Wednesday all face daunting challenges. Hammond, who has vast experience dealing with European leaders like Merkel and French President François Hollande, must navigate the U.K. through what nearly three-thirds of economists recently surveyed by Bloomberg predict to be a looming recession due to the Brexit. He must also deal with a pound sterling hovering around 31-year lows against the dollar. Britons have seen the value of their currency drop as 1.32 pounds equal one dollar. On June 23, the day of the referendum, one pound was worth $1.49. In addition, capital has been fleeing the country in the wake of the Brexit. Last week, M&G Investments suspended a 4.4 billion-pound ($5.7 billion) real-estate fund there, following in the footsteps of Aviva Investors and Standard Life Investments after a number of investors pulled out of their funds”.

It concludes “Finally, Hammond, along with Fox, will have to repair the trade relationship between London and Washington. Obama has said that Britain would moveto the back of the line when it comes to negotiating a U.K./U.S. trade deal, as opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the entirety of the EU.

Frexit?

21/07/2016

An article notes the possibility of Frexit, a French exit from the EU, “after Grexit and Brexit, the next crisis to confront the European Union will be Frexit. It will prove to be the worst of all. While dramatic, the Greek tragedy had a limited run. While seismic, the British divorce will not necessarily upend Brussels. But for historical and institutional reasons, a French crisis would be cataclysmic. The midwife for the EU’s birth, France now risks becoming its gravedigger”.

The author makes the point that “the French believe, rightly, there can be no Europe without the people of their own glorious nation. That corollary breathes life into France’s traditional conception of a united Europe and thus lends vitality to the continent’s abstract ideals. It also motivates Europe’s traditional bouts of frustration with France. Upon coming to power in 1958, Charles de Gaulle insisted upon the necessity of a “European Europe.” In principle, this meant a united Europe of equals; in practice, de Gaulle meant a Europe in which France would be more equal than the others. Tellingly, when he signed the Rome Treaty in 1958 (the future EU’s act of conception), it was not because he believed in “Europe.” Instead, it was because he believed in an independent and sovereign France, one yoked to the accomplishment of “great undertakings.” De Gaulle accepted the EU because it ensured France’s own magnificence”.

The author points out that “A funny thing happened, though, on France’s way to a future of peace and prosperity. While the former grew humdrum, the latter grew hazier. After enjoying the 30-year period of postwar growth — known as the “trente glorieuses” — the French economy faltered during the oil crisis of the early 1970s and never fully recovered. While successive French governments continued to lay bricks for the European project, they failed to restart the national economy — which slowed from an annual average of 4 percent during the trente glorieuses to slightly more than 1 percent now forecast for 2017 — just as they failed to resolve the predicament of the growing number of unemployed, which currently stands at slightly more than 10 percent. As the foundations of a new European order were being laid, France’s imperial past caught up with it as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from its former colonies in North Africa — Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria — settled in the country. Recruited to fill jobs created during the trente glorieuses, these same immigrants found the welcome mat pulled from under their feet as France’s economy slowed and then headed south by the end of the 20th century. By the turn of the 21st century, the diffuse fear of “le grand replacement” — coined by the essayist Renaud Camus and positing the submersion of a white and Christian France by Arab and Muslim immigrants — had become an article of faith among the growing number of French turning to the extreme right-wing Front National (FN)”.

He aruges the French is unsure of its identity which is rebounding on the EU, “The inability of both conservative and socialist governments to redress the growing social and economic fissures in French society, and to reinvent the republican model for the 21st century, has encouraged the retreat to nativism and nationalism. Tellingly, a 2015 poll revealed that if the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution were to be held again, 62 percent of respondents would vote against it, a 7 percent rise from the original “non” vote. It is a crisis, moreover, the French government seems incapable of addressing. The day after the British vote was tallied, and the stock markets went into a tailspin, President François Hollande went before the nation and again underwhelmed it. He explained that “Europe could not go on as before,” expounded on the need to “reinforce the eurozone and democratic governance,” and exhorted Europe to take the necessary “leap” to secure its future. Stapled to the end of these oft-repeated pieties — spoken by a president with the mien of a funeral home director — was a solemn chestnut: “History,” Hollande intoned, “is knocking at our door.” It remains unclear when or whether Hollande will open the door. Not only are 26 other nations huddled behind the same door squabbling over how to answer the knocking, but the weightiest nation seems in no great hurry to answer it at all. While Hollande was, in his inimitable style, urging his fellow leaders — in particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — to make haste, Merkel agreed that Europe must make haste, but slowly. Very slowly. After meeting with the leaders of Germany’s political parties, Merkel appealed for “calm and determination” and warned against “simple and fast solutions that would only further divide Europe.” In a word, whereas Hollande urged the principal duo of the EU, France and Germany, to take the lead, Merkel instead emphasized gemeinsam, or collective, action”.

The report mentions that “The tumult is greatest on the party’s left. Shortly before the Brexit vote, Arnaud Montebourg was unpersuasively denying reports that he planned to enter the primary race. Having been tapped by Hollande to serve as economy minister, Montebourg found himself unemployed in 2014 when the government, scrambling to meet the EU’s deficit requirements, largely swallowed its austerity demands. Not only has Montebourg since been a consistent critic of these policies, but his earlier anti-globalization sentiments — summarized in his 2011 manifesto Votez pour la démondialisation (Vote for De-Globalization) — are now crystallizing into a “dé-europisation” stance. Montebourg is not the only prominent figure on the left who is, as he recently described himself, “euro-épuisé,” or “Euro-exhausted.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perennial presidential candidate of the Parti de Gauche, has long inveighed against “the caste of Eurocrats and politics of austerity” imposed on EU member states. Not surprisingly, he welcomed the Brexit vote as a reality check for the French political class, as well as a promising harbinger of his own political prospects. “This is the beginning of the end to an era,” he exclaimed. “Either we change the European Union or we leave it.” Though he hotly refuses such comparisons, Mélenchon’s reasoning and rhetoric echo that of his ideological opposite and nemesis, Marine Le Pen. Among the ways Le Pen has transformed the party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is to have turned inside out its relation to Europe. Fervently anti-Communist, anti-Gaullist, and thus pro-Europeanist during the Cold War, the FN began its long lurch toward its current hyper-nationalism with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The near-death of the Maastricht Treaty referendum in 1992, the full death of the European Constitution in the 2005 referendum, and its resurrection two years later in the widely despised Lisbon Treaty (signed by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy without a referendum) showed Le Pen père and fille the electoral advantages of mining the deepening vein of popular alienation from Brussels”.

Importantly he notes “In the wake of the Brexit vote, Le Pen could scarcely contain her satisfaction. At a short press conference at the her party’s headquarters, Le Pen stood in front of a newly minted poster displaying a pair of hands breaking free of a handcuff made of gold stars. For those unable to interpret the image, there also ran a caption: “And Now France!” Indeed. In her opening remarks, Le Pen congratulated the British people — along with the “very brave” Boris Johnson and her “friend and ally” Janice Atkinson (a European Parliament deputy formerly with the UK Independence Party) — for reminding France that, yes, “it is possible to leave the European Union.” She also abstained from playing the religion, race, and immigration cards that brought her to prominence: The French already know the hand she is holding. As a result, she mentioned the word “immigration” just once but repeated more than a dozen times the words “liberty” and “democracy” — the very values born in Europe, she has argued, but scorned by the EU and France’s traditional political parties”.

Crucially, “In 2014, Le Pen was already promising that, if elected to the presidency, her first order of business would be to schedule a referendum on whether France should remain in the EU. Suddenly, this promise seems a bit less fantastic, all the more because she has largely succeeded in making the FN a party like the others. (In a recent and underreported finding by France’s prestigious polling institute, the IFOP, the historic gap between those who say they will vote for the FN and those who do vote for it has almost entirely closed. This suggests, as IFOP director Jérôme Fourquet notes, that the shame FN voters once felt is a thing of the past.) In the most recent salvo of polls from early June, in which the French were asked for their presidential preferences, Le Pen is the first over the finish line. In nearly every poll, she breaks the barrier of 30 percent, leaving her competitors in the dust”.

He ends “For the moment, the nature of France’s electoral process — in which the top two finishers face off in a second round of voting — remains a rampart against a Le Pen presidency. Polls reveal that the only competitor she would defeat in the second round is the discredited and derided François Hollande. The candidacies of Alain Juppé and Sarkozy, the leading contestants for the nomination of the conservative Les Républicains, pose another obstacle. In a projected second round, both men would attract enough voters from the center and left to decisively defeat Le Pen. Finally, Le Pen’s path to the Élysée is also mined by the French public’s complex attitude toward the European Union. In an Odoxa poll taken last week, the French clearly stated that while they cannot live with the EU, they also cannot live without it. Sixty-four percent of respondents do not wish to see France quit the EU, yet at the same time only 31 percent saw the EU as a “source of hope.” Yet, as Le Pen underscored in her press conference, much can happen in the 10 months remaining between now and France’s presidential elections. Juppé’s Europeanism and economic liberalism can easily morph into political liabilities; by the same token, voters will not forget that Sarkozy, who now insists that the Lisbon Treaty be rewritten, had rammed through that same treaty in 2007 when he was president. Most important, if the United Kingdom manages a smooth divorce from the EU, a majority of French voters may come to see a “grande France” as a source of hope, just as a majority of British voters last week saw hope in a Little England”.

 

Israel, selling gas to Turkey?

17/07/2016

A report notes the possibility of Israel-Turkey energy deals, “and Turkey agreed to normalize diplomatic relations Monday, six years after an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship sent to Gaza opened a bitter divide between two Mediterranean countries that had long been friendly. And while shared security concerns were apparently the biggest driver of the rapprochement, the deal could potentially pave the way for Israel to use its abundant reserves of natural gas to become a major energy supplier to Turkey in the years to come. The reconciliation announced by Israeli and Turkish officials, in separate press conferences, marked the culmination of years of informal talks ushered along by the European Union and by U.S. officials including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry”.

The writer goes on to make the point “Speaking to reporters in Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the “strategic importance” of the deal, especially at a time of deepening insecurity across the eastern Mediterranean. The five-year old civil war in Syria continues apace, while terrorist attacks have hammered both Turkey, and to a lesser extent, Israel in recent months. “Energy diplomacy has been crucial in lubricating the relationship and giving them a non-controversial platform for contacts in recent years, but I think the reconciliation is definitely about security,” said Brenda Shaffer, a Georgetown University expert on the region. Under the terms of the deal, Israel will pay Turkey $20 million in compensation for the victims of the 2010 raid, but it won’t lift the naval blockade on Gaza. Turkey, for its part, will ship aid to Gaza through Israel, rather than unilaterally, and promised to ensure that Hamas only carries out political activities on Turkish soil, rather than plotting attacks against Israel”.

Johnson adds that “After the governments in Israel and Turkey ratify the final agreement, the two sides will exchange ambassadors and unwind some economic sanctions. That will pave the way for greater security and intelligence cooperation. For Turkey, reconciliation with Israel comes not just as the region is unraveling, but while Ankara’s ties to other once-close friends have frayed. Turkish relations with Russia went into a nosedive last year after Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber that briefly crossed into its airspace. That chilled ties between the two, hammered Turkish tourism and trade, and put Turkish-Russian energy projects on ice. On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Russian President Vladimir Putin for shooting down the jet, and indicated that Ankara is ready to normalize relations with Russia. For Israel, and especially for Netanyahu, healing the breach with Turkey has been a primary objective for years, but has gained urgency as the Syrian crisis continues to worsen. The prime minister spoke of Monday’s reconciliation as creating “islands of stability” around Israel; since Turkey shares a border with Syria, closer cooperation between Israel and Turkey could help minimise the fallout from the civil war and the terrorist petri dish it has created. But for Netanyahu, restoring normal ties with Turkey could also bring an economic benefit: a potential new market for Israeli energy exports. Late last year, the Israeli prime minister pressed the case for exporting Israeli gas — rather than keeping it all for the domestic market — by touting the geopolitical benefits of energy exports. One of the prizes he flagged? Closer ties with Turkey”.

It adds later that “Netanyahu again emphasized Israel’s hoped-for role as a supplier of natural gas to neighbours around the region, including Turkey, as well as to countries in Europe. The reconciliation, Netanyahu said in joint remarks with Kerry, “has also immense implications for the Israeli economy – and I use that word advisedly – immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I mean positive immense implications.” The prime minister said that Israeli gas, especially at the large Leviathan field off the Israeli coast, could supply enough energy for domestic use as well as exports to Egypt, Turkey, and European countries desperate to find suppliers other than Russia. Israel has already explored some deals to sell gas to neighbours like Egypt and Jordan. But there are technical and commercial obstacles to big gas deals with Turkey. Building a pipeline in the deep waters of the Mediterranean would likely be very expensive, as would building a terminal to ship gas by tanker. At the same time, the world is awash in natural gas right now, and Turkey has increasing options to meet its future energy needs, including piped gas from countries like Iran and Azerbaijan, as well as gas from the Middle East or the United States shipped by tanker”.

May’s Cabinet: blood and Brexit

15/07/2016

A report notes the recent reshuffle that took place earlier this week in the UK after the new PM was formally appointed, “Theresa May has drawn a decisive line under the David Cameron era with a sweeping reshuffle that saw several of his key ministers, including justice secretary, Michael Gove, sacked, and her own handpicked team rewarded with cabinet posts. Conservative MPs, some of whom had seen the former home secretary as a continuity candidate who would build incrementally on the record of the Cameron governments, were stunned by the radical reboot. May began the day in her Westminster office, holding a series of one-to-one meetings with ministers she had decided to replace, including Gove, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the culture secretary, John Whittingdale. She later moved to Downing Street, where senior Conservatives came and went throughout the day to be told their fate”.

The piece adds “In total, six of Cameron’s ministers, including the former chancellor George Osborne, have been shown the door since Wednesday night. Big winners included Justine Greening, who will run a new beefed-up Department for Education, and Liz Truss, who takes Gove’s role as justice secretary. May will travel to Scotland to meet first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday for her first official visit and stress her determination to uphold the union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom despite the decision to leave the EU – something Scottish voters rejected at the referendum. She will say: “I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries.” There were several surprising appointments to May’s cabinet. She handed key roles to Brexiters demonstrating that she is determined to repair the rift in the party created by the hard-fought referendum campaign”.

It continues “Andrea Leadsom, who paved the way for May’s premiership when she dropped out of the leadership race earlier this week, will be the new secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. Leadsom made clear during the leadership campaign that she would like the ban on foxhunting to be repealed and once suggested the subsidies which are received by farmers from the European Union should be completely phased out. Priti Patel, the former employment minister, takes over as secretary of state for international development, despite a history of being sceptical about foreign aid. She has previously called for the department to be abolished. The new cabinet has a distinctly less privileged flavour, with Cameron’s party chairman, his close friend Lord Feldman, replaced with Patrick McLoughlin, who comes from a working-class background in Yorkshire. Greening went to a comprehensive school. Only about a fifth of the new team were privately educated, compared with almost half under Cameron. McLoughlin has been given the job of winning seats and gaining support in parts of the country that are not traditional Conservative strongholds in a clear signal that May hopes to exploit Labour’s disarray by reaching out to working-class voters”.

Interestingly the report notes “May’s allies insisted she was not motivated by a personal animus against the “chumocracy” of close friends and allies that surrounded Cameron and Osborne; but had ruthlessly favoured colleagues she believed could deliver. The new prime minister also announced the most radical shakeup in the shape of Whitehall for years, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change being abolished and its responsibilities absorbed into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sajid Javid, who has been far more reluctant to use the phrase “industrial strategy” than his coalition predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, will move across to be communities secretary, while Greg Clark takes over at business”.

Sensibly it mentions that “Education will be beefed up under Greening, taking over responsibility for apprenticeships and higher education, currently overseen by the business department. Downing Street said that was so that children’s full journey, from the early years to their first steps into the workplace, would be overseen by a single Whitehall department. Despite Truss and Greening’s success, however, expectations that Britain’s second female prime minister would bring a decisive boost to the number of women in government were disappointed, with most roles still held by men. Senior Conservatives came and went in Downing Street all day to find out what job their new leader was prepared to offer them. There were rumours – which were believed to be true by senior officials at the Department of Health – that Jeremy Hunt would be sacked, but he was later confirmed in his post, tweeting, ‘“rumours of my death have been exaggerated” and that he wasthrilled to be back “in the best job in government”. One well-placed NHS official said: “We were told this morning [Thursday] that he was going. Everybody was hoping that he would move on and everyone was expecting that he would move on. But then we were stumped that he was being retained. People were genuinely surprised. Hunt staying was clearly not the plan”. May’s office denied reports that Stephen Crabb was offered the health brief, before turning it down”.

The article mentions that “May’s spokeswoman later said her appointments demonstrated that she would run a “bold” cabinet. “What we’re seeing is the commitment of the prime minister to putting social reform at the heart of her government,” she said. Truss’s appointment in particular was a signal that criminal justice reform is a key priority for May, who had previously been regarded as a relatively hardline home secretary, but has made a pitch for the centreground by stressing her commitment to reform, since standing for the leadership. In her first handful of announcements, on Wednesday night, May placed the responsibility for negotiating Britain’s way out of the European Union squarely on the shoulders of the men who fought for it in the referendum campaign – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, who will be Brexit secretary, overseas trade secretary and foreign secretary respectively”.

As expected it mentions “Between the hiring and firing on Thursday, May found 15 minutes to receive a congratulatory call from the US president, Barack Obama. The pair discussed the need to safeguard the “special relationship” between the two countries and May stressed to him that she would honour the electorate’s decision at last month’s referendum to leave the EU. Jon Ashworth MP, the shadow minister without portfolio, responding to the cabinet announcements, said: “We had warm words from the prime minister yesterday on the need for her government to stand up for more than just a privileged few, but Theresa May’s appointments are completely out of kilter with her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. It’s difficult to see this new-look cabinet as anything other than a sharp shift to the right by the Tories.”

“She has always been driven less by ideology than by morality”

15/07/2016

A piece from the Guardian profiles the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, “For a woman on the verge of running the country, Theresa May has seemed almost preternaturally calm over the past few days. “She’s basically the same as ever; quite relaxed and cheerful. There’s no sense of the prison shades falling,” says a longstanding friend who has observed her closely during the campaign. But then, unlike Andrea Leadsom, seemingly badly shaken by a single weekend of hostile media coverage, May knew better than anyone what to expect. Over the past six years, May has weathered riots, sat in on a decision to go to war, and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in the prime minister’s absence following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby”.

The writer goes on to remark that “She has been diligently doing her homework for years and, while even she did not foresee David Cameron resigning in these circumstances (let alone the collapse of all other contenders), she is as ready as she will ever be. The question is whether that is anywhere near ready enough for the turbulent times ahead. Tory grandee Ken Clarke’s unguarded remarks about her being a “bloody difficult woman”probably did May nothing but good with female voters – and she turned them to her own advantage at the last parliamentary hustings, promising that European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker would soon find out how “bloody difficult” she could be. But even her friends concede Clarke has a point. “She can be a bugger,” says one otherwise admiring colleague succinctly. “Not easy to work with.” May fights her corner tigerishly and, unusually for a politician, she does not seem bothered about being liked”.

Interestingly it mentions that “It is typical of her take-me-or-leave-me approach that she managed to win the support of almost two-thirds of her parliamentary colleagues despite refusing to bribe waverers with job offers. “You can’t go in and say, ‘Make me under-secretary of state for sproggets and badges and you’ve got my support’,” says Eric Pickles, the ex-cabinet minister and longstanding ally. “That’s not how she operates. You’ve got to take her unconditionally.” Indeed, the most intriguing political comparison is arguably not with Thatcher, but with Gordon Brown, the last political figure dominant enough to become prime minister basically by acclamation. Two serious-minded children of religious ministers, steeped in moral purpose, both possessed of an iron need to control. May is a famously reluctant delegator, needing to know exactly what her juniors are doing and to chew over every detail of decisions – a micromanagement style she cannot hope to apply to an entire government – and like Brown, she demands unswerving loyalty. (Although unlike him, she generally won’t say behind your back what she wouldn’t say to your face)”.

It goes on to make the point “Yet for all her apparent stubbornness, in private May is surprisingly open to a well-sourced argument. A former junior minister who observed her playing hardball in negotiations says she will usually do a deal in the end: “It’s not just ‘because I say so’ – if you make a good argument to Theresa, she can be willing to change her position.” She may not be adored, but she commands admiration, a wary respect, and deep gratitude from many Tory women for what the business minister Anna Soubry calls the “proper sisterhood” that she has built inside the party. There is something fitting about the fact that over a decade after May overhauled the candidate selection system to bring more women and minority ethnic MPs up the ladder behind her, her party briefly volunteered an all-female shortlist for the top job”.

The writer goes on to mention that “What makes a May premiership interestingly unpredictable is that she has always been driven less by ideology than by morality, a very personal sense of right or wrong. Her more radical moments – attacking police corruption, fighting Downing Street for an inquiry into institutional child abuse, overruling civil service advice – have often come from a feeling that common decency has been offended. She loathes any sense of impropriety in public service, of sloppy and self-serving behaviour leading to injustice. On Monday, she hinted at an equally moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. In a rather audacious parking of the tanks on Labour’s lawn, she plans to pitch herself as a champion of the “left behind”, people struggling financially who voted to leave the EU because they didn’t see how things could get worse. Robert Halfon, the minister without portfolio and champion of blue-collar conservatism, recognises that description well from his Harlow constituency. He backed May partly because he hopes she will advocate a more socially responsible capitalism. “I don’t think she’s a slasher-and-burner. I think she’ll take on crony capitalism – I’ve said we should be a party of the NHS, not BHS, not these awful people screwing the workers,” he says. It’s not hard to see where she got this rather old-fashioned sense of duty. The only daughter of the Rev Hubert Brasier and his wife Zaidee grew up in rural Oxfordshire, in a family that revolved around the demands of her father’s parishioners. It was dinned into her very young that, as the vicar’s daughter, she was always “on show”, and to this day she retains a puritanical streak; the juiciest surprise in her published tax return is that she gives quite heavily to charity”.

Crucially it notes that “Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco. But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle. Perhaps it took a certain sense of detachment to deliver that broadside after the 2001 defeat, in which she warned that the Conservatives would not regain power while they were seen as a “nasty party”. It remains a pivotal moment in Tory history, presaging Cameron’s modernising revolution four years later. Surviving the ferocious subsequent backlash, meanwhile, taught her that she was tougher than she thought”.

The author adds “Such feats of daring remain, however, rare. “She likes to go through the usual structures,” says a fellow senior minister, who praises her as careful rather than wildly creative. She is in many ways the continuity candidate, with Tories speculating that trusted colleagues might well stay in their old jobs to smooth the transition. Even the chancellor, George Osborne, has gone out of his way to be helpful, holding private talks with her in recent days. At a time of national crisis, caution has its appeal. Halfon says that when he asked constituents for their views on a new leader, the word he kept hearing was “security”. She may lack a grand political vision, but if the sky fell in you sense she’d know what to do. Yet awkward questions remain. If she is such a strong leader, why did she disappear during the EU referendum? Surely she was not cynically hedging her bets? And can a remainer ever really deliver a form of Brexit that satisfies the Tory right, without outraging her more centrist supporters? The collapse of the leadership contest means May has not been forced to clarify her views on several controversial issues related to Brexit, chief among them immigration. As home secretary, she managed to be both passionately liberal on race issues – challenging stop-and-search because it routinely discriminates against young black men, for example – and hardline on immigration, baldly stating in a speech to last year’s party conference that current levels were not in the national interest. Many MPs do wonder how she can honestly reconcile such apparently conflicting beliefs”.

It ends “But Pickles, who worked with her for years on community cohesion, argues that she has merely been quicker than most to recognise what a toxic issue immigration has become. “I’ve always been of the view that if you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s very difficult, but I think she got the early warning signs,” he says. “I think [that speech] was a genuine attempt to try and pull us back before the great chasm we descended into.” Whatever the truth, the Conservatives are in that chasm now. It now falls to Theresa May to drag them out”.

 

“Little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council”

15/07/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes the consequences of Brexit for the UK on the Security Council, “Post-Brexit Britain may lose Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose voters overwhelmingly favour remaining in the European Union. But they run little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council, a key source of London’s claim to be a true world power”.

It adds “That doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for British diplomats at the United Nations. Emotions remain raw over Britain’s Brexit vote, which has sent stock markets plummeting to historic lows, and injected an unwelcome degree of uncertainty into world affairs. Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations”.

The report notes that “Britain’s departure from the EU is also virtually certain to give new momentum to efforts to change the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain — still reflect the balance of global power at the end of World War II. For two decades, rising powers like Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan have pushed to receive permanent seats of their own. Those efforts have been blocked by regional rivals like Algeria, Argentina, Pakistan, and Italy, which fear for their own standing at the U.N. if their more powerful neighbours make their way onto the world body’s most powerful arm”.

It makes the point that “For the moment, British diplomats are trying to walk the narrow line between stressing that they will abide by the will of their voters while insisting they’ll still find ways of cooperating with allies — and EU members — like France and Germany. During a closed-door meeting of European Union diplomats Tuesday morning in New York, Britain’s U.N. envoy, Matthew Rycroft, told his European colleagues there was no turning back from the decision to leave the EU. But he sought to assure them that his government would remain engaged on key international matters, and that it would actually intensify its activities on the Security Council, according to several European diplomats. “They say they will stay the course, not diminish their efforts,” said one diplomat. French, German, Spanish, and other European diplomats told Rycroft that they were shocked by the British decision to withdraw from the EU and that relations would never be the same. At the same time, however, they assured him that they would strive to find ways of collaborating”.

It mentions that “A senior French official at the meeting told Rycroft that Paris, which holds the other European seat on the Security Council, would continue to closely coordinate its diplomatic activities with Britain, citing a history of “friendship and solidarity.” Though diplomats said that France would probably take on a greater share of responsibilities once Britain leaves the EU. Rycroft, for his part, told the gathering that Britain would remain a full-fledged member of the European community — with a seat at the table in NATO, the G-7, and the G-20, and a robust military — until its departure is finalised. Ironically, Rycroft’s assurances that Brexit would have limited impact on Britain’s diplomacy echo claims by proponents of the “Leave” campaign, which issued a statement earlier this year”.

The report ends “For decades, Britain’s influence was derived from its ability to leverage other people’s power — the United States and the European Union — in pursuit of its interests. In Somalia, for example, Britain typically takes the lead in drafting the U.N. resolutions that define international policy. But it’s the wider European Union that foots the bill for African peacekeepers there. In Libya, British diplomats have overseen negotiations on a resolution authorizing the seizure of people smugglers and arms traffickers. While the EU may decide to maintain support for such operations, it is far less likely to want to take its lead from the United Kingdom. London is the lead policymaker — or penholder — on the council on about a dozen international crises, from Darfur to Libya to Yemen. In recent months, it has returned for the first time in 20 years to U.N. peacekeeping missions, pledging to send more than 250 blue helmets to South Sudan and an additional 70 or so to Somalia. U.N. supporters said they hoped this was the first step in a broader re-engagement in U.N. peacekeeping. But Samarasinghe said Brexit might stall any expansion of a British peacekeeping role. “I don’t think they will pull back” from their commitment, she said. “But I don’t think this is the start of something new, which is what we had previously expected.”

Boris absents himself

13/07/2016

In a dramatic move a report notes that Boris Johnson removed himself from the race to become the future Tory leader and next prime minister, “Boris Johnson has unexpectedly ruled himself out as a candidate for Britain’s next prime minister, after the justice secretary, Michael Gove, sent shockwaves through Westminster with a last-minute bid for the Conservative leadership. Gove had been chairing Johnson’s leadership campaign, after the two men worked shoulder to shoulder in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. But with just hours to go before formal nominations closed at noon on Thursday, Gove announced that he no longer believed Johnson was the right man for the job, and that he would launch his own bid to be the next prime minister. Despite having been the leading public face in the victorious Vote Leave campaign, Johnson quickly concluded he could not command enough support from his party, after a series of key lieutenants, including the business minister Nick Boles and the pro-Brexit MP Dominic Raab, defected to the Gove camp”.

The report notes that “He stuck to plans to hold a mid-morning press conference at a London hotel, and delivered a defiant speech saying Britain should take last week’s Brexit vote as an opportunity to “think globally”, and “lift our eyes to the horizon”. But he concluded by saying he would no longer put his name forward. “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” he said, stunning MPs who had assembled to show their support. Johnson’s backers, who had gathered in the hotel to lend their support to the former mayor, appeared shocked by his announcement, after he spent much of his speech setting out a pitch to be a one-nation Tory.“This is not a time to quail, it is not a crisis, nor should we see it as an excuse for wobbling or self-doubt,” Johnson said of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, before he announced he was not planning to stand”.

The report goes on to mention “Gove is now widely regarded as the main rival to Theresa May, the home secretary, who had launched her own campaign earlier on Thursday with a pledge that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that there would be no general election until 2020. The other contenders are the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, the former defence secretary Liam Fox, and the pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom. The first round of voting will take place on 5 July, with the weakest candidate eliminated in successive rounds, until the field is whittled down to two candidates, who will be presented to the Conservatives’ grassroots members. The result will be announced on 9 September. A source close to Johnson said: “He’s proud to have been one of those who led the campaign for Brexit, and he’s absolutely proud that it’s given voice to millions of Britons who have previously felt ignored”.

It adds later that “Gove’s allies said he had had growing doubts about Johnson’s ability to build a future government in recent days, and over how he would manage the complex negotiations that will be required to extricate Britain from the EU. They suggested he lacked the “focus and grip”, to succeed in No 10. Johnson’s backers in parliament suggested the late timing of Gove’s intervention was a long-planned act of treachery. “Anyone can see who has wielded the knife, and how it has been wielded,” a source said. Gove’s statement said: “I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.” He added: “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.” Ed Vaizey, one of the MPs who attended a meeting with Gove on Thursday morning, said: “He was ready to back Boris; but the closer it got, the harder he thought about it, he thought, it’s not the right person. Follow that through to its conclusion: the logic is, if he doesn’t think Boris can do it, he has to step up to the plate and do it.”

Hungary’s migrants referendum

09/07/2016

Hungary will hold a referendum on 2 October on whether to accept mandatory EU quotas for relocating migrants, President Janos Ader has said. PM Viktor Orban’s right-wing government opposes plans to relocate a total of 160,000 refugees across the bloc. The EU announced the scheme last year in response to the migrant crisis. Analysts say Mr Orban is emboldened by UK’s vote to leave the EU, after a campaign in which immigration was a key issue. Hungary became a transit state on the Western Balkan route to Germany and other EU destinations”.

“Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks”

05/07/2016

A piece argues that Cameron has been able to change the Conservative Party, “This is how a political life ends: with a crash, not a whimper. David Cameron’s place in history is now assured. He is the man who took the United Kingdom out of the European Union. As we wait for the full impact of Thursday’s referendum to be felt, he may be remembered as the prime minister who presided over the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, too. Scottish independence, defeated as an idea just two years ago, is back on the table. Cameron’s ten years as leader of the Conservative party and six as prime minister now boil down to these solitary facts. Nothing else matters; nothing else will be remembered. Cameron gambled everything on one roll of the dice and lost it all”.

The writer goes on to mention “No prime minister in living memory has suffered a defeat of such cataclysmic proportions; none has been so thoroughly humiliated by his own electorate. Cameron lost control of his party and then his country. The consequences of that carelessness will be felt, in Britain and internationally, for years to come. Future political historians will ponder a melancholy question: what was the point of David Cameron? And their judgment is likely to be severe. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Cameron was to be a different kind of Tory, one comfortable with the face and reality of modern Britain. He was elected leader on a modernising platform that stressed the party’s need to change. He would lead a gentler, more inclusive, Conservative party that would be economically conservative but socially liberal. Tax cuts and gay marriage; welfare reform and a marked increase in spending on international aid for the world’s poorest countries. Above all, he insisted, the Tory party would have to stop “banging on” about Europe. The EU, he recognised, was a distraction from more immediate and pressing concerns. Besides, Cameron appreciated that Tory divisions over Europe helped bring about Margaret Thatcher’s demise and crippled John Major’s premiership”.

Pointedly the piece notes “A year ago, Cameron didn’t even expect he would have to honour his party’s platform promise to hold a referendum on EU membership. But that was before he won a surprising majority in last year’s general election. Suddenly he found himself trapped by his own manifesto promises — promises made to placate the Eurosceptics in his own party and see off the threat posed to his right flank by the virulently anti-European UK Independence Party. A referendum would have to be held. Even so, Cameron was confident — or complacent — enough to think winning it would be an easy task. After all, most of the British establishment was firmly in the pro-Europe camp and so, overwhelmingly, was British business. Economic self-interest would surely persuade voters to set aside their concerns about the EU and endorse the status quo. They might not do so with any great measure of enthusiasm but a reluctant vote Remain was all Cameron, and his government, needed”.

Correctly the author makes the point that “if Cameron understood that there was anti-establishment sentiment in his country, he was entirely too confident he could placate it. Cameron’s attempt to win over Euroskeptics by renegotiating the terms of British membership was an embarrassing, even humiliating, flop. He had disastrously misjudged his room to maneuver. Britain was already a semi-detached member of the EU, granted exemptions from the single currency and the common Schengen travel area; there was not much further autonomy for Britain to win within the confines of the EU. Cameron’s attempt to do so was an inevitable failure, and an unforced strategic blunder”.

Centrally he argues “Any remaining hope the Remain side might cruise to a comfortable victory evaporated when Boris Johnson, Cameron’s most probable successor and arguably the most charismatic and popular politician in Britain, declared he would campaign for Leave. Worse still, the temper and character of the times offered Cameron little encouragement. Populism is the currency of the age and “elites” are fair game everywhere. The EU, which has never inspired much enthusiasm in Britain, was easily depicted as an unaccountable undemocratic, and out of touch. More relevantly, though perhaps less fairly, the same held true Cameron, with his privileged background and aristocratic manner. The would-be “One Nation conservative” came to be dismissed by his countrymen as a hapless toff. It did not help matter that all Cameron could offer, in response to the Leave campaign’s promise to “take back control” and restore British parliamentary sovereignty, was a parade of “experts” — ranging from the World Bank and the IMF to Barack Obama — all of whom warned against leaving the EU. Experts, too, are out of fashion in Britain. “We are about democracy, they are about economics” said Johnson, while Michael Gove, a former key Cameron ally turned impassioned Leave campaigner, remarked that “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. Above all, the Leave campaign concentrated its fire on the issue of immigration. Cameron once promised to cut net inward migration to Britain to less than 100,000 people a year”.

The report notes “Cameron finds himself the laughing-stock of Europe. His reinvention of the Conservative party, reviving it in the aftermath of three shattering election defeats at the hands of Tony Blair, counts for nothing. His party is split in two; his country faces an impossibly uncertain future as the full impact of Thursday’s extraordinary vote begins to be felt. Most of all, Cameron must reflect on the manner in which he lost the confidence of the British people. The roots of this crisis run long and deep but they are connected to the ongoing impact of 2008’s financial crash. The British people have put up with six years of “austerity” government but have never done so enthusiastically”.

Yet this would be true if the Tories had not been re-elected last year. Had they rejected the level of austerity they should have voted for Labour who would have dramatically slowed, if not reduced it. Some mistakenly were enable to see past Ed Miliband’s personality instead of his competence at the job.

The report adds “We used to think Cameron was a lucky politician at his best in a crisis. He had the good fortune to face two Labour leaders — Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband — who were in their different ways almost heroically unpopular. In 2014 he saw off the threat of Scottish independence and, until just a few weeks ago, looked like seeing off the threat of Brexit too. That analysis no longer holds. This plebiscite was a revolt against Westminster just as much as it was an expression of anti-European animus. The British people have tired of the governing officer class and gleefully took the opportunity of kicking Cameron in the shins”.

It ends “The referendum result revealed a picture of a sharply polarized Britain. Older voters voted to Leave while their grandchildren overwhelmingly voted to Remain. Middle-class university graduates voted to Remain but working-class high-school graduates voted to Leave. London and Scotland endorsed the EU, the so-called “heartlands” of “middle England” backed Leave. Britain this morning is a country divided by class and geography as almost never before. That too is part of Cameron’s legacy; the proof of a failed premiership. At some point and eventually, even lucky generals find their good fortune runs out. Cameron has proved no exception to that immutable law of politics. Almost all political lives end in failure but few in quite such a devastating fashion as this. This is a shipwreck and Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks. That is his legacy; that is what he will be remembered for. And deservedly so.

Consequences of Brexit

03/07/2016

Long term consequences of Brexit is examined, “The unexpected decision by British voters to leave the European Union in Thursday’s historic referendum is tumbling dominoes around the world, with dire implications for everything from Britain’s political future to Europe’s fragile unity to the retirement plans of older Americans. And with all the uncertainty over just how the crumbling United Kingdom will extricate itself from a 43-year marriage with Brussels, the global contagion looks set to continue for at least two years. The fallout from the referendum — which the “Leave” campaign won by a 52-percent-to-48-percent margin thanks to a surprisingly robust turnout in eurosceptic parts of England — has implications for the U.S. presidential race, the global economy, and the balance of power among the United States, Europe, and Russia”.

The author rightly points out, “In the United States, Donald Trump’s campaign largely mirrors that of the “Leave” proponents, with an emphasis on nativist concerns and working-class angst — and the shocking U.K. result is already acting as a wake-up call to Democrats in the United States. The economic ripples from the vote have battered the British pound and the euro and poleaxed stock markets from Frankfurt to New York. Oil prices are reeling, thanks to fears the exit will usher in a prolonged recession. And key elements of U.S. foreign policy, such as closer trade relationships with the European Union, as well as a unified, trans-Atlantic response to Russian aggression, have now all been thrown by the wayside. “This is the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum thinking that he could defuse popular anger at Brussels, settle a long-running intra-party feud over Europe, and bolster the Tories’ electoral chances, said Friday that he would step down in the wake of the vote”.

The piece notes “Cameron’s ultimately fatal misjudgment could be good news for Trump, confirming that working-class unhappiness at what they see as a rigged economy and a broken immigration system can fuel a ballot-box revolution. Before Thursday’s vote, polls, betting shops, and talking heads all confidently predicted that British voters would choose to stay in the EU — not unlike nationwide polls confidently predicting that Trump will be demolished in November by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “We better get a whole lot better about thinking about the unthinkable,” Heather Conley, the director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said when asked about the possibility of a Trump presidency in the aftermath of the Brexit vote”.

Correctly the writer adds “For Democrats, there are other worrying parallels. The proponents of the “Leave” campaign openly derided expert opinion and indisputable facts about Britain’s economic relationship to Brussels; “Leave” campaigners infamously repeated much-debunked claims about how much money the U.K. sends to Europe, for example, but voters proved impervious to facts. In the United States, Democrats have become increasingly frustrated that Trump’s propensity to exaggerate, falsify, and lie has little or no impact on his appeal to certain parts of the electorate. Demographically, British voters who opted to leave the EU were older and whiter than those who voted to remain; “Little England” voters in the shires of the Midlands and other parts of England outside London voted overwhelmingly to ditch Brussels. That kind of electorate is similar to the older, whiter U.S. voters enthralled by Trump’s nostalgic calls to “Make America Great Again.” Trump himself, on a lightning visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland, cheered the results of the referendum Friday, even though Scottish voters overwhelmingly sought to stay inside the EU”.

The piece mentions “The decision to leave the EU, said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy advisor, will hurt American working families. Trump’s cheering the pound’s collapse as good for business merely shows his own self-interest, Sullivan said. But the same forces that propelled the U.K. to leave the EU — the brutalisation of the working class by globalisation; immigration and the migrant crisis; and growing anti-elite sentiment have also propelled Trump to the GOP nomination. Asked whether the Brexit vote might foreshadow a Trump victory, Clinton’s advisers argued on Friday that a U.S. presidential election is very different from a U.K. referendum on EU membership, and that the instability caused by the Brexit will cause voters to seek what Sullivan called Clinton’s “steady hand.” The Clinton campaign’s argument going into November is that the vote will offer a choice between stability and chaos — and that voters will naturally prefer the former and pull the lever for Hillary”.

The writer correctly points out that voters in the US are not certain to vote for Clinton just because of Brexit. He notes under the “economic” heading, “The pound’s bloodletting was matched by a plunging euro, thanks to fears that the Brexit vote will set off a cascade of similar secession moves and further weaken the already reeling economic union. That will make everything that Britain imports — from food to fuel — more expensive than it was Thursday morning. By midday Friday, both currencies had made up some of their losses, though they remained in the red even after British officials pledged to intervene in currency markets. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also urged the Group of 7 industrialized countries to take “whatever steps necessary” to stabilize the key international currencies. Around the world, global stock indices got hammered. In London, the blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 3 percent; other British indices fell twice that. The Dow fell off a cliff in the morning, down 500 points, and remained there in midday trading. The German DAX dropped almost 7 percent, Japan’s Nikkei fell almost 8, and Shanghai shed more than 1 percent”.

One of the few upsides, the writer points out is that “One of the key objectives of the administration of President Barack Obama, an ambitious trade pact with what was a 28-nation economic bloc, is now up in the air. And that goes double for any U.S.-U.K. trade deal. In April, during a visit to London, Obama said the U.K. would move to the “back of the queue” in any trade deal if the Brexit occurred”.

He makes the valid point that, “Even with an eventual trade deal, Britain’s economic prospects look bleaker. Scotland won’t likely remain part of the British economy, for starters: Scottish nationalist leaders said Friday that they will call another referendum on Scottish independence in the wake of the EU vote, since Scots overwhelmingly wanted to remain in the 28-nation body. Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain, has hinted at a similar move. Even some in the city of London itself, the bastion of the “Remain” vote inside England, are toying with the idea of seceding from the U.K. And there are knock-on effects for plenty of countries in the EU. About 1 million Poles live and work in the U.K., for example, and it’s not clear if they’ll need to return home and try to find new jobs if the British decision ultimately ends free movement of European citizens across borders. Hundreds of thousands of other EU citizens, from Lithuanians to Spaniards, also live and work in the U.K. and may have to pack up as well”.

On the point of EU and Russia foreign policy implications he posits, “For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Lambeth to Leith, plenty of people were openly celebrating Britain’s farewell to Europe: authoritarians of all stripes. Sergey Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said that “without Great Britain in the EU, no one will so zealously defend the sanctions against us.” Others, like the Kremlin’s small-business ombudsman Boris Titov, enthused over the “Leave” victory. “It seems it has happened — UK out!!!” he wrote on Facebook. Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, underscored how the vote weakens the European Union, especially as it tries to come to grips with an expansionist Russia. “Putin benefits from a weaker Europe. UK vote makes EU weaker. It’s just that simple,” McFaul wrote on Twitter. For Washington, the U.K. has long offered a like-minded state inside the European Union that could help advance its own foreign policy goals. Even after Thursday’s vote, U.S. politicians vowed that the special ties forged between Britain and the United States in World War II will continue. Speaking in Ireland on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden conceded that the United States hoped for a different outcome, but he said that the “special relationship” between London and Washington would continue”.

He ends “Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Washington’s gaze will now increasingly shift to the real center of power inside Europe, Germany, to the growing detriment of Britain’s global role. “When it comes to matters of Europe, we have looked to Berlin with increasing frequency,” she said. “When the president wants something, he calls Berlin.”

Trying to oust Corbyn as Labour disintegrates

01/07/2016

After the UK vote to leave the EU, the leader of the Labour Party is rightly being blamed for the disaster, “Labour MPs are preparing to launch a bruising leadership contest that will aim to topple leader Jeremy Corbyn after he reacted to an overwhelming vote of no confidence by declaring he had no intention to resign. Politicians want Angela Eagle, who has stepped down as shadow business secretary, or Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to agree about which of them will trigger the challenge if their leader continues to hold on in the face of massive hostility. MPs backing Eagle were on Tuesday night collecting names of colleagues who were prepared to nominate her in order to start a contest, but Watson supporters were calling for calm, insisting that Corbyn could yet stand down”.

The report mentions “The Labour leader has so far held on despite a dramatic and destabilising coup attempt, started at the weekend, which has now seen two-thirds of his shadow cabinet step down, as well as 28 shadow ministers and 11 private parliamentary secretaries. More than three-quarters of Labour MPs – 172 – voted to show that they had no confidence in his leadership, while 40 voted for him. Corbyn responded by issuing a warning that he had the support of Labour members, and that he was going nowhere. “I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60% of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning. Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy,” he said”.

The report goes on to mention “His allies said the only way to take Corbyn on would be for another MP to collect the 51 nominations of MPs and MEPs needed to start a contest, warning that he would stand and that they believed he would win. The standoff marks the start of a potentially bitter battle for the heart of the Labour party that will pitch MPs and local government leaders against pro-Corbyn members and trade unionists. David Ward said John Smith, the previous leader for whom he was chief of staff, had told him that any leader would have to resign after a vote of no confidence. “You cannot survive,” he said, arguing that it was the only mechanism in the party to force a leader out. Corbyn’s support among members is the reason that Labour MPs, desperate to oust him, want just one candidate to stand against him. People who were being talked about as potential contenders, including Dan Jarvis and Lisa Nandy, have now ruled themselves out of the contest”.

It adds “Eagle and Watson are now seen as the only two realistic possibilities. Jess Phillips MP echoed the view of dozens of her colleagues that the pair had to make a decision about who would run. “The party has to agree on one person. Just like Jeremy, people in the PLP should put aside any personal ambition and instead agree on one candidate who can save the party for the sake of the country,” she said. The former shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, who was one of the first major resignations, urged Corbyn to give up: “This is a very clear result and if Jeremy is to show any leadership quality at all he must now reflect and respond to this overwhelming and unprecedented indication from the parliamentary labour party which includes all wings and all groupings.” Sources suggested that while Eagle’s team had been busily collecting names, Watson’s preferred action was to hold tight and wait for Corbyn to step down voluntarily after experiencing the reality of running an opposition with such a thin frontbench”.

It goes on to note that “Although the Labour leader has replaced most shadow cabinet positions, it will struggle to fill many of the vacancies, while he will have to face a parliamentary committee on Wednesday to discuss the confidence vote. On Tuesday night he emailed members of his party’s national policy forum to cancel a meeting in Nottingham this weekend, arguing that the result of the EU referendum meant it would be undemocratic to discuss policy options. He promised to put the party on a “war footing” in case of an early general election after the Tory leadership contest is decided in September. The prospect of an election is what has triggered the action against Corbyn and comes as a leaked poll commissioned by the party revealed that over one in four (27%) of Labour voters was less likely to vote for the party following the referendum campaign in which 214 Labour MPs called on people to vote to remain in the EU. The YouGov survey said 11% were more likely to back Labour. Corbyn is determined to keep going because of a philosophical belief that it is Labour members that should control the party and not its MPs. On Monday he weathered an explosive meeting of the PLP in which he was repeatedly begged to resign, and told by his former Scottish secretary to “call off the dogs” after pro-Corbyn supporters began protesting outside his constituency office”.

It concludes “The Labour leader left the meeting and then headed into Parliament Square to address thousands of supporters, organised by the grassroots movement Momentum, in a move that infuriated MPs. One told the Guardian that the move had increased the scale of the no-confidence vote, which was followed by further resignations, including that of shadow communities minister Liz McInnes, who had spoken up for Corbyn in the meeting.“It is clear his behaviour last night in whipping up a rally of largely non-Labour members and his refusal to accept any blame for the referendum defeat turned off a number of colleagues from the left who were considering abstaining or voting for him,” said the politician, who also argued that there was deep anger about the perception that Corbyn had not tried hard enough to mobilise Labour voters during the referendum campaign. Corbyn’s team strongly deny that charge, pointing to several speeches and regular media appearances. MPs have argued that Corbyn would struggle to secure enough nominations, but the leader’s advisers believe that he would be automatically placed on the ballot. Legal advice leaked to the Guardian does conclude that he would be able to run again without any set number of MPs backing him, but sources say that the party’s national executive committee has commissioned a separate piece of work that has the opposite finding”.

“European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible”

29/06/2016

A piece notes that after Brexit, the talks, despite minor tensions will be resolved cordially in the interests of all, “There has been no single official response by the European Union to the U.K.’s decision last week to vote in favour of leaving the bloc. Instead, we’ve seen a flurry of mixed and competing messages – a sort of good cop-bad cop routine, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pounding on the table and German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking Britain to take a few deep breaths and think. Toughest of all have been leaders of the EU’s institutions. Negotiations for exit must start immediately, argued Juncker, alongside European Parliament President Martin Schulz – Europe can’t be held hostage to an equivocating Britain. Seeing a chance to make a power grab, high-profile European parliamentarians – such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt – have, too, demanded a speedy departure and pressed for a seat at the Brexit negotiating table alongside representatives from the 27 EU member states”.

The author mentions that “By contrast, the member states themselves, and their leaders in particular, have been much more guarded. Belgian and Italian officials argued for speeding up divorce proceedings at a meeting of national diplomats last weekend, but they were in a minority. Most agreed to proceed with caution. Merkel, in particular, has warned against any anti-British backlash. Europe’s pragmatic national leaders are likely to prevail over the EU true believers in Brussels. All may have been irritated over the years at the U.K.’s prickly relationship with the EU, and its departure from the union will force all remaining member states to think long and hard about how they can renew their cooperation. But none of that’s a reason to expect an ugly divorce. A popular view in Brussels, and in some national capitals, is that ever since the U.K. joined the Common Market in 1973 it has vetoed ambitious projects of continental integration, leaving the EU weaker and more divided. The U.K.’s exit is, for these Machiavellian federalists, a golden opportunity to take the EU in a different direction, to advance their project of “ever closer union,” involving deeper fiscal union and the launching of new pan-European institutions like a European army. But to take advantage of this chance, they believe, they must move quickly – hence the hostility to Britain’s dallying”.

The writer makes the point, “There is also the fear that the referendum result may not stick, and so negotiations on Brexit must start before the U.K. has a chance to change its mind. Options for backing out are already being floated by some from the “Remain” camp. And a cold-feet reversal wouldn’t be as radical as it appears. After all, the EU has ignored referendums in the past: The Irish were asked to vote again after rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and the French and Dutch voted against the constitutional treaty in 2005, only to see it reappear virtually unchanged in the form of the Lisbon Treaty a few years later. Most recently, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected a bailout deal in 2015, but their prime minister signed off on a worse one shortly afterward. But this attitude falls on deaf ears in many national capitals, and member states will have the final say on how to deal with the U.K. Among national leaders, the prevailing belief is that the block must proceed with caution when formulating its response to the U.K. referendum. This stems from the realization that the U.K.’s vote is not an isolated event, but connected with wider European politics”.

Crucially he makes the point that “Experienced politicians, such as Merkel, view the political meltdown taking place in the U.K. with great concern. The fallout from the Brexit vote has revealed the fragility of the British government’s authority and how weak mainstream political parties in the U.K. have become. For Merkel, who has made the center-ground in German politics her own, or for embattled leaders like Matteo Renzi in Italy and François Hollande in France, events in Britain are a sobering reminder of their own domestic political struggles. Renzi recently lost mayoral elections in Rome and Turin to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and his political future looks more uncertain than ever. Hollande leads a Socialist Party that has lost much of its support among working-class French voters, just like the British Labour Party has. The French political establishment will take the success of the U.K. Independence Party in the EU referendum as a warning about the chances of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in next year’s presidential elections”.

He concludes “In some ways, other EU member states are in more of a bind than the U.K. Since the U.K. does not use the single currency, its vote to leave the EU is complicated but achievable. For eurozone countries, exit is almost unimaginable. Faced as they are with deep domestic discontent, governments in the eurozone share many of the U.K.’s problems but have fewer options available to deal with them. And the already fragile and stagnant eurozone is hardly in a fit state to withstand the economic shock of Brexit. Shares of Southern European banks, for instance, took a dramatic hit after the Brexit result was announced and many eyes are on Portugal and Italy”.

Correctly he ends “For these reasons, the good cops are likely to win out: When negotiations around Brexit do begin, they are likely to be orderly and reasonable. There will be no excessive generosity, given that the remaining EU member states want to discourage their populations from arguing for a similar in/out referendum. But a hostile set of negotiations driven by a desire to punish the U.K. are also very unlikely. After all, voters in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere across Europe are angry with their own politicians, whom they consider remote and self-serving. They are far less preoccupied with punishing the U.K., a sentiment that belongs to disappointed Eurocrats more than it does to European citizens. What these citizens are concerned about is the dire economic performance of their economies, one which acrimonious negotiations with the U.K. would not help. Concerned about the impact of Brexit on the eurozone, European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible, where the economic interests of all concerned are accommodated”.

He finishes “As befits a bloc made up of national governments whose politicians are acutely aware of the fragility of their own authority, the response to the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU has so far been muted. The nastier and more jubilant responses have come from those parts of the EU that are more isolated from the realities of national politics – from the European Commission and the European Parliament. The sense of opportunity felt by Euro-federalists does not extend much beyond the Brussels bubble, and it is certainly not shared by governments in national capitals. There, the feeling is more one of a generalised political crisis that needs to be managed carefully if it is not to engulf the EU as a whole. The EU’s future rests upon its national governments being able to contain growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political establishments. This is the greatest challenge for the EU, and one that means European leaders will continue to tread very carefully over the next few weeks”.

Brexit and Trump

29/06/2016

David Rothkopf writes about the UK decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump, “Winston Churchill has been widely quoted, albeit likely erroneously, as having once said that Americans would always do the right thing — after having exhausted all the other choices. I wish I could say the same of the British. The U.K. vote to leave the European Union is one of the great follies in the modern history of democracy. It sends a chilling message to the people of the United States. Voters — even voters in a country with a long and great tradition of democracy informed by a world-class education system and information resources — are capable of tremendous stupidity”.

Of course Rothkopf is guilt of enormous reductionism. He ignores the role of the lies played by the press and politicians, the gross generalisations about the British education system as well as the ignorance and stupidity of the voters themselves who are the least educated about the EU on the entire continent.

Rothkopf argues “In Scotland, the news inspired the dumpster fire that is the GOP presumptive nominee for president to flash one of his disturbingly overly whitened grins. It’s just the kind of collective idiocy on which his candidacy depends. So he took a break from promoting one of his golf courses to explain how pleased he was with a development that significantly weakens the U.K., the EU, and thereby America’s most important alliance while also undercutting the global economy. (To be completely fair and balanced, Trump’s foreign policy had its first major success today when he was actually able to find Scotland on a map.) Let’s hope he understands real estate development better than he understands foreign policy —although there is plenty of evidence to the contrary in that realm as well. As markets already began to demonstrate within minutes of learning that the worst was happening in the U.K., leaving the European Union will be a financial calamity not only for the British people, but also for hapless victims in markets worldwide”.

He notes that “The pound, British real estate markets, stock markets, investment flows, and countless other economic indicators will collapse. With them will go jobs, growth rates, and hope. A recession may follow. Certainly a decline in British relevance will accompany them. Not only will it lose economic and political clout, but Scotland and Northern Ireland may do their own Brexits, ditching the formerly united kingdom that has long been their home. (This raises the delightful possibility that even as Trump gloats, his golf course will soon not actually be in Great Britain and in fact, will become part of the EU.) The few positive consequences of the shocking vote will be lower prices for scotch and, um, I don’t know, Cadbury cream eggs? I mean, if there were products we still bought from Britain they would be cheaper. Which is to say if you’re looking for a silver lining here, it’s going to be hard to find one. Perhaps if you are patient, the horrific consequences of this move will bring to the U.K. economy will someday demonstrate conclusively that those supporting a Brexit were nitwits. But by then it will be too late. Bre-entry will be on people’s lips soon enough, but the damage will have been done”.

Continuing his journalistic style he mentions that “That this could happen in the wake of the brutal murder of a promising young British politician by a right-wing maniac Brexit supporter is nauseating. That it came in the wake of massive warnings from markets and experts worldwide that the costs would be enormous is disappointing. That it came in a country full of people who were literate enough to read even a little bit about what it might cost the U.K. to leave the EU is deeply unsettling. Is this the end of the British empire? No, that came with the collapse of colonialism in the wake of World War II. Instead it is the further marginalization of a once-great power. Today, Britain is not part of the world’s largest economic bloc. It has an army that is not much larger than the New York Police Department. It has weak leaders (and has just elevated into a top role a nationalist, racist demagogue, Nigel Farage, further discrediting the political process in the home country of “the mother of parliaments.”) Is it however a sign that the current global distrust of institutions may produce further disruptions? Yes it is”.

Pointedly he does raise the valid question, “Is it an encouraging sign for Donald Trump? Well, he will think it is. After all, as noted above, it was good for Britain’s leading racist nationalist demagogue, why not for America’s? And Lord knows you will see a mass of columns written in the next few days saying that because experts were surprised by the Brexit vote and because it depended on the alienation of voters, incipient nationalism, and the appeal of rabble-rousing populists that somehow this necessarily implies Trump is boosted by it. (After all, the Brexit was also supported by a blowhard with bad hair — in the person of former London Mayor Boris Johnson.) But the reality is that what is happening in the U.K., while sharing some characteristics with the pro-Trump movement, does not change the electoral math in the United States that has even leading GOP publications like the Weekly Standard concluding that Trump’s election is nearly impossible. It does not change the fact that Trump has an opponent far more skillful and resourceful than David Cameron and the “remain” faction had in the U.K. Demography favours that opponent, Hillary Clinton — and as of this week’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to let stand a ruling blocking U.S. President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms, it has now been made even clearer to a large segment of America’s Latino population that a GOP win would be an existential issue for their families”.

Rightly he raises the point that “The kind of anger and alienation that also led to the “leave” vote in the U.K. may fuel his candidacy and this catastrophe in Great Britain may raise the hopes of Trump and his supporters. But, you see, there is a big difference between these two issues. Britain is not only declining, it also seems to be a country committed to accelerating that decline. America remains the richest and most powerful nation on Earth despite what Trump’s promise to make this country “great again” might suggest. The stakes are too high to allow the Trump clown show to take its national tour all the way to the White House. And then, of course, there is that likely apocryphal but nonetheless perceptive analysis attributed to a great leader who dates to the last days that Britain was still Great — and that, of course, is Churchill. He’s right. We may explore other possibilities — possibilities like Trump has presented in primary elections. But in the end — in this case, in the general election in November — as we have done often in the past, we will likely rise to the occasion and end up doing the right thing. In this case, that means that while we in America also have our nationalists and demagogues, we are once again on a divergent path from our mother country, the one whose empire began to fall, when America decided to leave it. Perhaps among other things our founding fathers had the foresight to see there would someday be devastating days like this Thursday coming for the leadership in London and for the people of the not so Great Britain, not likely to be a United Kingdom … or even a consequential one … for much longer”.

Brexit, the result of austerity?

27/06/2016

Daniel Altman argues that a part of the reason for Brexit was Cameron’s austerity policies, “I’m the guy who said the European Union would disintegrate, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly. And I didn’t imagine that we would have the ill-timed economic policies of David Cameron’s Conservative government to thank. A big motivation for the vote to leave was the frustration of Britons with their economic situation. When people are in pain, they look for any way to fight back. For the more xenophobic among them, immigrants became the target. For others, it was the establishment, minus the toffish former mayor of London and a few grandees of proto-racist fringe parties. In both cases, voting “Leave” was the biggest and easiest way to put a sharp stick in their enemy’s eye. As satisfying as that might have felt, the economic situation today may be even worse. The collective fantasy engendered by the Leave campaign, which harnessed the power of mob psychology by appealing to voters’ worst impulses, is over, and the United Kingdom is waking up with the bed sheets a mess, the front door open, and its wallet gone missing. Introspection is creeping in. “My god, what have I done?” barely begins to describe it”.

Altman goes on to aruge that “Half of the United Kingdom’s international trade will become, at least temporarily, subject to increased bureaucracy and controls. With its companies facing more difficulty buying, selling, and operating on the continent, British investments will become less attractive, depressing the value of the pound. Britons will no longer have the right to work in 27 other countries, and foreign goods will become more expensive and perhaps harder to find as well. It may seem odd to call this Cameron’s fault, since he led the “Remain” campaign as prime minister. Moreover, the Tories’ association with xenophobic scaremongering was arguably stronger when Michael Howard led the party in the 2005 general election. Howard promised to limit inflows of asylum-seekers and slap quotas on other forms of immigration, even though most immigrants held work permits and the number of asylum-seekers had actually been falling. Cameron — who allegedly wrote Howard’s speeches back in 2005 — faithfully towed the party line that there were too many foreign workers in the country, riding anti-immigration sentiment to a resounding electoral victory last year. But the influence of his economic policies was much more tangible than that of his rhetoric, unnecessarily exacerbating the suffering of millions of Britons at a time when the country was already under enormous pressure”.

He posits that “By taking an axe to government services, Cameron set in motion the destruction of more than a million jobs in the public sector. As I wrote in an earlier column, these cuts were inflicted on the national budget for ideological rather than fiscal reasons. The Tories were set on them since 2005, when the economic picture was vastly more positive. And while the Labour Party had also proposed a measure of fiscal austerity, its plan relied more on tax increases, which would have had a smaller direct effect on the economy. Slashing so many jobs in the aftermath of the global financial crisis had some very predictable effects. While the unemployment rate peaked in the United States in October 2009, it didn’t max out in the United Kingdom until two years later. Then it took almost two more years to drop by just one percentage point. That’s four extra years of pain”.

Altman writes,”Eventually, many of the public sector jobs were replaced by private sector jobs. But in a labour market with lower demand, wages were destined to fall. In fact, between 2008 and 2014, Britons suffered a double-digit drop in the buying power of their weekly pay. Imagine that — every pound in your pocket eroding until it was worth only 90 pence. The combination of lower real wages and a long period of unemployment undoubtedly took a heavy human toll”.

The result of this shrinking state is, “Hence the anger. Inevitably, some people turned it on the foreigners both in their midst and among the nameless hordes supposedly headed their way. Others targeted the sitting prime minister, who spearheaded the Remain campaign — and the same man who needlessly caused much of their pain, just for the sake of dogma. The Leave campaign brought these two groups together, and now things are bound to get even worse. The weakened pound will make imports more expensive, hitting working-class people who depend on cheap consumer goods. Many firms, especially branches of foreign companies, will freeze hiring and investment as they await an uncertain future. And the bureaucratic mess of disentangling the United Kingdom from the European Union will suck up even more tax money that could have gone into public services. So where is Cameron in all of this? Heading for the exit. Rather than take responsibility, he has exalted his own supposed achievements and foisted the fault back on the public, declaring that the country has chosen a “different path” that “requires fresh leadership.” It’s a change that will come several years too late”.

 

“A fresh referendum on independence”

25/06/2016

A piece from the Guardian notes the reaction to the British exit from the European Union with another Scottish independence referendum, and the breakup of the United Kingdom likely, “Scotland is on the brink of staging a fresh referendum on independence after Nicola Sturgeon requested talks with the EU on separate membership after the UK’s vote to leave. The first minister said she believed a second referendum on independence was highly likely after Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the EU, but was unable to prevent the leave campaign winning by 52% to 48% across the UK as a whole. Sturgeon said that was a “democratic outrage” and constituted the clear, material change in Scotland’s circumstances referred to in the Scottish National party’s carefully worded manifesto commitment in May to hold a second independence vote if needed”.

The report mentions that “Sturgeon announced that she was instructing Scottish government officials to draft fresh referendum legislation for Holyrood, only two years after her party lost the first independence vote in 2014, to ensure it could be held quickly if enough Scottish voters backed it. UK government sources said David Cameron, who quit as prime minister after the referendum defeat, was anxious that his successor make sure the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland government were closely involved in the UK’s Brexit negotiations to avoid increasing Scottish grievances and fuelling the case for independence. Sturgeon’s cabinet will meet in emergency session on Saturday morning at her official residence Bute House, and is expected to agree plans to put forward referendum legislation in September’s programme for government. Holyrood would need Westminster’s legislative approval to stage an official referendum, as it did in 2014. Cameron had previously said no UK government would give that again so soon, but Sturgeon said on Friday it would be inconceivable for Westminster to ignore a democratic vote by MSPs requesting that authority”.

Crucially the report adds “In a significant boost to her strategy, MSPs in the Scottish Green party indicated she could win the six Scottish Green votes in the Scottish parliament that she needs to ensure a Holyrood majority, as momentum behind a second vote sharply rose after the UK result became clear. The most recent polls suggest independence does not yet have clear majority support, but SNP sources and activists within Women for Independence (WFI) said there had been a surge in membership requests on Friday, with people offering to campaign and donating money. The SNP said it had been inundated with emails from previous no voters now pledging their support for independence after the conclusion of the EU referendum. The Radical Independence Campaign, which was heavily involved in registering first-time and alienated working-class voters during the last referendum campaign, likewise reported an increase in donations. “The surge is back on,” said one WFI activist. A number of prominent former no voters have declared themselves ready to consider supporting independence should another referendum be called. The novelist Jenny Colgan, who wrote for the Guardian in September 2014 of the joy of Britishness, tweeted that she was weeping with relief as Sturgeon promised to fight for the interests of Scots who had voted to remain”.

Crucially it mentions “Echoing earlier remarks by her predecessor Alex Salmond, Sturgeon said it made clear logical sense for those powers to be in place quickly and before the UK’s exit from the EU was completed by an expected deadline of 2018. There will be added urgency to that timetable after senior European commission and parliament figures said they wanted the Brexit talks speeded up, and for the UK to leave as soon as possible to lessen the uncertainty now facing the EU. Sturgeon said pressing ahead with an independence bill would ensure a seamless transition for Scotland from having EU membership as part of the UK to having it as an independent nation. She said her primary concern was to ensure that Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU, by 62% to 38%, was brought into effect. She said she would “take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted. In other words, to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular.” Sturgeon is writing this weekend to all EU member states to set out her case for Scotland remaining in the UK and to press for urgent talks in Brussels with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Junker, during which she will emphasise Scotland’s strong pro-European vote”.

It ends “Sturgeon was careful to avoid giving any guarantee, however, that a second referendum would be held, stressing that the challenges of leaving the UK were complex and still unclear because the UK-EU negotiations had not yet begun. The SNP would face significant economic, legal and political questions about leaving the UK. With the collapse in oil prices but high levels of public spending, it has a structural deficit of £15bn, and a weak economy hovering close to recession. It would need to strike a deal with London about paying off its share of the UK’s £1.6tn debt. It would also face losing Scotland’s share of the UK rebate, having to find the cash needed for Scotland’s contribution to the EU, and require the EU’s agreement on its currency. EU members may expect Scotland to join the euro”.

 

Brexiteers reverse campaign pledges

25/06/2016

The leave campaign has appeared to row back on key pledges made during the EU referendum campaign less than 24 hours after the UK voted for Brexit, after it emerged immigration levels could remain unchanged. Leading Brexit figures had disagreed throughout the campaign on issues including immigration, free movement and the cost of the UK’s EU membership. But within hours of the result on Friday morning, the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, had distanced himself from the claim that £350m of EU contributions could instead be spent on the NHS, while the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan said free movement could result in similar levels of immigration after Brexit. Hannan said: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.” His comments came after the leave camp made voters’ concerns about the impact of immigration on jobs, infrastructure and the NHS a key part of their campaigning. There had been no suggestions of changing the status of any EU nationals in Britain, Hannan told the BBC, adding that no one had said this might be the case in the event of a leave victory”.

The EU: Cameron’s downfall

25/06/2016

Having seen the numerous missteps made by Cameron that led to the exit of the UK from the EU an important article discuss the downfall of Cameron, “They used to call it Greek tragedy when the fates wrought their revenge on human folly and weakness. But maybe a better term in the case of the folly and weakness of the modern Tory party is European tragedy. For, as a broken David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday morning, one question must have been battering his exhausted brain more than any other. How was it that a modern-minded liberal Conservative leader who long ago told his party to “stop banging on about Europe” if it wanted to get back into power after three successive defeats – and who then delivered two terms in government – has himself been brought down by that same party over that same European question? Cameron himself played the role of tragic hero as he notified the nation of his intention to step down before the autumn. “There can be no doubt about the result,” he said. “The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected.” But he added that the tortuous negotiations ahead with the EU would require “strong determined and committed leadership” that he felt he could no longer provide. “The country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.” And there seemed scant consolation in his laconic summary of what he would rather be remembered for”.

The report makes the point that “All of that is likely to be forgotten in the European tumult. The warnings from history could not have been clearer. Party divisions over Europe had been the undoing of both Cameron’s predecessors as Conservative prime minister. Margaret Thatcher’s fall in 1990 was triggered by her increasingly anti-European rhetoric and stance. John Major’s long slide to defeat in 1997 was powered by his inability to prevent poisonous divisions over the Maastricht treaty on European integration. Right from the start of his own rise to the top, Cameron knew the dangers. Yet the faultlines in Cameron’s own approach to Europe were always there too. The young Cameron was never one of those Tories who ate, drank and slept Europe; but nor was he an heir to the pro-European generation of liberal Tories such as Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke. Instead, fatally as it has now transpired, he was always a “Eurosceptic – but not as Eurosceptic as you are”, as he put it to his first political boss, the former chancellor Norman Lamont”.

The piece continues “Cameron’s lifelong soft Euroscepticism meant he had no answer to the hardliners on Europe once the issue had become turbocharged by austerity and immigration. Cameron’s differences with the more committed Eurosceptic wing of his party have always been over emphasis and tone, not substance. He has had no alternative vision of Europe to offer, in the face of the party’s Europhobes. Although he was always in favour of remaining, he failed to make the case for UK membership until almost the last minute. If Cameron’s default position had always been “Eurosceptic – but determined to make Europe work”, things might have been different. But it was the opposite. “I’m much more Eurosceptic than you imagine,” he once told Labour’s Denis MacShane. When he was first running for parliament in the Oxfordshire constituency of Witney, which he won in 2001, Cameron characteristically tried to have the best of both Tory worlds on the issue. He should be thought of as a Eurosceptic, he told the centre-right libertarian Sean Gabb, “on the basis that I oppose the single currency and any further transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU”. But, Cameron added, he was not in favour of withdrawal and accepted the supremacy of EU law in some cases”.

Interestingly the article point out that ““Let me get this straight,” he repeated in a Guardian article in May 2003 about the EU constitution plan, which Tony Blair supported but on which the Labour party was reluctant to allow a referendum, “I am no Euro obsessive”. Readers could not accuse him of “excessive Daily Mail reading, too much time spent alone with Bill Cash or anything else”. But, he added, “the Euro-maniac Blair” would have to concede a referendum on “the wretched thing”. “He’s Eurosceptic, no shadow of doubt,” the Tory pro-European grandee Sir Nicholas Soames told Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott for their anti-Cameron biography Call Me Dave. “He’s immensely irritated by it and frustrated by it in every way. But he’s not a Get Out man.” But nor was he ever explicitly enough a Stay In man. In 2005, as he began campaigning to succeed Michael Howard as the liberal and modernising alternative to what Theresa May famously called “nasty party” Toryism, Cameron promised that, under him, the Tories would pull out of the European People’s party alliance in the European parliament. He did it because he wanted to siphon votes from his rivals David Davis and Liam Fox by burnishing his own Eurosceptic credentials”.

It adds that “It is doubtful if that promise was decisive in Cameron’s victory as party leader. But it is certain that the decision drove a wedge between the Tories and their Christian Democratic, centre-right fellow parties in Europe. In particular it poisoned relations and trust with Angela Merkel, who was to be the key figure in European politics in the years ahead. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Cameron put tactics before strategy in his handling of Europe. So, when Cameron made his famous remarks to the Tory conference in 2006, his first speech as leader to the party, the warnings were more tactical than strategic. “Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most,” he reminded his party as he assessed the Tories’ third successive electoral defeat at Blair’s hands. “While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe.” Many saw these words, especially in retrospect, as an attempt to shift the way the party approached Europe. But the words were an attack on the consequences of the party’s approach, not on the approach itself. Cameron was being consistent with his own soft Euroscepticism, not innovative in the way that might have equipped him to fight his corner more effectively when the referendum came in 2016. Back in 2007, when Europe was gearing up for what became the Lisbon treaty on EU reforms, Cameron was again consistent in his own terms. First he pledged “a cast-iron guarantee” from the Tories to hold a referendum on the treaty. Two years later, with the general election now approaching, Cameron declared the guarantee was no longer relevant, since the treaty was now law and could not be reopened. He had managed both to fire up the hardliners and to outrage them”.

The piece continues “Yet Cameron did not make a virtue of his change of policy on the treaty by embracing it – even though it embodied many of the less centralising approaches to Europe that he had advocated. Throughout this time, his adviser Steve Hilton was pressing for Cameron to prepare the ground for exit from Europe. In practice, however, Cameron neither prepared for exit nor for engagement. Instead the juggling act continued. The 2010 election, which was in most respects a triumph for Cameron, ensured ever more frantic juggling. Going into coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats meant the referendum on UK membership of the EU that many Conservatives continued to advocate was put in the deep freeze. The coalition’s official policy was that there would be no in/out referendum and that only Cameron and Nick Clegg could settle European policy between them. This was a purgatorial outcome for the hard Eurosceptics. Not only had Cameron made a coalition with the Liberal Dems, whom they despised; he had also sold the pass on Europe, again. The hard right’s revenge came in October 2011 when the MP David Nuttall’s motion for a referendum triggered the largest Tory postwar revolt on Europe, with 81 Eurosceptics voting against the government. Two months later, Cameron tried to assuage his rebels by vetoing a eurozone rescue plan at an EU summit in Brussels. The clashes left Cameron isolated on both fronts. The Tory rebels, in Lord Finkelstein’s words, never took yes for an answer. Meanwhile Merkel and many of the other heads of government were outraged at Cameron’s defiance”.

Pointedly the article mentions Cameron’s lack of backbone in standing up to the unhinged Tories, “Although Cameron still tended at this time to treat the EU issue as a party management problem, the eurozone crisis and migration pressures were beginning to transform the issue into something much larger, much angrier and less manageable. The rise of Ukip – with whose policies a significant minority of Tory MPs agreed – pushed ever more Tories into the referendum camp. In June 2012, Cameron finally cracked and said a referendum might be necessary. From that moment the issue became when, not whether, Cameron would pledge a referendum as Tory policy at the next election. When a worried Clegg challenged him in 2012, Cameron’s response was that of a tactical politician. “I have to do this. It is a party management issue. I am under a lot of pressure on this. I need to recalibrate,” he told Clegg, according to David Laws’s account of the coalition. “He’s so busy wondering how to get through the next few weeks that he could endanger Britain’s international position for the next few decades. It’s all very very risky,” Clegg told Laws in 2012, wholly accurately as things were to turn out. When Clegg put this to Cameron later in 2012, Cameron’s reply was eloquent and to the point: “You may be right. But what else can I do? My backbenchers are unbelievably Eurosceptic and Ukip are breathing down my neck.” After a long buildup, Cameron finally made his referendum pledge in 2013 in a speech at the Bloomberg offices in central London”.

The piece mentions that “The speech put the promise in the context of an unusually eloquent argument by Cameron for Britain to remain in the EU. Perhaps if he had gone into the 2015 election emphasising that Britain must stay, he would have been in a stronger position to stem the slide of ministers and backbenchers into the leave campaign in 2016. But Cameron didn’t do that. Once again, he let the issue go off the boil. Meanwhile, though, the pressure from immigration and the fear of Ukip transformed the political climate. Cameron only began to make the case to remain in the weeks running up to this week’s vote. By then the damage had been done”.

It concludes “Although Cameron had been expecting another hung parliament in 2015, he emerged from the general election unencumbered by coalition. As a result, the referendum pledge made at Bloomberg and set in stone in the Tory manifesto had to be banked. Throughout late 2015 and early 2016, Cameron bargained for concessions from EU partners whose minds were far more focused on the continued economic crisis, immigration from Syria and elsewhere, and terrorism. The deal Cameron unveiled at the end of the Brussels summit on 19 February might have been a strong enough package to sell to an electorate that wanted to back a popular prime minister – as Harold Wilson’s equivalent deal was when Britain voted to stay in Europe in 1975. But times had changed. Cameron may have promised to fight “heart and soul” for Britain to stay in, but immigration, an impatient electorate and the absolute determination of the anti-European press and hard-sceptic MPs ensured that 2016 would be completely different. In the end, Cameron has been faced with forces and dynamics in British life that he has proved powerless to control. Indignation about immigration, disrespect for politicians, a reluctance to be frightened by warnings, press distortions and Labour’s weakness in delivering its vote all did their bit to fuel a general mood of popular payback against the political and economic establishment, as well as the EU. The remain campaign threw everything but the kitchen sink at their leave opponents, but the assaults only seemed to strengthen the mood of defiance. Even the killing of Jo Cox did nothing more than cause a temporary lull in the leave mood. Three years ago, in a comment on Cameron’s referendum pledge in the Bloomberg speech, Tony Blair likened it to a comedy western of the 1970s. “It reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles where the sheriff says at one point as he holds a gun to his own head: ‘If you don’t do what I want I’ll blow my brains out,’” Blair warned. This week, Cameron has done just that”.

 

How Brexit happened

25/06/2016

After the Brexit vote a report from the Guardian discusses how the UK voted to leave the EU, “Britain’s self-ejection from Europe is the culmination not just of four months of heady campaigning but four decades of latent Euroscepticism, which, through good times and bad, never really went away. Campaigners have agitated for EU withdrawal ever since the UK joined the common market in 1973. Labour’s official policy for the next decade was to quit, and a sizeable proportion of Conservatives have never been comfortable Europeans. The issue hounded John Major’s premiership, lay dormant through the Tony Blair years before rearing its head once again as the economy turned sour at the end of the last decade. David Cameron was keen to move his party away from “banging on about Europe” after he became leader. But once in Downing Street, he found it impossible to resist pressure from his backbenchers to call a poll as the idea of leaving the EU gained wider traction in the country with the rise of Ukip, populist rage against remote elites and discontent about immigration. Brexit, a term coined in 2012 before becoming mainstream political currency last year, moved from being a niche obsession to a victorious, mainstream political movement”.

The piece goes on to mention “As prime minister, Cameron tried to throw his restless Eurosceptic backbenchers enough red meat to keep them happy – like withdrawing from the centre-right federalist EPP group in the European parliament. However, this would never be enough for the right of the Conservative party – from Iain Duncan Smith to John Redwood – who would stop at almost nothing to free the UK from what they see as rule by Brussels, even at the expense of tearing apart their party. Cameron’s troubles began as it became clear that the 2010 intake of Tories was more Eurosceptic than the last, as they set about applying pressure for a referendum from the outset. As early as October 2011, David Cameron realised he was facing years of trench warfare with Eurosceptic backbenchers after 81 Conservative MPs supported a referendum on Britain’s membership in the largest postwar rebellion on Europe. John Baron, the Tory MP for Basildon and Billericay in Essex, was one of the ringleaders with a letter from 100 colleagues demanding a referendum on the EU in July 2012“.

The piece adds “Cameron thought he had scored a Margaret Thatcher-style victory when he vetoed a rise in the EU budget later that year, but the episode appeared to inflame anti-Brussels feeling. In December of that year, Boris Johnson publicly called on Cameron to attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU before calling a referendum. The prime minister finally committed to an EU vote in January 2013 with what has become known as his Bloomberg speech, promising to renegotiate and then call a referendum by the end of 2017. Those familiar with his thinking at the time say Cameron had what was, in hindsight, an overoptimistic belief that he could lance the boil of Tory Euroscepticism by making such a promise. It was also unlikely he would ever have to call such a poll because the Conservatives did not believe they would win an overall majority and could rely on the Lib Dems to veto the plan, like they did before 2015. However, Cameron’s victory last year, partially on the back of the promise of a referendum, meant there was no turning back”.

It goes on to point out the roles of immigration the aloof elite and UKIP in the result, “Polling suggests discontent with the scale of migration to the UK has been the biggest factor pushing Britons to vote out, with the contest turning into a referendum on whether people are happy to accept free movement in return for free trade. Public unease has been fuelled by a failure to prevent immigration from piling pressure on jobs markets and public services, and a refusal by politicians to acknowledge the sheer numbers of Europeans making new homes in the UK after the EU’s expansion east in 2004 and 2007. Cameron promised before the 2010 election to bring migration down to the tens, not hundreds, of thousands. However, his failure to live up to his promise, repeated in 2015, has undermined trust in his leadership and contributed to a sense that UK politicians are powerless to lower migration from the EU. The leave camp tried to make the arguments for Brexit more about the economy and sovereignty than immigration, but quickly found that “taking back control” over immigration was the most resonant message. They also linked immigration to shortages of primary school places, difficulty in getting a GP appointment, and depressed wages. The other force that welled up during the campaign was a wholehearted distaste for the thing that Brussels had become in the 40 years since Britain last voted in a referendum on its place in Europe. The UK has never voted on being part of the EU, which was formed at the time of the Maastricht treaty in 1993 and expanded its remit from an economic community to include foreign affairs, justice and policing. The leave camp argued that Brussels has been on a mission to expand its powers and sought further political integration, which is far removed from what the UK originally voted for. Voters appear to have decided that this was their one chance to leave a union they never particularly embraced and did not consent to in the first place. It should not be forgotten that the referendum came at a time when populist revolts against elites were gaining momentum, from Eurosceptic parties in France, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia to Trump’s brand of Republicanism in the US”.

The piece goes on to rightly mention that “The leave campaign has throughout painted the EU and Brussels officials as a hotbed of unaccountable political elites who were not democratically voted by the British people. Despite MEPs being elected and leaders on the EU council each having their own mandates, it has become a tenet of Euroscepticism that the union is too remote from the people it is governing. Brexit campaigners frequently cited the “five presidents” of Europe, who they claimed no one had ever heard of, and pointed out that the unelected European commission proposes laws that end up passed by the parliament. It hardly helped that the remain campaign was steered by almost the entire political establishment, with David Cameron, George Osborne and every living UK former prime minister from Tony Blair to John Major lining up to warn that leaving would be a terrible thing”.

The report goes on to note “Cameron might never have called the referendum had it not been for the rise and rise of Nigel Farage and Ukip. By January 2013, when the prime minister called the EU vote, Ukip had started to gain traction in local elections and was polling in double digits for the first time. There was a feeling that several Tory backbenchers could defect if Cameron failed to heed their calls for a plebiscite. Even after promising the referendum, Farage managed to gain millions of votes in the 2015 election, many of them in Labour areas as well as Conservatives. His frequent media appearances also helped cement a link between immigration and the EU in the public mind, preparing the ground for leave’s successful referendum campaign long before it officially kicked off. David Cameron overplayed his hand on EU reform when he raised hopes that he might be able to curb free movement in an FT article in November 2013. He aimed high but quickly had to water down what he was seeking from other EU leaders who were not prepared to open up the fundamental principle”.

It concludes “Realising his error, the prime minister then tried to make the issue about limiting benefits for migrants, rather than restricting numbers. His final negotiation, announced in February, came back with a ban on migrants getting full benefits for four years after arriving with no detail about how the tapering system would work. Cameron tried to make the best of his renegotiation, hailing it as a major success that he got the 27 other member states to agree. However, the process ended up cementing the impression that Brussels was inflexible and unwilling to make big concessions to keep Britain in the union. When the two political big beasts and friends of Cameron came out for Brexit, it gave a huge boost to the leave campaign. Brexit had previously been caricatured as an obsession of very rightwing Conservatives and Ukippers but Johnson and Gove legitimised the push for leaving the EU. Both highly articulate and savvy media performers, they made it more of a fight between equals against Cameron and Osborne. Johnson’s personal popularity seemingly across many different sections of society may also have made a difference as he crisscrossed the country in a battlebus selling a better Britain outside of the EU. Matters were not helped by equivocating on the part of Labour, whose leadership never looked truly comfortable campaigning with Cameron, and some of whose traditional support has drifted off towards Ukip in the belief that it will address concerns about immigration more robustly than metropolitan Labour MPs”.

Brexit

25/06/2016

The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. The Guardian reports on what happens to the Conservative Party now, “David Cameron did not realise it at the time, but his decision to suspend collective responsibility and allow his ministers to campaign against him in the EU referendum, was the moment that the Conservative gloves came off. It wasn’t meant to be like that. At the start, four senior figures in the party, including the 1922 Committee chair and leave campaigner, Graham Brady, and head of Conservative In, Nick Herbert, set up a steering group in a bid to maintain party unity by laying down some ground rules. Back then, the mantra of Conservative advisers was for MPs to do their best to avoid “blue on blue” conflict. When Boris Johnson came out as a leave supporter, he promised that he would not be debating with the prime minister directly. The steering group never got off the ground, and a few weeks later the former London mayor was challenging Cameron to a face-to-face battle, allowing newspapers to depict the prime minister as a chicken”.

The reports adds, “For the Tories, the battle over Britain’s place in Europe had become toxic with both sides resorting to heavier-handed tactics day by day. The effort with which Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne, tried to win makes the pain of the Brexit outcome all the more intense and humiliating. “This did get a lot more heated than we all expected,” said one remain MP, who argued that the ferocity of the leave campaign and its focus on immigration had taken him aback. A cabinet secretary said the personal attacks by Johnson and Michael Gove on their friend, the prime minister, including over his integrity, would not be forgotten. But the power is not in the hands of those who wanted Britain to stay. A leave campaigning MP told it from his perspective, saying: “The damage has been done by the way [the remain campaign] have conducted themselves. An awful lot of people are very offended. They have called us economically illiterate, dishonest, and little Englanders. George’s exercise last week was probably the worst.” The MP was referring to the day that Osborne unveiled a budget scorecard that suggested income and inheritance tax could be hiked in the wake of a Brexit vote. The chancellor called it “illustrative” but dozens of his own MPs labelled it a “punishment budget” and vowed to vote against it. And that wasn’t the only tactic by the Downing Street duo that leave campaigners felt went too far – spending £9m on leaflets delivered to every home, and Treasury report after report that was seen as scaremongering have left a bitter taste. Some MPs believe that this is the outcome that a clear majority of their party wanted in their hearts, whatever they said in public. “Brexit is the most uniting outcome,” said one”.

It mentions “Before the Brexit result, Cameron was preparing to have a domestic policy drive next week to reunite his party. There were three key areas to be used as a way to unite the Tories and drive a wedge between them and the real enemy, in many of their eyes, the Labour party: Trident, a policy to scrap the Human Rights Act, and Cameron’s life chances strategy. On Trident and the British bill of rights, Tories smelled Labour blood, knowing that both policies would force the opposition into taking positions that could sit uncomfortably with an important part of the working class electorate with which it needs to reconnect. Life chances was to be a cross-governmental effort, led by the Department for Work and Pensions, to improve the opportunities for the most disadvantaged in society. It was a policy through which Cameron wanted to dictate his legacy; reminding people that he began as a modernising leader who wanted desperately to detoxify his party and end an obsession with Europe. But it is hardly a unifying agenda for a party that has lost its leader. It seems unlikely now that Cameron will ever break free from his most significant act – a referendum that tore Britain from its European neighbours in a way that shocked the world. Like Iraq for Tony Blair, it is his record on the EU that is now likely to overshadow his premiership”.

In response to the vote in which a UK turnout of 72% was recorded, the pound collapsed and markets tumbled, just as the Remain camp predicted, “Shares plunged and the pound plummeted to a 31-year low as panicked traders reacted to the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the prospect of recession amid months of market turmoil. The FTSE 100 fell more than 8% within the first few minutes of trading on Friday, with shares in banks particularly hard hit and nursing their biggest falls since the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008. At the opening bell on Wall Street, US shares were down sharply, with the Dow Jones industrial average shedding more than 500 points, down nearly 3%. There were even sharper falls on bourses in mainland Europe, where economists said Brexit would hurt an already fragile recovery. After the heavy early losses, UK markets were calmed somewhat by David Cameron’s announcement that he would resign, and a pledge from the Bank of England that it would take any measures needed to stabilise markets and the economy. More assurances to step in where necessary followed from the US central bank, the International Monetary Fund and from finance ministers in the G7 group of big economies. The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said:“Inevitably, there will be a period of uncertainty and adjustment following this result.” “But we are well prepared for this,” he added in a televised statement. The Bank will not hesitate to take additional measures as required as markets adjust and the UK economy moves forward.” The G7 finance ministers said they would consult closely on market moves and financial stability and cooperate as appropriate”.

 

 

Brexit, the UK and returning to a mythical past

19/06/2016

In this, the 4,500th post, an article notes the view of those who favour Brexit being based on falsehood and a mythical past, “At some point during the final weeks before Britain’s June 23 referendum on membership in the European Union, the rhetoric of its debate became disconnected from reality. Appeals to passion have left no space for rational persuasion. A body politic that sees its serving justice secretary claim that “people in this country have had enough of experts” on national television in a formal debate, is an etiolated one, a shadow of itself. It is a country in which mock naval battles on the Thames have somehow come to be considered more effective rhetorical devices than deliberation and discussion. This surreal, and pathetic, political atmosphere was punctured yesterday by the appalling murder of MP Jo Cox. It was fitting that all campaigning was suspended out of respect; it is fitting that the democratic process will ultimately not be impeded; and it now befits this land for the debate to return to sanity in its final days. For the stakes could not be higher. Chancellor George Osborne was right to say this is a battle for the soul of this country. At heart, this is a fight between two basic interpretations of my country’s constitutional identity: Is Shakespeare’s “sceptered isle” a Little England or a Great Britain?

He argues that “Today’s world is a globalised one, and the EU allows the U.K. to operate more effectively in it. That is the basic, real-world argument, to stay in the EU. There is no need to attach to this pragmatic view any grand vision. The EU is flawed, but the U.K.’s relationship with it has been incrementally negotiated, and tailored, over 43 years to the effect that membership is the best vehicle currently on offer for the U.K. to amplify its economic strength in a globalised world. The Little Englanders reject this. They obsess about the lack of a positive case to stay in the EU, as if some grand vision were needed beyond the basic economic case for Remain. There is something puritanical about the zeal with which the leaders of the Leave campaign envisage a promised land for the U.K. outside the EU; indeed, they represent not just the populist jingoistic tradition in English politics, but a tradition of radicalism that goes back to Oliver Cromwell and the Civil War. This is a tradition that we have never quite known what to do with. Cromwell’s body was exhumed from Westminster Abbey in 1661 and posthumously “executed,” but his statue still stands ominously outside Parliament: The radical tradition can only ever be tamed, never buried”.

He makes the point that “The Little Englanders crave grand vision because for them, the glass of reality is always half-empty — modern Britain, the fifth largest economy in the world, with a London that vies with New York as the world’s global city, is not good enough for them: They want radical change that will sweep away the messy web of compromises that have been incrementally built up to respond to the complexity of the real world. This vision strips away all impurities, in order to revert to some kind of original state — an imagined golden past, leading to a promised golden future. Historical reality is not allowed to disturb the perfection of the Leave campaign’s imagined providence. Thus, in one breath, the Leave campaign’s golden place without history is England’s green and pleasant land — albeit an England imagined without the accompanying British Empire, given that that would involve recognition of all immigrants that came along with it. But in a contradiction only tenable when history is recast as fantasy, in the same breath, this golden place is also imperial Britain, ruling the waves; but this Britannia is not located in any historical reality, for that would mean confronting the tricky chronological truth that the empire collapsed before the U.K. joined the EU in 1973, so EU membership cannot possibly have frustrated imperial ambitions that fell apart on their own”.

He pointedly mentions that “The Brexiteers are routinely confronted with the point, so exceedingly obvious that it is almost banal, that the U.K. will still need access to the single market after a Brexit, or face economic chaos: Without it, all the British and foreign companies that have invested in the U.K. to trade into the EU tariff-free will have to leave the country to continue to do so; the City of London would likely see many firms move their European center of gravity to Frankfurt or Paris; and U.K. companies that want to continue to trade with the EU post-Brexit (half of U.K. trade is currently with the EU) will still need to comply with European law to trade into the single market anyway. Without access to the single market, the U.K.’s sovereign debt rating will likely be downgraded, which will make it more expensive for the government to borrow money to finance the £74 billion fiscal deficit needed to pay for schools, hospitals, and so on. The hit to the overall tax base as a result of leaving would make any savings from the payments the U.K. sends to pay for the central apparatus of the EU appear negligible by comparison, and likely precipitate deeper fiscal austerity, tax hikes, and cuts to public services. But this real-world context is but irritating trivia for Brexit puritans”.

Importantly he argues “once that is accepted as cold, hard fact, the Leave campaign arguments shrivel into nonsense. Trading within the single market means subscribing to most of the EU’s rules that govern its operation, regardless of the legal mechanism adopted to maintain access. Both the “Norway model” and the “Swiss model” — the two options most commonly referenced by pro-Brexit camps — require adhering to EU product standards, submission to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over issues of compliance with those standards, and a high degree of freedom of movement (that is, immigration). This makes Brexit not just pointless, but positively foolish, as all it does is shift the U.K. from a position where it can influence and veto EU rules, to one where it has no say in their formulation at all, but must still comply with most of them. Even if the U.K. really did leave the single market (which it would not, unless self-castration is a more popular pastime in this country than I realized), it’s hard to see how the British versions of EU regulations would be that different anyway. There will be no bonfire of bureaucracy and red tape: Complex international markets require meeting a vast number of standards in order to do business, whether or not those standards are negotiated by the U.K. on its own, or the U.K. as part of the EU”.

He then mentions correctly, “Contrary to fantasy, Brexit would, in the boring world of fact, create a massive pile of suffocating bureaucratic work for the U.K. civil service to work through, in order to convert EU rules to U.K. rules. And in the end, would a U.K. civil servant really draft rules so different from those of an EU civil servant on the types of plastics allowed in children’s toys, or what pesticides are safe, or the levels of trans-fats in margarine? The bureaucratic nightmare of re-drafting literally millions of pages of rules aside, if at the end of the day the rules were more or less the same, what’s the point? When the economy tanks after Brexit, and a whole generation of British citizens see their working lives, and their children’s life chances, screwed up by fantasists who spend their free-time driving each other into a fervor over obscure regulations, we sure won’t care a jot about our new found freedom to decide on the size of bananas. The Brexiteers will counter-argue that it’s not just the EU’s regulation of economic minutiae that are at issue, but more social issues like child benefit allowances for EU workers, or whether or not companies can ban the hijab from being worn at work. Fair point; but Brexit is the wrong answer: All non-EU member states that have negotiated tariff-free access to the single market (like Norway and Switzerland) have to comply with much, if not most, EU law on these social issues anyway, given that they tend to come up in areas like EU employment law. But as non-EU members, London post-Brexit will only be cc’d, rather than consulted, on Brussels’s decisions on these laws. Is that undemocratic? Yes, definitely. Such an arrangement for the U.K. would be a massive failure of policy, and would rightly invite criticism from any Britons concerned about their constitutional liberty, which is why I fail to understand why the Leave campaign thinks it is a good idea”.

Crucially he posits that “Then there’s the question of just who constitutes these fast-growing economies. The triad used to be China, India, and Brazil. Then Brexiteers stopped talking about Brazil after the reality of economic freefall there risked puncturing the fantasy. Moreover, they are strangely silent on the massive credit bubble developing in China right now, and the difficulties of actually doing business in India given the glacial legal system and the corruption there. Indeed, there is a sharp irony in the fact that the same Brexiteers who wrap themselves in the flag of national values are so quick to sell out on them when it comes to deals with emerging markets which so obviously have much lower standards when it comes to rule of law than one finds inside the EU. Having been trounced on questions of economics, the Leave campaign has, unsurprisingly, stopped talking about the economy, and instead has relentlessly pushed the immigration argument, and pushed it well beyond the truth (the Leave campaign’s website tells us, for instance, that Turkey will join the EU, which is highly unlikely). But even this supposed trump card is flawed. First, there is the problem already discussed: Being in the single market means accepting high levels of free movement, just as Norway and Switzerland have. End of argument — at least in the real world”.

He concludes “As if it were an afterthought for the Leave campaign, consider the effect of Brexit on the U.K. itself. Scotland will likely ask for a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit: The 2015 referendum was as much a vote to stay in the EU as the U.K., given that an independent Scotland would have had to head to the back of the queue to join the Union. With the U.K. outside of the EU, Scotland might well decide to leave — endgame for Great Britain. But that’s fine, apparently, if all you care about is Little England. Let us once again recall the key point. Despite the mountains of commentary and data, there is only one key fact in this whole debate: If the U.K. wants to stay in the single market, which it will, Brexit is foolish. Contrary to the Leave campaign’s motto — “Vote Leave, Take Control,” the opposite will be the case: Britain will still have to apply EU rules, but lose control over their content. Great Britain is a land of ancient sanity, and we will see on June 23 whether our people choose to take the world as they find it, or whether to embark on a Panglossian and profoundly un-British quest to strive for the best of all possible worlds: one which came in the imagined past, will come in the imagined future, but somehow never arrives in the present”.

Brexit and the hatred of experts

19/06/2016

A piece discusses the UK debate on the EU, “To understand what’s happening in Britain on the eve of its referendum over membership in the European Union, the best place to start might be a two-minute comedy sketch. The sketch, which first aired in 2008 on the BBC, features comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb as two newsreaders who happen to be live on air when they receive some shocking news: “It appears,” announces Mitchell, “that an invasion of the Earth, by an unknown but vastly powerful extraterrestrial aggressor, is underway.” It’s a historic moment, and Webb’s character swings into action: “So,” he says, “a massive and unstoppable alien attack threatens the Earth. What’s your reaction? Are you affected by the end of civilization as we know it? What’s your perspective? Maybe you live on Earth, or know someone who does. How do you feel about it? Email us with your thoughts on your imminent molecular evaporation at bbc dot co dot uk slash emergency apocalypse address, all one word …”

The author goes on to make the excellent point “The gag works because it captures not just the media’s desperate craving for “engagement” of any kind, but also how, in the world we live in, the opinions of the masses have been elevated over the analysis of the elites. This isn’t an age when we want to hear from presidents or prime ministers, but from Lucinda Richards from London, who wants to know: “Will these so-called aliens be required to pay the congestion charge? Somehow I think not.” As Mitchell’s presenter implores his viewers in another sketch in the series, “You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something.” On June 23, Britain will decide whether or not to leave the EU — and it is shaping up to be a day of reckoning, in every sense of the word. Take the economy. Convinced eurosceptics may be animated by emotional questions of liberty, sovereignty, and self-determination. But surveys consistently show that, for the bulk of voters, the most important issue is the economic impact of Brexit”.

Crucially he adds “This ought to be a boon for the Remain camp. Brexit may or may not bring long-term economic benefits. But the idea that it would have immediate economic costs is as close to settled fact as you can get in politics. The massed ranks of the IMF, the OECD, the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, theBank of England, the Bank of Japan, and the economics profession have lined up to warn of the adverse consequences of Brexit for British households and the world economy. The U.K.-based Institute for Fiscal Studies — whose verdicts are generally treated in British politics as gospel truth — has said that it could add two years to the government’s austerity program and has warned that the fiscal bonanza promised by the Leavers camp will almost certainly be outweighed (and then some) by heavierborrowing costs. Downing Street and the Remain camp have pushed this message with the subtlety of an artillery bombardment. Yet the polls show no movement in their direction – if anything, they show the opposite. The same surveys that proclaim the economic impact of Brexit to be the most important issue for voters also show that only 5 percent of them believe their standard of living would be diminished significantly by it. They’ve heard from the experts. But they reckon they’re wrong”.

He continues “What lies behind this? Partly, it’s a “plague on both your houses” phenomenon. I’ve written before about the remarkable and aggravating extent to which both sides in this referendum are willing to flat-out lie to the public: The Remain camp claims Brexit could trigger war, while the Leavers plaster their battle buses with a figure for British payments to the EU (£350 million a week) that is knowingly fictitious. But there’s reason to think there’s something more at work here. In a recentdebate on the EU, Faisal Islam of Sky News challenged Michael Gove, co-chair of the Leave campaign, to name a single independent economic authority who thought Brexit was a good idea. Instead of answering the question, Gove — an astonishingly cultured and erudite man who can range in a single speech from Pericles to Gladstone to “the unfulfilled yearning of the Tristan chord” in Wagner — made a virtue of ignorance. “I’m glad these organizations aren’t on my side,” he said. “I think people in this country have had enough of experts.” All these know-it-alls did, he insisted, was say “that they know what is best.” Gove, by contrast, placed his “faith in the British people.” You can see the same mentality on social media, where Gove’s acolytes positively rejoice in the invincibility of their ignorance. When I tweetedrecently about the polling figures that showed people didn’t believe the dire warnings on Brexit’s economic consequences, for example, I was told that “the public know that the ‘warnings’ come from vested interests with little credibility at predicting the future.” Other responses mocked the “sneering elites” and “over-educated elitists.” The prevailing sense is that the experts are either the dupes of Brussels — or its corrupt and salaried pawns”.

He makes the accurate point that “What has taken hold of the British electorate, much to Cameron’s alarm, is a strain of the post-truth, anti-elitist tendency that has long animated public life in America. As professor Steve Barnett of the University of Westminsterargued some years ago, here and elsewhere, the hierarchy of social deference has inverted: Instead of trusting leaders, elders, and experts over celebrities, friends, and random acquaintances, we now view those who set themselves above us with increasing contempt. Barnett put forth his thesis in 2002, but the trend shows no signs of slowing: Hence the popularity and continued proliferation of deliberately unpolished politicians — Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Beppe Grillo, and Jeremy Corbyn among them — who seem to speak as tribunes for the scorned and neglected masses. Never mind that Gove and Boris Johnson, who also claim this populist mantle, are, respectively, the Oxford-educated justice secretary and lord chancellor, and the Eton- and Oxford-educated former mayor of London. They’re still crusading against “the establishment” — and, seemingly, winning. Whatever happens in the referendum, then, this campaign has fascinating — and alarming — lessons for Britain’s future. This is still thought of as the country of the stiff upper lip, of respect for tradition and order and hierarchy. We have a queen, a House of Lords, a political and professional class dominated by the products of the elite private schools. But that country is also one seething with anti-establishment feeling, just like the rest of the West — in which solid common sense is seen as more than a match for any fancy economics degree”.

He ends “Whether it’s Cameron who stays in Downing Street or Johnson who replaces him, how can they govern a country in which large sections don’t believe a word they say? In which the prime minister’s reputation and authority — meant to be the key assets on the Remain side — can crumble to the point where only 18 percent of voters say they trust him? Could Johnson, for example, sustain his popularity once he became the face of the government’s every decision, and the focus of the inevitable discontent? In 1975, the British people voted by a huge margin to stay in the European Community, which they had joined only recently. Asked to explain the win, Roy Jenkins — one of the campaign’s leaders — said complacently that “the people took the advice of people they were used to following.” The question haunting British politics is: What happens now that they’ve stopped?

“National sovereignty will trump European solidarity”

30/05/2016

An important piece asks if the EU can survive.

It opens “The European Union is locked in a perpetual state of crisis management. It has had to head off the collapse of the eurozone, deal with waves of undocumented migrants, and now come to terms with a renewed terrorist threat, underscored by the recent attacks in Brussels. On top of all this, the EU confronts the real possibility of a British exit, or Brexit, which depends on the outcome of a public referendum in the United Kingdom in June. The European idea, which has helped to inspire the continent’s integration since World War II, may be the next casualty. Over the past seven decades, European political leaders have seized on crises to propel European integration forward, advancing toward the goal of “ever-closer union” that is codified in the 1957 Treaty of Rome. But they have not been able to do so with the latest challenges, which have revealed practical tensions and unresolved contradictions in the European project. They have exposed European integration to be an elite-driven endeavour lacking adequate democratic legitimacy, and the EU itself as an awkward and unsustainable halfway house between intergovernmentalism and supranationalism—that is, between a loose cooperative arrangement in which states retain full independence and a federal union in which they transfer those national authorities to a superior central body. Europe’s chaotic response to recent events suggests that when push comes to shove, national sovereignty will trump European solidarity”.

It notes “The so-called European idea is a cosmopolitan vision of a united Europe. Its antecedents go back centuries, but it emerged in full force following World War II, which had discredited nationalism and the nation-state throughout most of Europe. Early expressions of the European idea could be found in 1949 in the Council of Europe and in 1951 with the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The onset of the Cold War—as well as vigorous U.S. support for European unity—gave the efforts an important geopolitical boost. Even among elites, however, there has never been a single idea of Europe. That seemed not to matter as long as the general trajectory—however incremental and uneven—was toward ever-closer union, inspired in part by Jean Monnet, the French political economist and diplomat. His vision of an increasingly federal, even supranational, Europe included horizontal ties among member states and vertical relationships of authority that subordinated European states and citizens to Europe-wide institutions. To that end, from 1945 onward, European leaders have repeatedly exploited crises to advance integration. In May 1950, for example, Monnet used the specter of German economic and political resurgence and the deepening Cold War to persuade French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman to announce the European Coal and Steel Community”.

It makes the point that “The Treaty of Rome, which aimed to integrate Europe economically, was also born of crisis. During the early 1950s, several western European countries struggled mightily to create a European Defence Community that would unite their military might. Despite strong U.S. pressure, the EDC initiative failed catastrophically in 1954. Monnet responded by founding an “Action Committee for the United States of Europe,” which sought an indirect approach to overcoming European sovereignty. European leaders went along, focusing not on defence integration but on the less controversial economic goal of creating the European Economic Community (EEC)”.

It adds that “In 1989, when the sudden opening of the Berlin Wall raised the inevitability of German reunification, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President François Mitterrand took decisive steps to bind Germany into Europe. The resulting 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which formally created the European Union, began the countdown to a common currency and central bank among the (now) 19 countries of the eurozone. The eurozone meltdown and the more recent migration crisis have exposed the EU as deeply flawed. After years of flailing, eurozone countries have restored some stability to the currency bloc, including by creating a banking union. But European leaders have yet to address the fundamental contradiction between the existence of a monetary union, on the one hand, and the retention by member states of national fiscal policy authority—an arrangement that poses enormous limits on the bloc’s ability to respond to financial and economic problems”.

It goes on to note “The federalist version of the European idea was premised on the notion that cooperation among states would breed a common European identity alongside, and ultimately supplanting, national loyalties. But this prospect is still distant in a heterogeneous bloc of 28 nations with diverse histories, values, and experiences. Although past crises have led Europeans to join forces against external threats, today they blame one another for creating—or at least abetting—them. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw out the welcome mat for Syrian refugees last summer, she invoked the humanitarian ideals of the EU. But she quickly provoked resistance from eastern European neighbours, who do not share Germany’s sense of historical responsibility or western Europe’s (admittedly mixed) experiences with large populations of overseas immigrants. She also faced resistance from sovereignty-minded EU members—not least the United Kingdom—to the idea of a mandatory “quota formula” for apportioning the refugee burden”.

The writer adds, “As if the eurozone collapse and migrant surge were not enough, the real possibility of Brexit poses another serious threat to the survival of the union. The United Kingdom has always been ambivalent about its relationship to the continent. It was late to the party—joining the EEC only in 1973—and has always been more comfortable with the EU’s free market than its political solidarity. But the country now appears seriously disillusioned. Twenty-five years ago, Prime Minister John Major declared that he wanted the United Kingdom “at the heart of Europe.” Today, no Conservative leader wants to be there. The Conservative Party is evenly divided between those, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, who want it out of Europe entirely and those, such as Prime Minister David Cameron, who want the country to be safe on Europe’s margins. When he promised his countrymen a referendum on the question in 2013, Cameron was confident that the “remain” camp would win. The neck-and-neck polls suggest he may have miscalculated. In an effort to salvage British membership, Cameron has secured a package of concessions from his EU partners. They include excluding the United Kingdom from any commitment to “ever-closer union,” extracting an EU pledge to cut regulatory red tape, and giving the United Kingdom a voice in eurozone policies that might affect the pound sterling”.

Naturally he writes that “Brexit would be an economic and political catastrophe for everyone. The ensuing divorce would be messy, as an embittered EU strikes hard bargains on access to the continental market. Many multinationals could flee London, undermining its position as a leading financial center. The United Kingdom would need to negotiate its own bilateral trade deals with the United States and other trading partners. Its international influence, as well as its special relationship with the United States, would wane. Brexit would inevitably hasten the dissolution of the United Kingdom itself, as Scotland would surely proceed with another referendum on independence. As for the EU, it would lose its second-largest economy, including one-fifth of its GDP, and much of its diplomatic and military heft in the world”.

It ends “Still, the EU will survive, albeit in an altered form. The EU will likely have to cede some of its authority back to member states. The rise of populist forces has accelerated the renationalisation of European politics. As a growing number of EU countries assert their sovereign prerogatives, the result will be a Europe of variable geometry. As some EU states make border controls permanent, a “mini-Schengen” could arise among a core group of western European states. The eurozone could lose Greece—and potentially other states, if their governments conclude that they need a central bank and a currency of their own to control their economic destiny. And one of Europe’s proudest achievements, the EU human rights framework, could come under challenge from populist and nativist forces in many EU countries. The renationalisation of Europe would not be a pretty picture. While a return to war among its members seems inconceivable, a looser EU will be a weaker EU. It would be even less capable of handling the migrant crisis or robustly resisting Russian aggression, to say nothing of shouldering its share of the burden of maintaining global order”.

TTIP, bad for Europe and America

24/05/2016

An excellent piece by Hans Kundami argues that the TTIP is bad for both the EU and America, “For the last few years, almost everyone invested in Europe’s relationship with the United States, and vice versa, has become fixated on the free trade agreement known as TTIP. (For the uninitiated, that’s the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.) The deal, a counterpart to the now-concluded but not yet fully ratified Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the United States and 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific, aims to further integrate the European and U.S. economies, which together account for around half of the world’s GDP and nearly a third of world trade flows. Supporters of the project in Germany, Britain, and the United States often give the impression that the West’s entire future — the very concept of the West — hangs on its success”.

Crucially he argues “In truth, TTIP is just as likely to cause transatlantic friction as demonstrate transatlantic unity, as illustrated by media coverage in Europe of the leak by Greenpeace of papers from the treaty negotiations. Amid the fallout from the leaks, TTIP is as likely to discredit the idea of the West as revitalise it. Supporters of the project see it as a way to “renew and confirm” the transatlantic relationship, in the words of European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, the lead negotiator on the European side. Some, including former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, have even referred to TTIP as an “Economic NATO”: a complement to the military alliance that guarantees the security of its members. Thus, Atlanticists — those who believe in the importance of the relationship between Europe and the United States — have largely bought the argument that TTIP is essential in order to maintain its relevance in the 21st century. Meanwhile, the treaty’s critics generally see the idea of “the West”as outdated, incoherent, or offensive. Thus, to be pro-Western has, in recent years, increasingly come to mean favouring TTIP. It is possible, however, to be a pro-Western sceptic of TTIP — especially if one believes, as I do, that the idea of the West should be defined by the common values, not just the common interests, of Europe and the United States”.

He continues “TTIP’s problems start with the hardly overwhelming case for its passage. In the early going, supporters claimed it would generate growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2013, the European Commission, for example, claimed that an ambitious deal could produce boost growth in Europe by €120 billion, and in the United States by €95 billion. But independent research done since then by various think tanks has concluded that the macroeconomic effects of TTIP would be lower than these claims suggested. Most serious studies, in fact, suggest it could increase the size of the European economy by between 0.1 and 0.5 percent of GDP over a 10-year period — in other words, by a modest to negligible degree. Many of the other pro-TPP arguments do not apply to TTIP either. For example, Adam Posen has argued that TPP could strengthen the democratic and market-based development of Asian economies, but EU member states are already democracies with market economies, so the same argument does not extend to TTIP. Similarly, one cannot claim that TTIP will raise environmental or labour standards in Europe as TPP could in Asia — what Europeans fear, in fact, is that their high standards will be lowered by the treaty. One can also hardly claim that an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism — a system of tribunals to adjudicate on disputes between companies and states — is needed to protect U.S. companies from expropriation in Europe as one could argue in the case of Asia. (ISDS is one of the most controversial aspects of TTIP in Europe, where citizens worry that the tribunals lack transparency and force governments to make concessions to corporations.) Moreover, while the upside of TTIP is questionable, there is a downside that should worry Atlanticists”.

He points out that “Fears about TTIP, whether rational or irrational, are already fueling anti-Americanism in Europe — particularly in Germany, where there is a massive “Stop TTIP” movement. Critics say the so-called TTIP papers have confirmed their worst fears about genetically modified food and a lowering of consumer protection standards in Europe are likely to further strengthen opposition. In particular, the papers showed U.S. negotiators putting their European counterparts under pressure to ease restrictions on genetically modified food in exchange for a reduction in barriers to the export of European cars — hardly surprising, but alarming to Europeans who distrust GMOs. According to a new poll, 70 percent of Germans oppose TTIP. If American and European negotiators reach the ambitious, comprehensive agreement they insist they want — which would include ISDS — this could be just the beginning of the transatlantic tensions to come”.

Interestingly he argues that “Europeans are likely to blame Americans for any lowering of consumer, health, and environmental standards, particularly in sensitive areas such as food safety. Americans, in turn, are likely to blame Europeans if they experience job losses in the automotive sector, and others, as a result of increased competition from Europe, regardless of the size of the overall boost to the economy on both sides of the Atlantic. In short, there is a real risk that TTIP will backfire and actually increase animosity between Europe and the United States”.

He goes on to argue that “Given the risk that it may prove impossible to pass TTIP, it is a mistake for its supporters to suggest it is essential to the future of the West. As the economic case for TTIP has failed to convince people, its supporters have increasingly sought to make a “strategic” case for it by invoking the concept of the West in this way. Although it is true that the transatlantic relationship needs to be reinvented, and that Europe and the United States must deepen their ties, a trade agreement is the wrong vehicle for this project. The danger of forcing TTIP to carry this weight stems from the fact that it redefines the concept of the West in terms of the economic interests of the EU and the United States. At a time when power is shifting from west to east, Europe and the United States will increasingly need to cooperate with other like-minded states, especially “global swing states” like Brazil and India. In this context, the West cannot stand for the particular, exclusive economic interests of Europe and the United States. Rather, it must stand for universal, inclusive values — above all, democracy – and not simply be measured by prosperity”.

He concludes “Those who try to make a strategic case for TTIP often insist it is about values because it will allow the West to “set the rules for the 21st century.” It is not clear that other countries — those in Asia, for example — will really follow the rules set by Europe and the United States in TTIP (as opposed to the different rules in TPP). But even if they do, it will be only in limited areas like phytosanitary standards. This is surely not so much “revitalizing” the West, as trivializing it. The biggest threats to the West in the 21st century come from authoritarian and revisionist powers. It is difficult to see how TTIP will be of much help in responding to those threats (though TPP may be). Supporters of TTIP should take a step back and think more carefully about the West, as both a geographic and a moral concept. In order to reach out to rising powers that are not part of the West in a geographic sense, Americans and Europeans need to emphasize the moral definition of the alliance and de-emphasise its geographic definition. But this is the exact opposite of what those who invoke the West in order to make the case for TTIP are doing. By identifying the West with the economic interests of Europe and the United States, they are as likely to discredit it as “revitalize” it”.

“Extend a crisis that began in 2010 into the 2050s”

22/05/2016

A short but important article notes a German-Greek deal on the euro, “Hours after Europe and Greece appeared far apart on the latest bailout payment to Athens, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble late Monday signaled a readiness to make some kind of deal on Greek debt. His acquiescence came after a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels. It remains to be seen what Schäuble’s admission means, and details are short ahead of a May 24 deadline to deliver Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras the money he needs to make a $4 billion debt payment in July. Germany has ruled out a haircut for Greece, which would have allowed Athens to pay back less than what it owes its European creditors. However, Berlin is apparently willing to explore some nontraditional options that would give Greece leeway”.

It goes on to note “This includes extending maturities on loans to Greece, limiting annual repayments, and capping interest rates on money lent to Athens. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, under a European Union proposal, Greece won’t have to pay back what it owes for more than 37 years. Interest on this money would be capped at 2 percent until 2050. The latest bailout totals 86 billion euros, or $98 billion. “Today was about opening the debate, exploring options, and giving political guidance to the technical people,” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of the Eurogroup of finance ministers, after the Brussels meeting ended”.

The piece mentions “This essentially pushes the crisis off the shoulders of Tsipras, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, and other European leaders — and onto their grandchildren. It allows Europe to give Greece sharp debt relief without actually having to cut the amount of money Athens owes. It would also extend a crisis that began in 2010 into the 2050s. It’s not clear whether this will be enough to pacify the International Monetary Fund. Its chief, Christine Lagarde, has repeatedly said that the emergency lending bank would not participate in the continuing bailout without forgiveness of Greek debt. It’s also yet to be determined if Greece can institute the spending cuts and tax and pension reforms it promised in exchange for the latest bailout. Tsipras pushed through some of the reforms on Sunday amid violent protests on Athens’s streets. But Greece will not reach the agreed-to surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP within two years. The IMF and the EU both want Tsipras to find an additional $4.6 billion in cuts, something the prime minister says is impossible”.

It ends “In other words, Schäuble’s concession is another stopgap in the debt crisis that began in 2010. But it was enough to boost confidence in Greece’s future. On Tuesday, as Greek lawmakers began consideration on another round of austerity, the Greek stock market almost erased losses on the year. Yields on Greek bonds dropped to their lowest 2016 levels, at 7.47 percent”.

Changing ideology

10/05/2016

An interesting article argues the traditional ideological questions are disappearing with dangerous consequences for democracy, “This year’s U.S. presidential election is pretty extraordinary. Who would have possibly predicted the stunning rise of Donald Trump and the shrewdly calculated provocations of Bernie Sanders? But the United States isn’t the only place where the politics of liberal democracy have taken an unexpected turn. Just read Pierre Briançon’s sharp take in Politico Europe on the recent collapse of Europe’s traditional left-wing parties. He makes a compelling case that they’ve hit rock bottom. The dismal economic situation, the challenge of terrorism, and the refugee crisis all pose problems to which Europe’s traditional leaders — and, above all, those on the Left — have no coherent answers. As a result, he concludes, “The European Left often looks divided into two camps: One loses elections, the other doesn’t seem interested in winning them.” True enough. And yet the European Right isn’t doing itself any favours either”.

The piece adds “As British journalist Freddy Gray points out in the Spectator, traditional conservatives are also in disarray. “Everywhere you look, in country after country, batty nationalists are winning and conservative pragmatists are running scared,” he writes. “The victory on [April 25] of Austria’s Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hofer, who likes to carry a gun, is just the latest in a series of gains for this new right-wing populism.” The new generation — which includes Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage — has knocked establishment conservatives for a loop”.

Yet the problem with this is the definition of these people as “traditional conservatives”. Traditional conservatives seek to slow change rather than accelerate it. They are sceptical of human nature and thus grand projects. Thus, the worship of deregulation and the free market are not “traditional conservative” principles. Furthermore the notion of the organic society has been lost leading to ignoring the poor with no thought given to the moral or social consequences for the state’s withdrawal. 

The piece adds “Gray notes that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party mayor of London, has begun positioning himself as a kind of Trump-in-waiting. Johnson aims to undermine his rival (and, technically, boss — as head of the same party), Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperately working to stave off a potentially disastrous defeat in next month’s referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. In case you haven’t been following the Brexit controversy, Johnson wants the U.K. to leave, while Cameron wants it to remain. That divide, which appears to be growing increasingly bitter, reaches all the way down through their party. Just like Republicans in the United States, British Conservatives are — to quote Gray — “tearing [themselves] apart.” Even as political conflict intensifies, there’s a sense that the old ideological divides are breaking down”.

Importantly the author notes “We still categorise our politicians as “right” or “left,” usually without remarking that this is a distinction that dates back to the French Revolution. Yet the “conservative” Trump, who spent much of his life flirting with Democrats, doesn’t look at all like someone intent on preserving the status quo. He’s an aggressive insurgent, openly waging war on his own party even as he dumps its once-sacrosanct principles of free trade and open borders. (Which perhaps helps to explain why American über-conservative Charles Koch recently hinted that Hillary Clinton might make a better president than The Donald. After all, she started off as a Goldwater Republican, and she has shifted positions so many times since that it’s hard to tell what she really believes.) For his part, Trump even has admiring words for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — a weakness he shares with his European counterparts like Farage, Le Pen, and Orban. For 20th-century conservatives, defending freedom was the sine qua non, the indispensable belief. Now it’s an accessory”.

The author rightly notes “Indeed, some of these profoundly un-conservative conservatives openly flirt with authoritarianism and racism in ways that would have appalled their Christian Democrat ancestors who helped build the EU in the decades after World War II. Needless to say, those pro-European conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s were motivated by an all-too-fresh awareness of where such flirtations could lead. Orban has candidly expressed his preference for “illiberal democracy” of the sort supposedly embodied by Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If Orban were to make good on his statement by rolling back Hungary’s democratic institutions, that would amount to a revolution from the Right, not a conservative defense of the status quo. Meanwhile, amid a refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Muslims transit through Hungary, Orban has boosted his political profile by describing himself as a stalwart defender of Europe’s “Christian values” — at a time when Europeans are more secular than they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” though neither he nor his fans seem to have a very clear understanding of what the term means. Historically, socialists were the people who believed that the state should own the means of production, or at least control the “commanding heights” of the economy. Sanders’s vague promises of free college education or moves to “break up the banks” are thin gruel by comparison. He may love to rant about Goldman Sachs, but even he’s never proposed nationalising it”.

The piece goes on to mention “It’s particularly ironic that Sanders has assumed the socialist mantle just at the moment when his European counterparts, whom he often holds up as models, are abandoning it. As Briançon points out in his article about the malaise of the European Left, “Politicians such as France’s reformist economy minister Emmanuel Macron hardly hide the contempt they have for a bureaucratic party system where the traditional notions of ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ have lost their significance.” Meanwhile, Britain’s Labour Party finds itself embroiled in a controversy over anti-Israel remarks — some of them with clear anti-Semitic overtones — made by leading functionaries. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to OK an independent inquiry into allegations that his party abides intolerance. Surely nothing shows how far the party has drifted away from its original values of internationalism than this”.

The report notes “The Labour scandal is all too indicative of the general confusion in which we now find ourselves. The old ideological poles of Left and Right once reflected an important social reality, the fundamental divide between the industrial and agricultural working class and the people who ordered them around. Western societies are no longer so straightforwardly organized. The number of people who work on assembly lines and farms has diminished sharply and will continue to do so. The trade union movement, once the backbone of left-wing political parties, has faded. Many members of the modern underclass perform services rather than making things. Manufacturing is steadily becoming the province of small and highly trained elites. Is a Google programmer better represented by the Left or Right? What about a farmer who depends on federal subsidies? Or a super-skilled worker who assembles sophisticated medical equipment? Is someone who works at a peer-to-peer lender a member of the ruling capitalist class? Class distinctions obviously still exist, but they’re far more complicated than they used to be. Today’s big political challenges — gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the integration of Muslim immigrants — often turn on culture as much as economics. Over the past few decades, both American Democrats and British Labourites have defined themselves as the defenders of the minorities produced by increasingly multicultural societies — only to discover that their old core constituency, the white working class, has turned away, shifting its loyalties to the Trumps and the Farages. But the intellectual blurriness of those new populists, whose popularity owes more to tribalism and gut feeling than coherent programs, leads one to wonder whether they’ll really manage to come up with better answers”.

He ends “What we’re seeing right now, throughout the West, is a political system that is lagging dramatically behind these complicated social realities. (“Is the U.S. Ready for Post-Middle-Class Politics?” one recent headline from the New York Times Magazine asked.) I’m not sure what the answer is. But the problem is definitely attracting attention. A conservative think-tanker proposes coming up with a new name for capitalism. (Good luck with that!) An academic calls for the creation of an American social democratic party — a suggestion that, given the stagnation of Europe’s social democrats, feels a lot like a 19th-century response to 21st-century problems. Yet another public intellectual suggests the founding of an entirely new “Innovation Party,” on the assumption that Silicon Valley will find all the answers. The dismal state of civic culture on Facebook and Twitter suggests that we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. These would-be visionaries could be on the right track, of course. It’s possible that we’re facing some sort of fundamental political realignment, some profound shift in the balance of societal forces, and we just don’t yet see where it’s going to go. But there’s also a more radical possibility: that Western liberal democracy is witnessing nothing less than the end of politics as we know it — to potentially tumultuous effect. Judging by the current convulsions the West’s political system is enduring, I’m not sure that we can entirely rule that out”.

Of course such hyperbole should be dismissed. Ideology will remain but will change. There will still be the haves and have nots, there will still be the rich and poor. So while the lines will blur, the problems will remain. The question about the “free market” and the role of the state have not, and will not, be answered and are thus perennial questions that need to keep being asked, if not answered. They will remain the basis for ideology albeit under a difference guise for years to come.