A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

Anything to say? Contact me at europeandisunion@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, 31 October 2011

Feminists Don't Need Men

Empowerment doesn't mean nudity. Picture by Carolmooredc.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former Finance Minister, IMF chief, and front-runner to beat Sarkozy in next year's presidential election was knocked out of the presidential race after a slew of alleged sexual offences. Now all charges have been dropped, and feminist group Femen, seeing this as an example of money men being able to bend the rules, has decided to take to the streets in protest. Topless.

Eastern European feminists seem more inclined to get their kit off than their western counterparts: earlier this year, Czech parliamentarians produced a seductive calendar to celebrate the election of more women than ever before to the legislative chamber. It certainly puts the old adage that feminists are all ugly to bed, so to speak, but it's doing no favours for their cause. How can you make a stand against male exploitation of the female body if you're standing naked on a city street? How is a calender a means of celebrating female empowerment? The explanation, is, as always, 'celebrating female sexuality'  or even taking control of it: but that's perfectly possible to do it with your clothes still on. It is quite clear that their brand of 'sexuality' does not appeal to most women, who are quite comfortable keeping their clothes on, thank you very much - and not being any less attractive for it

The propensity to get naked is one of many factors undermining modern European feminism. Along with the sexism, double-standards, and an unhealthy obsession with finding 'offence' in places where most women would just see the increasingly unisex routine of domestic life or some self-styled lad's attempt at a joke, they are becoming increasingly detached from the women they purport to represent.

There are vast areas of the world where the treatment of women is barely up to medieval standards: in fact, to call it medieval would be an insult. Many of these places were comparatively better in the Dark Ages. These are all places where feminist is needed. It would help the modern feminist cause a great deal if they would focus their efforts somewhere that feminism is sorely needed, rather than wasting their time extrapolating from statistical anomalies or individual events in places where the two instruments that women need to further themselves - education and the vote - are already assured.

The Folly of Immigration Idealism

Not overcrowded? Picture by David Rayner.

Britain is not full. There are still plenty of open woodland spaces, plenty of parkland, plenty of moors, and a wilderness the size of Belgium for people to inhabit. In a very literal sense, Britain is not full at all. Sadly, what David Blunkett - and proponents of immigration in general - don't seem to understand is that being able to build a few hundred thousand new houses does not equate to being able to support a few hundred thousand new people. You need schools. You need jobs. You need a plethora of public services, a whole variety of amenities, and ready access to utilities. And these things are full.

In London alone, primary schools are already short of places for fifty thousand students. Nationally, twenty per cent of all primary schools are full, and one hundred thousand are taught in overcrowded classrooms. And it's not just schools: there are already five million people on the waiting list for social housing, and, on average, they are waiting several years. To add to this, the budget is about to be slashed by 50%. Electrical grids are overburdened to the extent that the government has predicted rolling blackouts unless a radical solution is adopted. Nothing needs to be said for the creaking local authority infrastructure, outdated railways, and Victorian sewage systems.

Immigration activists are wrong: there is no fear of 'foreigners.' In fact, many people that xenophobes and immigration activists alike would consider 'foreign' are as opposed to mass-immigration as the white British population. There is, however, a fear of numbers. Big numbers. Numbers that are as unsustainable in reality as they would be in the back of a maths book: numbers that simply don't add up to a prosperous society, but rather a pressured one, with ever-increasing numbers competing for ever-dwindling school places or one of the few council houses remaining. Where is the sense in adding more people to a system which can barely cope with the ones already here?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The EU Cannot Defend European Interests

Turkey has deployed gunboats: the EU has deployed Stefan Fule. Picture by Stefano Sopelza.

One of the most enduring - and convincing - arguments for the European Union has been the constant presence of superpowers. The US, China, Russia, and now are raft of others are all vying for the title, and European nations - federalist orthodoxy holds - are like pawns in a great game. Individually, They can be toyed with at will. Individually, they can be controlled, cajolled, enrounded, exploited, and, between the major players, they won't get a word in edgeways. The solution - apparently - is to pool their resources and their government. To integrate. To unify. It's consistently been a thorn in the side of advocates of national democracy: no-one can deny that Europe's GDP as a whole has been rapidly declining since the 70s, and that the economic might of the countries that comprise it has declined further still. It was an argument that seemed to have all the corners covered.

But Turkey seems to have found the chink in its armour. In light of the Cypriot state's ongoing quest for hydrocarbons, the Turkish government has deployed warships in the eastern Meditteranean and contacted the government of occupied Northern Cyprus about delineating a continental shelf - an illegal move, as the talking chessboard would say, given that Northern Cyprus has such a low degree of international recognition. The deployment of gunboats always contains an implicit threat of hostile action, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule -  who is still tasked with doing all he can to get Turkey into the European Union as part of his job description - is spooked. He appeared at a press conference Wednesday, saying that there was no place for hostile intent, and that all sovereign states had the right to exploit natural resources within their Exclusive Economic Zone.

However, his speech exposes the limitations of the EU as a defender of European interests: other than remind the Turks that Cyprus is a sovereign nation - which it isn't, as far as Turkey is concerned - there was nothing he could do. If the EU is so powerless and impotent faced with the might of a Turkish gunboat, it is hardly going to be an effective guarantor of sovereignty against China and Russia. A far cry from the representation of a solid bloc of nation-states, the EU is just another layer of pointlessness on top of an already pointless gesture.

Czechs Will Still Not be Bullied

Prague Castle is the third largest in the world. Picture by Tepold.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has always been a Eurosceptic. He i, in fact, the sole Eurosceptic among European heads of state, following the plane crash that tragically killed Polish President Lech Kaczinsky in April last year. He has constantly attracted the ire of enraged Brussels officials: hundreds of MEPs walked out of the European Parliament chamber rather than hear him speak - ironically on the subject of listening to other people's views. Daniel Cohn-Bendit once stormed into Hradcany Castle, replaced the Czech flag on the President's desk with an EU one, and briskly informed the President: 'no-one cares about your opinions.' The co-president of the European Greens was perhaps infuriated that the Czech head of state is also a climate sceptic, whose book, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, is sold internationally. Mr. Klaus even had the gall to take the fight directly to the Guardian.

That might by why his party, Občanská Demokratická Strana (Civic Democratic Party; ODS) is now firmly committed to holding a second referendum in light of French and German proposals fundamentally altering the nature of the eurozone. According to federalists, the Czechs have had their referendum before: they voted to join the European Union, back in 2003, knowing full well that joining the euro was a legal requirement of all new member states. But the federalists themselves are no strangers to holding referendums again when they don't get the answer they want, and, as Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas explains, the eurozone has changed beyond recognition since then.

Citing a proposed German-led treaty change in a speech at a party congress, Mr. Nečas said 'the conditions under which the Czech citizens decided in a referendum in 2003 on the country's accession to the EU and on its commitment to adopt the single currency, euro, have changed.' The stable, prospering currency they opted into in 2003 is now wracked by the prospect of a Greek default and more bailouts of Italy and CyprusEstonia, its newest member, has seen support for its membership of the single currency collapse due to massive inflation. The economic advisory council - a body which includes a number of eminent economists - has already warned the government to prepare for the euro's disintegration. If 'there is a change to fundamental rights that would result in powers being transferred from national organs to European organs,' a referendum will be held.

The EU-funded Centre for European Policy Studies has already criticised talk of a public ballot as 'purely populist,' and accused the government of doing it solely to shore up their domestic poll ratings  - an accusation also levelled by the opposition Social Democrats. It does, however, admit that the 'disease...of introvertism and isolationism' stands a good chance of winning if a referendum goes ahead. There is an overwhelming 73% majority against joining the eurozone, as of April, and Vaclav Klaus's economic opinions are taken seriously. The liberal-conservative economist was one of the principle figures in the the Czechoslovak economic reforms after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and opposes the bailout of large financial institutions with public funds as a matter of capitalist principle. Four-fifths of Czechs take a similar view.

The koruna looks set to be around for a while yet, and the Czechs can retain their title as the most democratic nation in Europe.


This is the third update posted today: the other two are on the changes to the law of succession, and the European Commission taking every country in Europe to court.

David Cameron Might Just Have Saved the Royal Family

Both have the potential to be role models to the young.

The sixteen countries with Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state have voted unanimously to reform the succession laws. Male primogeniture - where a younger son can ascend to the throne ahead of an elder daughter - will be abolished before the birth of another royal heir, as will the rule that states an heir to the throne cannot marry a Catholic. The agreement was concluded at a meeting in Australia, where David Cameron called the rules 'outdated' and 'at odds with the modern countries we have become.' He has most definitely won back a small proportion of his female voters, and he may have just saved the monarchy.

The existence of the monarchy is pretty much assured for the rest of the Queen's lifetime. It is probably guaranteed to outlast the reign of Prince Charles, assuming that he comes to the throne. After that, however, it is in the badlands. Just over half, according to the Mirror, think that there will still be a monarch on the throne in half a century's time. Its primary supporters, the Boomers, will mostly be gone, and the current thirty and forty-somethings will in all likelihood have retired. The reins of society will belong to today's teenagers and twenty-somethings, and, while they are not openly hostile to the idea, the monarchy is less entrenched in their minds than it is in previous generations: no longer will it be able to stay silently out of view and expect the perception of its ceremonial importance to endure. They will need convincing. They will need to know why the monarchy is relevant to them: the quickest and easiest way to ensure that it isn't is for it to preserve archaic traditions.

The scrapping of outdated laws that no-one, save for older Anglicans, sees the sense in any more brings the monarchy into their century.


This is the second update of today. This was the first one. There will in all likelihood be another, on the latest news from the Czech Republic - and its avowedly Eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus - on the eurozone crisis.

Commission Takes Europe to Court

The European Court of Justice: the Commission's weapon of choice.

It ain't over till it's over. That is not so much the European Commission's motto: -more of its modus operandi. In a major crackdown on national laws that clash with European directive, it has referred or threatened to refer twenty-seven European Union member states to the European Court of Justice. For those that don't unnecessarily complicate things, that's all of them. The alleged infractions are wide-ranging, from conform to environmental directives to an inability to properly implement the Blue Card scheme. The announcement of legal measures against all EU states marks a major increase in the Commission's willingness to take action against perceived incompatibilities between national and EU law.

The possible reasoning for this is two-fold. The long-standing President of the Commission is just about to enter his eighth year in office, and calls for 'more Europe' have never been louder. As the head of executive body of the European Union, an institution which his predecessor once called 'the European government,' the task of transliterating these calls into political reality falls to him. The eurozone crisis has also kicked off the biggest debate in modern times over exactly how the EU should be ran. No, it's not between Euroscepticism and federalism: at the higher echelons of Brussels government, Euroscepticism doesn't even get a look-in. It is between federalism and its slightly more reserved sister, intergovernmentalism.

Historically on the back foot post-Maastricht, intergovernmentalism - where decisions are made by elected heads of state and government ministers through negotiation and compromise, and nation-states generally play a greater role in EU institutions - has been steadily gaining favour amongst the commentariat since the eurozone crisis began, in light of the greater role played by national heads of state and finance ministers. The Commission has appeared either impotent or as part of the triumvirate: compared to previous years when it was at the forefront of economic and constitutional affairs, it has done relatively little. It has not involved itself in the intricacies of the deals and backroom negotiations between heads of state. It has mostly been playing second fiddle to the IMF and ECB when it comes to the arrangements themselves. And, most importantly, it has not stumped up the cash: national governments have, from public funds and our own pockets, of course. Some are beginning to question what its role actually is, and whether it should be downsized - or even whether it is strictly necessary as an institution.

Intergovernmentalism is often seen by committed federalists as a moderate form of Euroscepticism - it is a central tenet of so-called 'soft Euroscepticism,' the belief that EU membership is a good thing but that EU institutions should not hold all the power. It would also see the Commission taking a lesser role in governing the continent, seeing its executive function greatly reduced and its ability to enforce legislation greatly reduced. To the Commission, intergovernmentalism is the fracturing of Europe, the return of national interest, and the diametric opposite of what the European Union is and is supposed to be, and they're determined to stop it at all costs.

The recent surge in court cases is less an attempt to assert its dominance: more a statement that it does have a vital role to play in enforcing European unity. Divorced from most economic decisions, it is going all-out on its role as 'guarantor of the Treaties.' The claim that UK's environmental laws aren't as strict as the Commission says they have to be is only the start of a wider campaign: the Commission is determined to enforce its authority. And that means yet another challenge to the democratic sovereignty of nation-states.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Comrades, To Our Houses!

Occupy everything? The London branch aren't even occupying their tents. Picture by David Shankbone.

It's always mildly depressing when a right-winger criticises the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Since when did capitalists and free marketers think that bailing out any financial enterprises that fail with billions of pounds of public funds was halfway sensible? It's not 'capitalism' - capitalism requires risk. It's a bastard capitalism, where incompetent individuals who make bad decisions do not have to face the consequences, but can instead can pass them on to the taxpayer. It's contrary to standard capitalist thinking, and downright offensive to laissez-faire advocates. But, nonetheless, it's a good thing for them that no prominent right-winger has publically came out as a supporter of the Occupy movement - especially its London branch. They'd look more than a little bit foolish now.

The Telegraph TV crew pulled off a masterful coup against 'the 99%' through the use of thermal imaging technology: most of the tents said to be chok-full of protestors raging against the establishment were, in fact, empty. One image shows a whole row of them, virtually indistinguishable from the pavement: they clearly haven't been occupied for quite some time, if at all. It is another blow to the credibility of a small protest movement that has so far forced married couples to leave through a side entrance and caused the closure of the cathedral for the first time since the Second World War.

To call them 'self-important' would be to pay them a complement: if they vacate their tents at night, they clearly prefer the trappings of capitalism to the cold pavement. Their cause can't be that important to them. 'Self-righteous,' maybe. But 'self-obsessed' fits the bill better: 'look at me, look at me, I'm pretending to protest about a cause and am closing down one of London's major tourist attractions and ruining the wedding plans of countless couples in order to do so. Is it time for my close-up?'

The protestors then confounded the folly with their hostility to Daily Telegraph reporters, and by doing little to alleviate the concerns of local businessmen - who, whether they like it or not, are the working people who get up early every day and mostly scrape by. All of this smacks of a camp of intellectual snobbery which has little understanding of or care for their stated goals: not genuine protestors, merely trendy self-styled 'activists' of the worst kind.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The 1975 Referendum Is - and Ought to Be - Irrelevant

Jimmy Callaghan (left): the only Prime Minister ever to give us a euro-referendum.

'We had a referendum on that issue in 1975, which produced a very clear result,' says Laurence Mann, David Cameron's senior aide on European Union affairs. Mr. Mann joins a long list of pro-membership campaigners, commentators, and politicians (especially those of the anti-vote persuasion), to fall back on the 1975 referendum as 'proof' that the electorate's view of the European Union chimes with theirs.

It's a nice idea, that the continuing government policy has some measure of democratic legitimacy. But it is logically impossible. Basic chronology and all our understanding of space and time itself tells us that we could not have had a referendum on European Union membership in 1975, as, in 1975, the European Union did not exist. The European Economic Community existed. This isn't just semantics: that was a different body entirely, with almost no legislative or political power in comparison to its modern counterpart. No overbearing and unaccountable Commission passing law, no chief executives styling themselves as 'the government of Europe,' as Romano Prodi did. No Lisbon; no Maastricht. No courts, no bank, no euro. The electorate of 1975 voted on a trading bloc. Not a supra-national government.

That electorate itself has also changed substantially. The only people who had a say are those who , in 1975, were eighteen or over. A fair few of them are now dead: those that aren't are at least fifty-three, and many of them are quite a bit older. The referendum was held a whole generation ago: no-one who isn't a Boomer has ever had a say, on either the EU, or our relationship with it (and, before you say that we have the chance every general election, please bear in mind that all parties are pro-referendum when canvassing for votes).

The referendum of 1975 is not only a generation out of date, its subject was an entirely different relationship - with an entirely different organisation. The planet has changed beyond recognition. The Soviet Union is gone; American domiance is slowly ebbing away; and the Second World War - the idea that inspired so many of the Boomers, understandably, to push for greater union - is now studied in school textbooks, rather than the officious pages of bomb damage assessments. So many other international organisations now have the preservation of peace as their goal as to make any peacekeeping purpose of the EU wholly redundant: if the combined might of the UN, NATO, countless multi-lateral agreements, and a proliferation of regional bodies aren't able to do it, it's a pretty safe bet that the EU wouldn't be able to do it, either. For political purposes, this a completely new world: and it's a world that should be given - and demands - a vote.

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Referendum Vote: A Belated Farce

David Cameron turns his back on the electorate.

The story of the 'referendum vote' is looking more and more like the saga of a a belated farce. Originally intended to be a free and open debate on whether the government should hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, scheduled for next Thursday, it is now plain and clear that it is nothing of the sort. MPs will, in all likelihood, vote against the public having their say, in spite of all polls in the last five years saying that the public want otherwise. Prime Minister David Cameron has made doubly sure that the embarassing outcome of a popular ballot does not occur, by introducing a raft of measures against anyone who may consider voting for it.

It is a sad day when a Prime Minister orders his MPs to block a public vote. But that is precisely what Mr. Cameron has done, having issued a three-line whip to all his MPs. The threat of deselection hangs over the heads of all who do not vote accordingly. The debate itself has been brought forward to Monday - less time for MPs to browse through the angry barrage of emails that would have landed in their inbox - and the referendum itself will no longer be a standard, two-response question. It will instead have three responses. Two-thirds of the possible responses are 'In,' ensuring that those who want to remain in the EU as it is do not have to be a majority: they merely need to have a higher proportion of the votes that either of the two reformist reformists to win. Britain's future could be decided by as little as 34% of the populace. Not that all that matters much: in the unlikely event that the vote swings against the party line, and MPs vote for a referendum, for Mr. Cameron could refuse to hold one. Even if he did, history dictates that it would be repeated or ignored until we delivered the 'right' result.

There is only one argument as yet used for this astoundingly undemocratic arrangement -the Prime Minister's personal belief. David Cameron has repeatedly stated that he 'does not believe that an In/Out referendum is right.' Key word being believe. Like its immediate precursor, this government has repeatedly refused to hold an independent cost-benefit analysis. It has simply reverted to the old Labour line, saying that they don't need to carry one out as 'the benefits of EU membership are self-evident.'

This line of thinking is remarkably child-like: 'I have irrefutable evidence. It is so irrefutable that I do not have to show it to you.' It would never be accepted in open debate: if someone went on BBC Question Time, for example, claiming to have proof that could settle the argument 'once and for all,' proudly boasting of evidence that could vindicate their claims and make their opponents look patently ridiculous, would you not be a tiny bit suspicious if they then turned around and said: 'No. I'm not going to show you. You know what it is?' If you knew what it was, you wouldn't be asking! It is doubtful that this  evidence even exists: if David Cameron possessed the power of proving his case utterly and beyond refute, why would he - or any else, for that matter, hesistate to use it?

Unless he can prove it - or even back it up with facts and figures, something else he has thus far been unable or unwilling to do - then his 'belief' is worth little. It certainly should not be the grounds on which we decide our nation's future for another generation or more.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Estonia Grows Disillusioned With the Euro

The sun has gone down on the Estonia-euro honeymoon. Picture by Htkava.

Ever get that feeling you've jumped onto a sinking ship, only to look back and find you're already out of sight of land? The Estonians are waking up to just that pleasure. Less than one year ago, the arrival of the euro was greeted with street parties: five thousand people lined the streets of Tallin to exchange their krone, and the president himself ceremoniously withdrew a 5 euro note from a hole-in-the-wall. The entire nation of one and a half million people was breathless in anticipation of finally having a say in the world. This was, in the eyes of many, what they had escaped Communism to do.

That overwhelming wave of support is, however, receding faster than a European banker's hairline: according to a poll by Turu-Uuringute AS, only 55% would favour the single currency, were there to be a second referendum (which, since they gave the 'correct' answer the first time, there won't be). There is a growing sense of disillusionment, disappointment, or even anger: many of those who turned out en masse to vote in a referendum on euro membership feel mis-sold. The rush to join something that could give them a greater say in the world was overpowering: a 'no' vote was a vote for isolation and intimidation. But the euro hasn't turned out to be the economic renaissance that they were told it would be; quite the opposite, in fact.

The government can point to some economic success: IMF estimates state that Estonia was Europe's fastest-growing economy, at a whopping 6.5%. But, given that Estonia's chief export market is the eurozone itself, that can reasonably be expected to fall quite sharply, and at any rate, none of it has made a blind bit of difference to your average citizen in Tallin. For not only do they have the fastest-growing economy of all European nations, they also have the highest inflation. Food bills for families - as well as the price of basic utilities - have skyrocketed. Real wages have fallen for the eleventh quarter in succession. Their contribution to the EFSF, the EU's new bailout fund, may seem minor, at £2 billion. But this is the poorest country on the continent: that's almost one fifth (14%) of their national economy and a third of their annual budget.

To add to this, there is a disconnect between the central bank and the people. Ulo Kaasik, deputy governor, is one of the most orthodox in Europe: he still thinks that Greece can get back on the path to recovery in exactly the way the EU intended, all semblance of economic reality be damned. But the people remain highly sceptical: 58% of them oppose further Estonian involvement. Estonians are, in the words of Anti Poolamets, 'paying our money to much richer states for their mistakes.'

Eurosceptics, such as Mr. Poolamets, may be a small force in Estonian politics - the novelty of coming in from the cold does not wear off fast. But nonetheless, their words are likely to find resonance with the Estonian public, who can see third of their annual budget at the beck and call of the European for no explicit purpose. In the absence of explanations from their government or their central bank as to how piling more debt onto an indebted country is ever going to help matters, they just might turn to more maverick voices that say that, in entering the eurozone, the country took the wrong turn in its search for a voice in the world.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Capitalism Has Not Failed: Far From It

If he didn't laugh he'd cry

Here we go again - another band of professional activists who complain about the influence of companies and big business whilst decked out in the latest designer gear. It's one thing - and an eminently sensible thing it is, too - to suggest that taxpayers shouldn't be liable for the losses of every large private banking enterprise that goes to the wall, especially when their collapse was caused by willful miscalculation or over-reliance on risky investment. The threat of not being backed up by public funds, and incurring all losses privately, ought to make them think more carefully about who they lend money to. It is quite another to say - as some have - that capitalism, or free market economics itself has failed. Especially when you're waving one thousand shades of smartphone in the air.

To all anti-capitalist protestors, there is one stock answer: go to your local corner shop. There, in ten foot by ten foot, is the greatest abundance of food and drink in the history of civilisation, all affordable with pocket change. If the anti-capitalist element of the Occupy Wall Street protests can direct me to a non-capitalist society, at any point on the timeline of human history, that has provided such a wealth of choice within the reach of virtually all its citizens, then I'll pack my bags - I'm moving. But they can't. Because there isn't one.

They might try to argue that these things are nothing to do with capitalism at all, but merely the result of communication and transport links around the globe that far surpass anything our ancestors possessed. That's partly true: it wouldn't have been possible without those things.. But nor would it have been possible without capitalism. We have examples of non-capitalist states, from our own age, where the variety of food is abysmal in comparison. In more extreme examples, it extended to anything the ruling party didn't confiscate and reserve for the 'plum jobs.' We have seen, in Africa, capitalist free-market breadbaskets - where food was previously in abundance and affordable - reduced to starvation. Zimbabwe, whose dictator, Mugabe, is a self-confessed socialist, is a prime example. There is a striking - if not absolute - correlation between African countries that have suffered the worst famines and those which employed socialist economics at the time: Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, and Mali are all on the list.

It's not only food: housing, too. More people own homes now than at any other point in human history, even if you take the current dip in home ownership into account, and multiply it several times over. Would this have occured without the emergence of capitalism and the growth of the middle classes into the demographic majority we see today? It is highly doubtful: especially if we look the rates of homeownership in states that have followed a different economic trajectory where capitalism is not as firmly established. Across much of the Meditteranean, which was dominated socialist or fascist dictatorships well into the 20th century, renting is the standard option, and owning a house is a rare privilege.

And innovation, variety, is the preserve of capitalist states: why do those anti-capitalist elements of the Occupy Wall Street protests wave so many varities of smartphones about? Why do they wear so many different brands? Wouldn't they prefer it if the manufacturer only made one model, as in socialist states? Apparently not.

If you are going to insist that capitalism and free market economics has failed, fair enough - that's your democratic right (though there's not a non-capitalist country in the world that's a democracy). Protesting social inequality is also fine - even though it's better that some be much richer than others, and all have a roughly equal chance of getting to the top, than it is for all to be equally poor and kept that way, as is the case in every truly socialist state (i.e. one without a free market or private enterprise) that ever existed. But please realise: you're doing it whilst you are a walking argument to the contrary.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Does Macedonia Want to Join the EU?

Will a resurgent self-belief and Turkish pressure lead to disdain for EU membership?

The recent confusion over Macedonia's ascension process into the EU is publically put down to to an upsurge in authoritarianism in the Balkan nation, and an outpouring of patriotic fervour that has seen relations with Greece and other Balkan states awkwardly - and needlessly - complicated. The EU's annual report has discovered that Macedonia has made no progress: indeed, it has backtracked on media freedoms and has halted all its efforts to improve the rule of law. But the scorn hasn't all been poured one way: Macedonia has retaliated in kind.

The sunshine state's president, Gjorge Ivanov, was waxing lyrical in a letter, seen by the Macedonia Online. In it, he lambasted the long-standing EU practice of refusing to use the denonym 'Macedonian' to describe the country and people. This was not so much an attack on the EU itself as it was an extension of the Macedonian-Greek feud: the fires lit by the sudden appearance of a statue that looks suspiciously Alexander the Great in Skopje's main square have not yet dampened, and the question of the contested name is as unresolved as ever. Macedonians have become ever more defensive of their national identity at home, and it is no surprise that Ivanov seeks to defend it on foreign shores, as well.

But the latest bout of rhetoric appears to be somewhat orchestrated. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is rumoured to have helped fund an anti-Bulgarian film that portrays the country as responsible for the exile of Jews from the former Yugoslavian state, and then his Finance Minister, Zoran Stavrevski, fired a broadside at the EU in general, saying that: 'it would be better for the EU to simply stop this crisis by making Greece's bankruptcy official.' He also laid the blame firmly for the closure of the Greek-Macedonian border - due to public sector strikes - on the EU's shoulders. Raising the prospect (or, rather, lack of) of financial compensation from the EU for the strike, he said 'the EU knew for more than a decade that Greece is in bad shape. They knew it, and allowed it to happen.'

President Ivanov's letter was addressed to Jose Manuel Barroso himself, EU chief executive and overseer of the ascension process. In defending Macedonian identity, Ivanov has set the EU up firmly as those who would do it harm. And Mr. Stavrevski has apportioned blame in a manner that, avowed Eurosceptic that I am, even I would consider unfair. None of this is remotely sensible if you actually have any intention of joining the EU, nor if you are trying to stir pro-EU sentiment amongst the populace. And all three politicians must be aware of this.

The reasons for this at first appear bewildering: why would Macedonia turn its back on what was once considered its best opportunity for a generation? It was only one date before the latest outburst that Silvio Berlusconi offered his full support to Macedonian entry, so it's not exactly a lost cause, yet. But closer inspection soon reveals the hand of Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister. He has already promised to reward the Macedonian national football team for their home defeat of Armenia - striking a chord with the proud Macedonian nation, for whom their football team is a major source of pride - and to throw a lifetine to the economically-troubled Balkan nation by tripling current trade levels between the two countries. Not only this, but he has gone one step further than Mr. Berlusconi: he not only recognises Macedonia's right to join the EU, but also its right to use whatever name it pleases.

It's fairly natural that the two countries should share some kind of affinity: they are both mutual enemies of Greece. They both have (or had) ambitions to join the EU. And both feel that they have been spurned, and that Greece is partially responsible. Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Gruevski met in Skopje last month, and the public dynamic was palpable: they acted as sounding boards for each other's grievances, an effect which is amplified a thousand-fold by the united-we-stand attitude of their respective populations.

If you were Mr. Gruevski, which would you choose? Membership of a club that refuses to recognise the existence of your nation owing to pressure from your bitterest rival, or alliance with a similarly-spurned state which welcomes your claim to nationhood with open arms? It looks like a done deal. Throw in Macedonia's large Turkish minority and an increasingly militaristic and independently-minded popular culture that will brook no compromise, add few sweet words from Tayyip Erdogan, telling the Macedonian populace what they want to hear. the EU has, for the majority of Macedonians and their politicians, lost its glamour.

That doesn't mean that EU membership is off the cards - indeed, for the moment, that appears the most likely route for the country to take. Montenegro, which received the green light to open the first chapters of ascension negotiations, has signed an ascension co-operation deal with Macedonia just this morning. But it appears that the ruling elites in Skopje are fearful that in order to gain entry to the EU the ethnic patchwork of Macedonia will have to surrender one of the most unifying aspects of its national unity - its name. And, for any Balkan nation, that's a big sacrifice to make. The east may well, in time, prove a more attractive and more fulfilling option.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Britain Doesn't Have the Resources to Cope with Immigration

Aren't we overcrowded enough already?

How can you be racist against immigrants? Immigrants are not a race. They are a socio-economic group. You can't be racist against immigrants any more than than you can be racist against any other socio-economic group, i.e. cab drivers, or the poor. You can be racist against individual communities, colours, and cultures, of course, but immigrants as a whole? No - simply because being an immigrant has nothing to do with your cultural or ethnic identity. You could be Polish. You could be Ethiopian. You could be a Brit abroad in Spain. You do not gain shared identity simply by moving from one country to another. That's why the assumption that racism is the cause of all opposition to immigration irks me so much: always has done. It makes no literal sense.

Mehdi Hasan doesn't call his opponents 'racist' over at the Guardian, but he does use another refrain older than the air - one that all those who have waded into a discussion about abortion will be familiar with. Steve Jobs, he says, was the son of an immigrant, and he made a valuable - some would say priceless - contribution to society. Ergo, we should allow in as many people as possible, as there is every chance that they may make an equally valid contribution to society, regardless of their ethnic origin. The argument appears to have some degree of strength: I am firmly of the belief that anyone, as all our brains are created equal, can be anyone and do anything.

But the argument has an obvious flip-side that makes it completely redundant. Just as it's possible that the descendant of an immigrant might be the next Picasso, there is an equal chance that they will be the next Stalin. As in the abortion debate, both sides will read out their lists of the best and worst examples of humanity, and achieve precisely nothing in doing so. You can't get anywhere with that line of argument. It is a closed circuit.

It also makes the mistake of assuming that much anti-mass immigration rhetoric centres around individuals. It does not. Relatively few people opposed to mass-immigration has a problem with individuals - especially not beneficial ones, the sons of graduates. An individual's requirements will ultimately be limited: they will take up a limited amount of space, they will use a limited amount of energy, they will need a limited number of school places, etc. The resources of a state will never fail to meet the needs of an individual. It is numbers we have a problem with. Especially large ones. If the resources of the state are failing to meet the needs of the existing population, then why is it logical to expect them to cope with large numbers of additional people added on. They can't and they won't.

The UK has a below-par electrical circuit. The demand for energy will outstrip supply within the next eight years. People are waiting years, even decades, for social housing - five million are already on the list. One hundred thousand pupils are already in overcrowded schools: one in five primary schools across the country is 'full' or 'above capacity.' Take a look at the infographic for London.  The number of people out of work has risen to levels not seen in almost twenty years, and there is not likely to be any dramatic increase in the number of jobs available. House prices are ridiculously high: a lot of my friends will not own homes before they are thirty. Where is the sense in calling for more people to be added on top of this?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Myth of EU Funding

The EU pays £9.2 billion net into the EU budget annually. That's the GDP of Mali. Picture by Guaka.

The myth of EU funding goes a bit like this: that the EU pays for projects within Britain, that we then benefit from, out of its own budget. That is often touted by supporters of membership as one of the main 'pros' to being in the 'club.' It is a complete abstraction of the truth, however. The EU is a bit like a government in that it has relatively little cash of its own: its assets, although vast - over one million square feet in the 'European Quarter' in Brussels alone - are not even enough to cover its daily expenditure (the title is as indispensable as the book). Its budget relies on the contributions of member states - a select few member states, officially designated by the European Union as 'net contributors.'

So, it is not EU money we are receiving: it is the public funds - originally raised through taxation - of countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, and even ourselves, which have been paid into the EU budget and dispersed across the continent. That community sports centre down the road that the EU stuck its flag on wasn't actually funded by the EU. Or, at least, the money wasn't the EU's in the first place. It was funded by the income tax of a French worker, handed to the EU as part of France's net contribution. That may sound like a pretty neat arrangement: until you realise that we are in exactly the same boat as said French worker. Britain is one of these 'net contributor' countries - in fact we're near the top of the list. There's no point denying it: both the EU Commission and the Treasury admit this. That translates to £19.7 billion gross to the European Union's budget every single year: we get £10.5 billion back. Ignoring the fact that a lot of this came from us in the first place, and that none of it came from the EU itself - merely was handed over from national public funds for the EU to dole out as it pleases - that still leaves a net loss of £9.2 billion.

That's enough to pay for all Army field units (£8 billion), the entire Royal Air Force (£7.7 billion), and the entire Ministry of Defence equipment budget (£6.1 billion). It could pay for over half of all devolved spending in Wales (£15 billion), most of the Ministry of Justice (£9.7 billion), and the current level of investment in school buildings (£4.5 billion) twice over. Council tax, which as of 2006 amounted to £22.4 billion, could be cut by almost half. Quite a lot of money to be losing every single year, especially when you consider that the money we get back has already been taken into account.

If anyone tells you about what the EU does in your area, they're lying. You paid for some of it, other countries paid for the rest of it, the EU paid for less than a fifth, and, for all that, we're still nine point two billion pounds worse off! When someone tells you - correctly - what all that £10.5 billion we were given back was spent on, and shows you all the benefits that it brings, kindly remind them that we could have all that twice over, had we simply not paid the money in in the first place.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Way Forward for UKIP: Localism

Will UKIP be local people's sole champion? Picture by Ian Roberts.

I thought I'd noticed a proliferation of UKIP campaign literature in my local area recently - the odd sign up in a window, a parliamentary candidate's car parked in a lay-by on a major road, clearly labelled with party symbols, and at least one small bill-board put up on a high garden fence so that everyone driving along that particular stretch of road can see it. Credit to the campaign organisers: they've gone all-out. It turns out that UKIP is leading the charge against plans to build almost a thousand new homes in the area. In doing so, it has potentially tapped into a wealth of public indignation: information about a meeting has already slipped through the letterbox and a public march has already been organised. The sight of that ubiqutious pound sign on a major local road stirred a thought in my head: is this where UKIP's future lies? It could be.

Over the past few years, local electorates have been divorced from their political representatives in Westminister. The imposition of top-down parliamentary candidates, shortlists, and the practice of 'parachuting in' friends and flatterers has all debased the local roots of government. Increasingly, 'local' MPs have little or no understanding of their constituencies. Many of them are from different parts of the country entirely. Local concerns are, unsurprisingly, not important to them: or, at least, not as important as the weekly routine of putting in an appearance at their London pad in order to conduct some parliamentary business - along party lines - and then going home again. In the absence of any meaningful political representation, local people are often having to take up the fight themselves.

Local issues are not a national concern, but they still apply to everyone. Everyone has something in their local area that they're not too happy with, which MPs just seem to ignore. In the absence of any way for local people to select who they want on the ballot box, with candidate choices being imposed from party head office, there is precious little that local communities can do about this. There is a gulf - between the parties, the politicians, and the people - and it is in this gulf that a localist party can thrive. UKIP should not make the same mistake. It should carpe diem, as they say in Rome. Returning power to the people to make decisions over the things that most directly impact them should not just be something that UKIP members trot out on auspicious occasions, such as winning their first local council: it should be a campaign mantra.

And there's never been a greater time to introduce it, either: the French Socialist Primaries in France have exposed to a European audience for the first time the practicalities of open primaries. The Tory Localism Bill has done little to alleviate the concerns of local communities. I'd be surprised if even half of the people on your local high street even know of its existence. It has been roundly criticised for having a 'presumption in favour of development.' And we must shake the image that the only people who care about this sort of thing are old men in tweed jackets. My village is not rural: it is less than ten miles from a major town. The people who care are families who fear that if development goes ahead there will not be places for their children at local schools. Commuters, worried about congestion. People who moved out for a more suburban lifestyle, only to see it destroyed overnight by a few 'investors.' These are the people that localism is important to: they are being ignored by the major parties precisely because of the 'pipe-smoking local historian in an anorak' stereotype.

People, ultimately, don't care about issues in the country at large - except, to some extent, the economy (although they care about the local economy far more). The parliamentary parties, in their pursuit of national glory, have all turned their backs on local electorates: there's little that people can do now about local issues, except a stern letter to the MP, who may or may not have any interested at all in the business of his constituency. There's sufficient wiggle room between the parties and their local supporters - i.e., their supporters - for an ambitious and charismatic localist party to drive a wedge between them. And, whatever people may think of UKIP, if they're the only ones - as they are in this case - offering you something that would really make a difference to your everyday life, they're at least going to be tempted, aren't they?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Is It Time to Rebrand Che Guevara?

Che Guevara: No Inspiration

Today is the 44th anniversary of the execution of Che Guevara. The Cuban guerrilla leader was shot nine times in total at 1:10pm, Bolivian time. Good riddance to bad rubbish, as far as I'm concerned; here was a man would have seen the whole of Cuba burned in nuclear fire to satisfy his ideological longing for a new society. In his own words, 'the victory of socialism is well worth millions of atomic victims.' He was a raving narcissist; a  maniac who spoke of creating a 'cold-hearted killing machine.' He should be but a footnote in Latin American history, studied only by Marxist ideologues, military historians, and psychologists. He would be, were it not somehow fashionable to be seen in public wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his face.

All the rage among students, celebrities, and professional activists thought it may be, it is the moral equivalent of (and I call Godwin's Law here, as for once it's applicable) walking out of the house in the morning with a tattoo of Heinrich Himmler. In 1959, a Romanian journalist and poet was treated to a view out of Che Guevara's newly-constructed window: it looked out over the execution yard of La Cabana prison, from the revolutionary ideologue's head office. The show he was called to witness was the execution of one of around nine hundred men that Guevara sent to the firing squad in his brief stint as prison commander. Another episode in this grisly drama, recorded by Pierre San Martin, a prisoner himself at the time, recounts how Hollywood's favourite Marxist personally executed a fourteen-year-old, almost blowing off his head with a single round from a pistol. His 'crime' was defending his father from the same summary justice, but, as Che would later remark to Llana Montes, a journalist who had the audacity to remark that he'd moved into one of Cuba's most luxurious houses, 'we don't need proof; we manufacture the proof.'

Che Guevara is hardly an appropriate role model for future generations. Yet celebrities - people who thousands of young people around the world try to emulate - all adorn themselves with 'revolutionary chic.' You can hardly go a day in any major city without seeing someone wearing one of the many variants of that Alberto Korda photo, with Che Guevara peering out with a self-righteous stare at the 'promised land' of socialism. The face of a sadistic and self-confessed mass-murderer. Yes, Guevara is - regrettably - a symbol of 'youthful rebellion' - a notion that that murdered fourteen-year-old wound find absurd. Yes, his face is one of the iconic photos in the world - and, yes, there is a certain amount of irony in it being mass-produced in sweatshops for some of the most successful companies on earth (Guevera himself did heartily approve of slave labour). But do we really need to see it everywhere we go? In three minute's time, forty-four years ago, the first of nine shots would strike the Cuban revolutionary leader, and, one minute later, he'd be dead.

That should have been the end of it.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Vaclav Klaus: The Greatest European Leader?

President Vaclav Klaus has his fair share of detractors

Spare a thought for the redoubtable Vaclav Klaus. He is no stranger to controversy: long used to being the only dissenting voice amongst world leaders of the subject of climate change, he was also one of two heads of state in Europe to openly criticise the notion of European union, until April last year, when Polish President and fellow Eurosceptic Lech Kaczinsky was killed in a plane crash. Now he stands alone. But that didn't stop him publishing Blue Planet in Green Shackles, and it won't stop him now.

Vaclav Klaus is an invaluable asset to the cause of national democracy: he has a CV that is more than impressive, including, among other things, the complete - and successful - restructuring of a nation's finances. Unlike most Eurosceptics who see the EU as heading in the same way, economically, as the USSR, Vaclav Klaus has been there: he saw the collapse of the Soviet Union first hand. It was he who was tasked with rebuilding the Czechoslovak economy after decades of Communist disintegration, and was elected Prime Minister in the Czech Republic's first free and fair elections in a generation. He has served as President since 2003.

Mr. Klaus has had a real and tangible effect on the economy of his country: this much can be seen walking the streets of Prague. His fears about the direction of the European Union are no less real and tangible. He has fought tirelessly against the notion of 'ever-closer union,' telling the Irish MEP Brian Crowley that he should accept the result of the Irish vote. At the low point in Klaus-EU relations, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the European Greens who once described all opponents of the EU as 'mentally weak,' stormed into Hradcany Castle - the ceremonial home of the Czech presidency - and replaced with the national flag with an EU one, ordering Mr. Klaus to ratify the Lisbon Treaty on the grounds that 'he did not care about his opinions.'

Nonetheless, Mr. Klaus continues to express his Eurosceptic views: he is in Budapest today, at the 20th summit of the Visegrad Countries, where he said: 'Barroso is not coming up with any other proposal than if more and more Europe has brought about the current problems, let us try more and even more.' In other words, the EU cannot propose itself as the solution to problems it has caused. His Polish counterpart, Bronisław Komorowski, was quick to react, saying that European integration was the 'only way to get out of the crisis.' But, still, very few of Mr. Klaus's detractors can boast a CV half as impressive, or as extensive, as his, either in the fields of economics or politics. Like him or not, his opinions on the European Union are based on decades of expertise: they cannot be dismissed lightly.

What does Britain have to do for someone like that right now?

Friday, 7 October 2011

EU Trade Deal Causes Friction

Freetown: home of the ubiquitous bike-taxi

Here's something to cheer you up. You know the stereotype: man, balding, beer belly, tweed jacket, speaks with a posh accent and smokes a pipe? The charicature of the single market opponent according to pro-EU orthodoxy. Now it can be refuted utterly! For the Sierra Leone Motor Bike Riders Association has taken to protest in the only way they know how. Not likely to be mistaken for Colonel Blimps with caviar and a country house any time soon, they have been tearing up dust ahead of their president's proposed signing of the European Partnership Agreement. They can't exactly be accused of being Little Englanders, and they're doing their best to offset all the EU's reductions in C02 emmissions from now until 2050. What's not to love?

Well, the serious side, of course: they fear that tax revenue would fall drastically were the agreement to be signed, and are also afraid of the country's industry being held to ransom or exploited by increasingly harsh demands and unfair competition. By signing the EPA, the government would pit the small-scale industries of Sierra Leone against the multinational companies of the EU, although many of Sierra Leone's products are not up to international standards and exporting is not a major focus on their economy. Their companies would simply be unable to compete with major European firms. Civil society oganisations have already stressed the consequences of this in an article carried by Awareness Times, one of the sub-Saharan country's most popular newspapers.

Unbeknownst to the vast bulk of the European populace, the EU is also currently using standard gunboat diplomacy to strong-arm Namibia and eighteen other countries into signing a newly-revised version of the Market Access Regulation - the Commission device for the regulation of trade between the EU, Africa, the Carribean, and the Pacific. The choice is simple: accept the EU's new terms, or lose your duty and quota-free access to the single market. As the European Union represents one hundred million euros of foreign trade, sixty-four per cent of the total export market for the small African nation, many of the bikers are urging caution on the part of government, lest the same happen to their country when its agreement also comes up for revision.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Greek Ex-Army Joins the Protests

Communists, the army, and discredited central government? Greece has been here before.

Prime Minister Georges Papandreou is rumoured to be considering stepping down, and hundreds of retired army personnel stormed the Ministry of Defence chanting 'down with the junta.' They rampaged throughout the building, one of the only government buildings in Athens that had not been occupied by protestors, tearing off doors and pulling down security systems designed to check for weapons. It eventually took the Chief of the National Defence of the General Staff, Air Chief Marshal Ioannis Giagkos, to persuade them to leave, at four 'o' clock in the evening. The Defence Minister, Panos Beglitis retailiated, saying that they would be 'immediately repressed' if they acted in an anti-democratic matter. 'What with?' was the question that immediately sprang to mind.

Will the existing military intervene to quash violent disorder? Yes, temporarily. But what affects their retired comrades now will affect them later - and you don't often get people fighting for their pensions to be taken away. That's a rule that applies everywhere. Including Greece. 'The executives of the Greek Armed Forces are monitoring with increased concern the latest developments regarding issues related to their needs after retirement,' says a letter from the Association of Support and Cooperation of the State Armed Forces. Most worringly, if you're Papandreou, is that their confidence in the state's intentions has been 'shaken.' That's never a good thing to hear if you're Prime Minister of a state that only came out of a military dictatorship twenty years ago, and the military is still regarded as a 'state within a state' - even by the Defence Minister.

The CIA has previously warned of the possibility of a military coup if further austerity measures were implemented. That was back in May. There have been billions of euros in additional austerity measures since then. And nothing gets army types more riled than the suggestion that the country is no longer in command of its own affairs. Papandreou has made such a suggestion. This is the quote that Eurosceptics - and virtually all Greeks - have been waiting for. The FT Deutschland, says that he had spoken about resignation to several close aides, on the basis that 'Greece no longer takes decisions itself.' It has been dismissed as 'nonsense' by his spokesmen. But they would say that, wouldn't they? Rumour sticks - especially in a country on edge.

There are too many factors at play, and information has not yet disseminated by the mass-media. It is impossible to come to any conclusion, as yet, about what might happen next. But, if we compare these latest events to the peaceful marches that army personnel conducted back in 2008, it is impossible to deny that there is a clear escalation, and not one that bodes well for the Greek government, and the stability of Greece in general. Events will start moving quickly now: Greece perpetually sits on the edge of running out of money. At current rates, it will no longer be able to pay all its public sector workers - including army personnel - by the end of the month. And that certainly is not a good position to be in.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Now Is Not the Time for More Expansion

An anti-Soviet protestor, a former Maoist, and an expansionist walk into a bar. Picture from the EPP.

What will it take to disentangle EU leaders and their outdated ideas of eastward expansionism? On the very day that Greece announced it would no longer be able to pay salaries and pensions of public sector workers - 40% of the total workforce - by the end of the month without the next tranche of EU-IMF loans to the already-indebted nation, Donald Tusk was in Warsaw, talking of 'buying Belarus.'

The headline isn't quite true: the actual idea floated was to inject nine billion euros into the private bank account of dictator Alexander Lukashenko, in the hopes that he'd relinquish his iron control over the country. Donald Tusk is, for those of you who haven't heard of him, the Prime Minister of Poland, and, by virtue of that role, he is also the EU's 'rotating president.' I've written about him - and his avowedly imperialistic plans - before. He first made the suggestion back in April, and he was just as passionate about his ideas then.

But, given that the crisis in the eurozone is continually escalating and 'communitarianism' - the idea of a single, centralised beaurocracy ruling over a federal Europe - faces its biggest challenge in more than half a century, it was reasonably safe to assume that any such ambitious projects would have been put on the back-burner, and their proponents would have simmered down until the problems on their own doorstep were adequately patched-up. Make sure your own house has foundations before you seek to renovate others, and all that. But no: sense doesn't quite penetrate the ubiquitous blinds of Berlaymont.

Rather than scale back his plans, Tusk has expanded upon them, no pun intended, by saying that 'the Eastern Partnership project will perhaps one day merge with the Balkan project.' In other words, the staggered accession process currently underway in the Balkans will also be applied to post-Soviet countries, up to and eventually beyond the borders of Ukraine. If that sounds positively terrifying, then hear this: Barroso, the EU chief executive who is now entering his eighth year in office, has endorsed the plans. And in quite glowing terms, as well: he even called Tusk 'wonderful.' That's a ringing endorsement from the man who, ultimately, has the final say.

Never fear; Tusk is only in office until December. Then, Denmark promptly takes over. Left-wing though its new government may be, it includes an assortment of Eurosceptic ex-communists in the Cabinet, who, seeing the EU as the 'vehicle for European capitalism,' will hardly like expanding it any further. None - or very few - of Tusk's ideas will likely bear fruit. However, the very fact that he has the intent to push the boundaries of EU expansionism when it faces, in the words of Mr. Barroso, 'the greatest crisis in its history' speaks volumes about the depths of insanity that some committed federalists are currently plumbing. That Jose Manuel Barroso himself endorses it? Doubly so!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Communists and Caviar

Communist propaganda on a wall in Rhodes. Picture by Piotrus.

And so the crisis in Greece rumbles on. It never actually stopped: it just slipped off the radar a while. On Thursday, a fleet of luxury cars and motorcycle outriders rolled into the blocked streets of central Athens; the leather seats were jam-packed with official representatives from the 'troika' of creditors. The EU, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund all sent in their delegations, only to find them blocked on the steps of the Finance Ministry by a united front of government staff. One thousand three hundred and fifty of them, from seven government ministries, had formed a human chain around the building, preventing officials - including Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek Finance Minister himself - from entering. The meeting was eventually rescheduled for the Deputy Prime Minister's office.

The new developments come at a crisis point. It is impossible to stress how dire the situation is, but I'll give it a go anyway. The mass-strikes have left the government crippled. The Ministry of Finance is virtually closed; the functioning of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior Affairs has been seriously impaired, and almost all the other major institutions are affected. The capital, which is home to half the country's population, had no public transport on Wednesday, and the Deputy Prime Minister says that the ability to pay more tax has been 'exhausted.' Nothing to do with the tax office being on strike - there's so little money left that any taxes raised would not cover the budget gaps. The Finance Minister says that the sixth installment of loans to the indebted nation is 'assured.' It had be be. Without it, Greece will run out of money to pay salaries and pensions by the end of the month.

The Finance Minister officially thinks that talk of a default is 'naive.' The markets and the Communists occupying government buildings throughout the Greek capital think otherwise, however, and they are in full agreement: it is the only sensible option. Which is all too well, considering that is now the most likely option, too. The longer the Greek government and the European Union insist on maintaining the fantasy that Greece's debts are somehow repayable - all the while forcing more debts upon it - the bigger the problem they will eventually create. What happens when the money runs out? There has to come a point where European leaders will eventually say 'no' to the constant bankrolling: their electorates have already done so. What does that mean for a Greece that is wholly dependent on their loans to pay the wages of almost half of its workforce?

EU Irregularities Expose the Unaccountability of the System

EU budgetary irregularities: one and half times the economy of San Marino.

One and a half billion pounds of the EU budget was wrongly spent last year. £1,545,976,112, to be precise. Of this, just under three hundred and twenty million pounds is believed to have been afflicted by fraud. That's the verdict of a report released by OLAF, the European Union's own anti-fraud office.

It sounds like quite important news. The reason it didn't make front pages? Well, two things: one, the not-so-startling information that the EU costs each and every household in the country two hundred and fifty-five pounds a year was much more deserving of a headline, and, two, in the grand scheme of things, that money is almost inconsequential. According to the immortal title of the book by Olly Figg, the EU spends roughly that amount every single day.

Though this amount of money may be irrelevant compared to the weekly outpourings of various EU institutions, for whom fiscal incontinence is a virtue, it's still important to put things into perspective. The EU's population as a whole is almost ten times greater than that of Britain alone, yet the scale of suspected fraud alone in the EU - general irregularities put aside for the minute - is over two hundred times that of the Parliamentary expenses scandal which so rocked the political system here in 2009.

There are some mitigating factors: for one, there are considerably more officials involved. The EU itself is staffed by some sixty thousand people, and, as most of the irregularities occur when the money is passed (back) into national or private hands, the EU cannot be held directly responsible (even if its fiscal incontinence and general lack of auditing doesn't help). But, even if this suspected fraud is all discounted, the scale of it compared to that found in the UK is still immense. It could pay for both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, twelve thousand police constables, and almost twenty thousand Army privates.

These irregularities are not merely budgetary inconsistencies in some pointless beaurocratic arm that does not involve you: it all comes directly from your pocket. You've heard the claim 'the EU gives us money for projects and enterprises?' Well, it's true: only the money in question was not owned by the EU originally. Like governments, the EU has relatively little money of its own: it relies solely on the contributions of member states, paid for out of their public funds, which is, ultimately, drawn from your bank account and household budget through taxation. The EU isn't wasting its own money, the EU is wasting your money. And, as Britain is one of only a few member states that actually make a net contribution to the EU, which is rising by ever-increasing amounts every year, and gets considerably less back than even its fellow members of that small clique, the amount of your money that it's wasting as opposed to that of any other EU national is massively out of proportion.

So think about that next time you see the EU funding 'the smelly foot dance:' that's your money that it's taking. With the help of national governments, of course. The people put in command of these funds are unelected, unaccountable, and faceless: the number of people in the country that can name them could be counted on one hand. Can you name them? At no stage of proceedings, other than the state where elected national governments rifle through your pockets, does democracy or transparency enter the system. Is it any wonder that so much money is misplaced in such a bloated and unaccountable organisation?