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

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Van Rompuy: EU is a 'Corner of Paradise'

Herman van Rompuy: dazzled by bright lights. Picture by the European People's Party.

The five thousand riot police currently barricading the Greek parliament building, expending round after round of tear gas and hundreds of stun grenades in a desperate bid to hold back an increasingly violent crowd that outnumbers them ten-to-one, could be forgiven for thinking that Syntagma Square was one of the worst places on earth. Tear gas makes it impossible for anyone without a gas mask to even get close to the city centre; hundreds have been injured; smoke rises from the Finance Ministry and other government buildings across the city and all semblance of law and order in the heart of the Greek capital has retreated to within their iron curtain.

But Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, seems to think everything's okay. At a speech in Brussels, about as far away from the streets of Athens as it's possible to get on the European Union mainland, he made the extraordinary claim that if the EU was a musical piece, the continuous beat would be 'prosperity.' His words showed no indication that he is even aware there is a problem, let alone has any clue what to do about it. There's a fine line between politically expedient rhetoric and the blatantly delusional: and the denial of any sort of crisis, the continued insistence that the EU brings only peace and prosperity to its member states, contrary to the images now being beamed onto television screens across the continent, comes under the latter category. It doesn't help that one of the things he spoke of highly was the EU's democratic standards - so says a man appointed as the result of a deal over a secret dinner to chair meetings of heads of state of which no public minutes are ever released, having faced no popular vote for this or any other EU position in his entire political career.

Herman van Rompuy's comments are, presumably, what happens when you get a load of people who essentially agree with each other, stick them in a room with no public oversight, and tell them to objectively analyse their policy. They might actually be objective, but, at the end of the day, the net result is always going to be the utter denial that there is anything wrong. The bunker mentality is being bounced around in an echo chamber, and delusion and apparent 'blindness' to reality will ensue. This is seen even in our own Houses of Parliament: they relate more to the 'honourable gentlemen' on the opposite benches than they do with anyone outside of Whitehall. In the European Commission and on the European Council, where much work - including that by elected officials - is carried out in secret with no media attention whatsoever, the 'bubble' is even more apparent. The gulf of opinion between the officials than run the European Union and the people that inhabit it has never been wider, and there is no better place to see than right now than on the fractious streets of Athens.

Is this what you call 'paradise,' Mr van Rompuy, where, after Greece 'votes the right way' and passes austerity measures required of its creditors - the EU and the IMF - protestors face a renewed assault by police? I don't blame the EU solely for the Greek crisis: European Commission officials did know that the Greeks were cooking the books and chose to do nothing about it, and at any rate a single currency for many economies and many finance ministers was always an unworkable idea, as we said, what, twenty years ago now? But, please, this is no-one's idea of paradise: for van Rompuy to claim so shows just how astonishingly out of sync the EU's views of the continent it purports to govern really are.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Opposition to the European Union is Not Racist

Denying the existence of Europe: a lot harder from space.

Sometimes I wish I was anti-European. It would be far more amusing and far more productive to argue against a landmass, than it is to argue against the people and institutions that make up the actual object of my criticism, the European Union. Some of the words that they deploy make my brain ache: Europhobe? What is that, irrational fear of said landmass? How can you be racist against an organisation? That is what the European Union is, right? I never realised that the College of Commissioners comprised an ethnic group in its own right, that nomination to one of the twenty-seven seats changed your nationality or your skin tone. Euro-denier is my favourite one. I am well aware that Europe exists; in fact, I'm continuously told that I'm a citizen of it.

In short, I'm tired of all the deliberate misrepresentation of opposing views by people who have no other argument. Supporters of the European Union continually misrepresent both themselves, their opponents, and the EU itself. Definitions change as soon as policies do; and, when policies fail, a new word is coined, the opposition is denigrated with a new insult or accusation, and the whole thing starts again. I often wonder where Eurosceptic parties would be were it not for such misrepresentation: how many people, for example, would vote for UKIP if it was not labouring under unsubstantiated allegations of racism and chauvinism, and even Nazism? Probably a lot more than do now, that's for sure. The intellectual dishonesty of EU supporters has turned what was once a reasonably honest and open debate into a farce, where questioning the right of people you have not elected to make decisions that affect you makes you some sort of Nazi, and calling for greater transparency makes you a fascist.

It is a logical fallacy to suggest that all those who oppose Britain's EU membership are 'racist' or 'xenophobic.' How many times do we have to say it - getting along with other nations and peoples does not equate to being ruled by them. Opposing the EU is, by definition, not racist - for the EU is not a race. It is a political institution. Being racist against the EU is like being racist against NATO or the Scottish National Party - impossible. And the accusation that the only reason that people oppose the EU is because they are Brits still clinging to the notion of empire? How, exactly, do EU supporters explain non-British, non-imperial nations being far more Eurosceptic than Britain itself? Did the Greenlanders, the only people ever to leave the EU, vote to do so in the hopes of restoring their ancient empire? I doubt it. What of the Icelanders, where EU support has dropped to below 40%? Are they planning to invade the United States of America? No. No, they are not, yet they are still far more Eurosceptic than Britain or Britons ever have been. The usual narrative of 'all opponents of the EU are imperialistic bigots' doesn't fit with reality. Yet it still sticks.

And what of the remarkable claim that the European Union is really all about being good neighbours, and that Eurosceptics don't want Britain to have good neighbours? What do good neighbours do? They let you retrieve balls from their garden, and don't let their dogs poo on your lawn. That is 'getting along with your neighbour.' However, you do not let your neighbours rearrange the furniture, take down fences, or withdraw money from your account to pay for their porch, do you? That's exactly what the EU does - there are now one hundred and seventy thousand pages of EU law on British statute books that you can't do a damn thing about, the EU allows almost unrestricted access to the UK for EU citizens, and we - as net contributors, i.e. people who pay more in than we get out - are required to subsidise improvements to infrastructure and civic projects from our public funds. The claim that the EU is merely about being a good neighbour is yet another misrepresentation.

And Nazis? Fascists? Please, calling for greater transparency does not make you a fascist. I highly doubt that Bob Crow is a fascist. He's not far-right, either. 50-60% of the population of the UK oppose European Union membership in every poll ever taken, by any source - BBC, YouGov, Daily Mail, Eurobarometer, etc. Are 50-60% of the UK electorate Nazis or ethno-nationalists? No, I don't think so. Populist? Maybe that one's accurate, but there's nothing wrong with espousing the people over the elites, is there? Of all the EU supporters, Andrew Duff, Liberal Democrat MEP, has came the closest to describing what its opponents actually are. He characterised them as the 'generally pissed off.'

Those Bloody Foreigners

Anglo-Saxons casually plotting to destroy the euro. Picture by Ouip.

Those of you who are still following the Arab Spring would have particularly enjoyed Assad's rant on state television the other day. The Syrian dictator finally gave in to pressure and played the usual card of Arabic dictators; blame it on the foreigners. The protests against him were, he said, in a speech eerily remniscient of Gaddafi before he lost control of Misrata, a plot by al-Qaeda and foreign influences in an attempt to destabilise the country. His government was, he claimed, becoming too strong. We may look upon the antics of the Arabic fruitcake and laugh: we are, after all, thousands of miles away from the trouble. No leader here would ever stoop so low as to blame foreigners for their own political or economic troubles, would they?

Well, yes, actually. The enraged fist-pumping theatrics of Bashar al-Assad thousands of miles away in the Syrian desert may receive considerably more air-time than the antics of officials currently engaged in making law in Brussels, but some elements of conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Berlaymont have reached us. They are either faintly amusing or slightly scary, depending on how you view them, but, if nothing else, they are the most revealing insight into the mentality of an institution in crisis, a mentality that the public - with no public records of debates and discussions and no popular elections - rarely gets to see.

As the European Union's engines of integration disassemble or stall, the rhetorical defence of the European Union by its supporters is becoming more and more extreme. Faced with the unravelling of a project that many of them are inextricably committed to, financially and mentally, European Union officials have turned away from rational and reasoned argument and turned instead to the cosy world of conspiracy theories.

A number of high-profile people seem to have abandoned all reason and logic altogether since the start of the eurozone crisis: aides to the Spanish Prime Minister claimed in February 2010 that the Spanish economy was the victim of a well-orchestrated speculator attack from 'Anglo-Saxon' economies. There was some plot to destroy the euro, hatched in the corridors of power in London and New York. The Spanish Public Works Minister declared that 'none of what is happening in the world, including the editorials of foreign newspapers, is coincidental or innocent,' implying that there was some collusion between governments, speculators, and Anglo-Saxon newspapers. This wasn't just them playing the 'foreign conspirators' card to shore up public support: they appear to have genuinely believed this. Armed with a few provocative headlines as 'proof' of their theory, the government set the National Intelligence Centre on the task of uncovering the conspirators.

The Greek Prime Minister declared that there was 'an attack on the euro zone by certain other interests, political or financial. We are being targeted, particularly with an ulterior motive or agenda.' He left out the Anglo-Saxon aspect, but the insinuation is clear: the eurozone crisis was not caused by a flawed concept or mistakes made by politicians, no, the eurozone was the victim of an international attack by a secret, unnamed collection of individuals who plot to destroy it. Jürgen Stark, ECB chief economist, takes the slightly more rational - if still completely unsubstantiated - view that the British media and financial interests were perpetuating the eurozone crisis in order to hide their own government's deficit. And this sort of wild fantasy is not limited to 'Europeans,' either. Britons, too, are giving credence to their claims of an evil right-wing plot. Denis MacShane, a former Labour Europe minister, declared that 'the Anglo-Saxon club of anti-Europeans is on the rampage.'

The European Union has a long history of using conspiracy and talk of 'plots' to explain away its problems. The comments echo earlier claims by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a German Green MEP, who once said that the Irish 'No' vote to the Lisbon Treaty was not representative of the views of Irish people, who secretly wanted the treaty. The reason, he said, was that the CIA had employed people to vote 'No' in order to prevent Europe becoming too strong. This conspiracy was heartily endorsed by Hans-Gert Poettering, former President of the European Parliament, and were even looked over by the European Commission, the EU's executive body. And Anglo-Saxons are also the subject of any conspiracy theory in the European Union where money is concerned; Sarkozy once claimed that British and American financiers were spreading false rumours about his love life in order to destabilise the French economy.

This shows more than anything else that the European Union - or a lot of high-ranking officials - are incapable of self-reflection. It takes a far greater leap of imagination and genuine conviction to state openly that you are the blameless victim of some international plot than it does to re-examine the nature of the euro's introduction. The euro is not perfect; Romano Prodi, the EU chief executive at the time of its introduction, said that there would be a crisis. But somehow the EU officials who succeeded him seem to have forgotten that; in their view, everything they did and continue to do has been flawless. If it wasn't for financiers and the British, the euro would be going fine.

The officials that make the decisions are so incapable of re-examining their own policy, and we cannot vote them out. Sounds like one hell of a recipe for disaster.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Does the Euro Aid European Democracy?

Eurotower: the source of the eurozone's economic government

'It isn't just the euro. Europe's democracy itself is at stake,' says Amartya Sen over at the Guardian. To be fair, he's not talking about the euro or the European Union very much; the main focus of his article is on the behaviour of the ratings agencies - which, whether they're right or wrong, can hardly be described as democrat. But, nonetheless, his headline rises an interesting question: is the euro a help or a hindrance to European democracy?

First rule of questions in headlines - the answer is always 'no.' Membership of the euro automatically disqualifies elected national governments from control over important aspects of their national economy, thereby drastically reducing the influence of their electorate over their economic policy. That's not a political point - that's just what happens when a government uses a currency along with sixteen other countries. Its control over it becomes diluted.

Anatole Kaletsky once wrote an article in The Times that says precisely that. He sums up the argument in two simple phrases: 'a country that gives up its currency loses control of its economic destiny' and the euro 'prevents different countries adopting the variety of social and business models that voters demand.' He wrote, back in 2005, that 'a currency is to national economic management what a border is to political sovereignty.' An apt comparison now that borders have been re-established - and political sovereignty reasserted - temporarily and permanently, across what was once was border-free zone where the executive of the European Union, which never faces a popular ballot, set policy.

There's also one other point raised in that article regarding the democratic deficit at the heart of the management of the euro and the eurozone: if elected national politicians in the eurozone do not control the national economy or that of the eurozone as a whole, who does? The answer is the European Central Bank. To paraphrase Wim Duisenberg, first president of the ECB, in light of recent events, 'there is no central bank in the world as dependent on politics as the European Central Bank.'

The bankers may be economists, and it may have a governing council comprisoned of the governors of central banks from eurozone countries, but it is also unelected by the people - as any central bank would be - and is ideologically committed to the European Union as an institution. It is a European Union institution. The chief architect of eurozone economic policy, the ECB cannot afford to be unaccountable, secretive, and partial: but it is all three of those things.

There is a third, and final, aspect of the euro's anti-democratic tendencies: the existence of the post of President of the Eurogroup, currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker. The President himself is not exactly a democrat at heart; he once said that he preferred 'secret, dark debates,' and that 'when the going gets tough, you have to lie.' His job is similar to that of the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy; he is the chairman of meetings of elected heads of state.

Although he - and the two other unelected EU officials at meetings, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Olli Rehn, and the President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet - do not vote, they wield great influence over the affairs of the elected finance ministers who participate. He has also adopted co-ordination measures that have taken more of the power over national economies from elected national governments.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former French Finance Minister and President of the International Monetary Fund, who played a key role in the early bailouts and overseeing the world economy during the recession, did once say that the euro 'was a conquest of sovereignty.' It seems he was right.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The fires of nationalism? Picture by Johann-Nikolaus Andrea.

The Commission is determined not to let Denmark go without a fight. Having declared its democratic independence over its own border policy, sealed by a vote in a sovereign, democratic parliament, the country now faces the wrath of the EU's executive body. The chief executive, Jose Manuel Barroso, has already weighed in. He warned of swift action against any member state seen to be defying the rules; the Commission 'will not hesitate' to enforce EU law. It was a thinly-veiled threat to Denmark; change course or we will take a harder line.

In reality, though, there's not much the Commission can do. It was able to refuse Germany, France, and Italy, and their three elected heads of state and two hundred million citizens, but only as long as they accepted its authority. Denmark refused to do so, which is why its parliament now has control over its own borders and those of Germany, France, and Italy do not. Barroso seems to realise this, and a letter written to the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, seems to hint at change.

No, this change includes no plans for the Commission to relinquish any power. But it does suggest that they may be willing to change the terms of the Schengen agreement in order to accomodate the will of elected heads of state. Rather than the ability to cross borders in the EU without documentation, even in times of crisis, the Commission has proposed the right to impose 'temporary border controls' if such a situation arises where they would be necessary. Like a wave of hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from North African countries.

The decision to impose these border controls will be made at 'European level.' This means either the Commission itself, or on the agreement of the twenty-seven heads of state on the European Council, and so control over border policy in the Schengen zone will not be returned to democratic, sovereign national government. But the Commission sees the need for change; how long can it hold back the tide, I wonder?


This is the second article uploaded today - if you view this blog daily, you may have missed the first one.

Society Has More Power Than Law

David Cameron at the G8 summit.

David Cameron is partially right about ostracising absent fathers - he may have been sweeping in his generalisations and discriminatory in only apportioning the blame to feckless men when there are countless examples of women acting in a similar manner, but, broadly speaking, he was correct. The idea of society regulating itself, rather than laws being imposed from on high, is a concept that's been absent from government for a number of years. Since 1997, in fact. It's about time it was reinstated.

For the last thirteen years, social liberals have had their way with the country, starting off with a massive majority, which lasted them all until Gordon Brown's dismal tenure. They initiated - or inflicted - some of the most ambitious changes to society in the last fifty years, and, in doing so, gutted many of the processes by which society self-regulates. Traditions, morals, values, codes, and individual responsibility all played a part in ensuring that people saw themselves in relation to others and had a responsibility towards others. New Labour did away with most of those things; tradition was marginalised, morals were replaced with moral equivalence, values were spurned and discarded, moral codes were frowned upon as illiberal, and individual responsibility was gradually eroded by increasing financial dependence on the state and government interference.

In 1997, the state's role was already being to expand rapidly, but the ascent of Tony Blair and New Labour took it to new heights. Before long, we had council officials telling us when to do our exercises and local government representatives telling us what to eat. They were advertising campaigns telling us what we should and shouldn't do - not what we can't do, but what we shouldn't do. The size and scope of the state ballooned under New Labour. The result, although it was one that even the opposition didn't draw attention to, was depressingly predictable: if you strip society of its ability to self-govern, what are you going to have to introduce? Laws. New Labour introduced three thousand new laws. Three thousand. That's one every day or so for the whole time it was in office.

So the ability of society to manage itself - as every society in the world has done since the start of civilisation, in some way or another - was greatly diminished, and a flood of new laws - often rushed through and poorly thought-out - filled the gap left behind by the fleeing standards that had once occupied that ground. Social liberals removed the aspects that allowed society to function without the excessive hand of the state, and then tried to prevent the ensuing social carnage by legislating against every new social predicament that they encountered. It was a bit like playing whack-a-mole. No sooner had they spied a problem that arose as a result of their social tampering, they had banned it, imposed a fine on it, or created a new quango to chew through a multi-million pound budget, whilst making it look like it was 'dealing' with the problem.

Unsurprisingly, all this achieved nothing. The quangos were nice, with flashy names and trendy slogans, but they could do nothing other than publish reports by think-tanks and renovate their offices. Most of their time was consumed by making themselves look relevant, rather than actually dealing with whatever problem they were tasked with solving. Their police did their best to enforce the raft of new laws, but, frankly, how are even they supposed to know what the laws are when there are simply so many of them? Remember the old saying, what isn't illegal is legal? The British people used to be able to put their finger on exactly what they could and could not do under the law; if it wasn't explicitly banned, you could do it. That went out the window. Now, it was hard to tell what was legal and what was not: if it could be misconstrued as 'dodgy' by anyone in a uniform, then it was probably wise not to do it.

There's a limit to how much the government can do. Society is far more unrestricted. Let's say that the father - or the mother - of a young child wanted nothing to do with their new family and wandered off? What can the law do about that? Fine him? Imprison him:? All menial things that will ultimately make no difference to a man who's quite prepared to do such a thing. Society, on the other hand, can hit these characters where it hurts: he may be able to pay off a fine or do a spell inside, it's no problem. He's just ran off from his family, he doesn't care. But he'll think twice about ever doing such a thing if he knew the cost would be his friends and his social life, or even his relatives, suddenly treating him with contempt and disgust.

The state - law - can enforce minor inconveniences. Society can take away things that really matter. Sometimes the most effective punishment can be one delivered freely by disgusted friends rather than one delivered by the over-extended arm of the state. Being silenced and spurned is a much more effective deterrent, too, than being hit in the wallet or locked up for a spell.

David Cameron should make it a policy of his - preferably separate from his 'Big Society' routine - to return as much authority to self-regulate to society. A lot of the problems in society at the moment - rising teenage pregnancy, runaway fathers, benefit cheats, gang crime, animal abuse, etc. would be solved - or be a lot easier to solve - if society turned its back on these people, rather than tolerating, or even glorifying them. The state can do nothing effective to people that walk out on their families, defraud the taxpayer, or beat up their dogs - society can. It is not laws that David Cameron should be promoting and enforcing; he should remove the state from the tiny aspects of our private lives, make some effort to promote personal responsibiility, and let society get a handle on itself again.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Civil War? No, Just Reform Fatigue

Jean-Claude Juncker. Picture from the European People's Party.

Finally, some word on the Greek revolution from the mouths of the European Union officials who are largely responsible for the bailouts and the austerity imposed as a result. I had honestly began to suspect that they were ignoring the Greeks - or even that, in the Brussels bunker, they were blissfully unaware of rioting on the streets of Athens. Barroso and Ashton flying around the world lecturing Arabs on the benefits of 'involving young people in democracy' was, I thought, more than hypocritical nonsense: they actually knew nothing on the crisis on their southern periphery. It seems that I credited them with more scruples than is appropriate for a former Marxist who now earns three hundred thousand pounds a year, and a Labour politician whose only real contribution to politics was to block a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the House of Lords.

They were well aware of the Greek riots the whole time. The eurozone president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has become the first EU official to make a statement: the man who once said that he preferred 'secret, dark debates' has now opened up to the world and declared that 'reform fatigue...affects him greatly' but that he and the European Union as a whole would not change course for 'there was no other way.'

There is some element of the bunker mentality here, as 'reform fatigue' is a hideous euphemism for guns-and-grenade attacks, bombing campaigns, and general carnage, and one that even European Union officials would usually think twice before using. But it's nowhere near as deep as I originally suspected: EU officials are more than capable of seeing the world outside Barroso's ivory tower. They just choose not to.

One other interesting aspect of this speech was that Jean-Claude Juncker seemed to take on much of the rhetoric of the Greek protestors: 'An entire people, perhaps except the very rich, are making a tremendous sacrifice, as are people elsewhere in europe. They see social inequality that is unfair, that it is the poorest who are paying too much of the bill.' What the...? He is a man largely responsible for the bailouts and the policies that have created such a perverse situation. He is not president of the eurozone, a top economist, and Luxembourg's Prime Minister for nothing. Shouldn't he be defending his own policies, rather than adopting the rhetoric of its fiercest opponents in an attempt to placate them?

All this seems to suggest that, deep down, he knows that his policies are not the 'only option' at all, but, in fact, one of many. Greece could default. Greece could restructure. Greece could leave the euro, recreate its own currency with more suitable interest rates, and devalue its way out of trouble? Each of these solutions have their own advantages and disadvantages, but to suggest that there is only one way, the EU way, is blatantly wrong. And Jean-Claude Juncker's apparent refusal or inability to make even a casual defence of it shows that he himself - and, presumably, others in the EU's circle - may be well aware that even they, with their two billion pound propaganda budget and seven hundred and fifty billion pound bailout fund, cannot defend the indefensible.

'Once this ongoing effort is completed, I can assure that we will be reverting to another kind of instrument to stimulate these countries.'

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Denmark Should be Applauded

Danish Volkspartei leader Pia Kjærsgaard.

Why is it that, when big European states start getting uppity about how democratic and wealthy they are, it takes a small one - usually Scandinavian, and often outside of the EU - to put them in their rightful place? Denmark has just become the first Schengen zone state to return control of its border policy to the citizens. The Danish border controls, reinstated on the orders of the Danish Volkspartei, in an effort to clamp down on illegal trafficking and cross-border crime, have now been sealed by parliament, and, so, too, has the right of the Danish people to set their own border policy through their elected representatives - with no unelected officials having a say in it whatsoever.

I've often said that Eurosceptic boils down to a fight between the elected and the unelected; and it seems that, in Denmark, the elected is winning. The restoration of the power to make border policy to the elected national government comes at the expense of the European Commission, the unelected European Union executive body that previously exercised that right across all countries in the Schengen zone. The Commission will no doubt release a press statement later denouncing the rise of 'populists' and warning of the rise of neo-Nazis. It earlier claimed that the Danish government was acting against EU law.

But that's the point. A national government may have broken the law in order to execute the will of 75% of the population (last paragraph is usually where you find facts in most newspapers). And you can hardly say that border controls are an unreasonable demand; pretty much every other country in the world, even other countries in Europe, have them. Surely that only underlines the fact that unelected officials have too much control over what our elected governments - i.e. governments elected by the public - can and can't do? It may or may not have been right, depending on your world view, but you can hardly blame the Danish government for breaking the law.

The legal route and already been tried, and it had failed. Germany, France, and Italy - each of them more than ten times larger than Denmark in terms of population and economy - with their three elected heads of state representing almost two hundred million people had asked the Commission to allow them to reinstate border controls. The Commission refused. There are twenty-seven individuals in the Commission, only one of whom is Danish. Who are they to tell millions of Danish people what they can and cannot do?

A government's first responsibility should always be to its citizens, not to unelected officials. The people should be the highest authority in any democracy; not unelected officials. The people, and the people alone, should be the sole source of law and legislation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't democracy supposed to be 'rule by the people?' Well, that's what this is. The people making decisions - quite reasonable ones - as opposed to unelected individuals. I fail to see how any democrat can disagree with that.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Islamist Ghettoes in the UK Cannot be Tolerated

The burqa does not empower women.

The existence of places in the UK where individual liberty is under threat from fundamentalist extremists is a national disgrace. Thirty men stormed a gay pub in Tower Hamlets and savagely assaulted the occupants; women have been threatened with assault and even murder if they refuse to wear the veil; east London mosques are blatantly hiring radical preachers who call Jews 'animals' and call for homosexuals to be executed. Even Muslims who do not conform to the most extreme interpretation of their beliefs are liable to being beaten up by gangs of Islamist radicals.

And everyone with the ability to do something about it - whether that is picking up a pen, changing the law, or enforcing laws currently in existence - are carrying on, blissfully unaware of the problem, or try as hard as they can to ignore it. We build giant monuments to the burqa, that famous symbol of 'female empowerment,' whilst women are being forced to wear it against their will on pain of imprisonment or beatings.

There are those that claim that posters that advertise a 'gay-free zone' are the work of the far-right, even when a young Muslim radical was caught with them in his possession, and released without charge. The police, according to reports by several Muslims who have reported crime and one local councillor, do absolutely nothing about the issue - even when the offences take place in the public gallery of the town hall, or on a city street in broad daylight.

It's no wonder that Islamist radicals feel emboldened. I'm not going to stand with the few genuine racists on this issue, who say that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. There are a lot more moderate Muslims than there are extremists. They're the ones you'll see having a quiet drink in a pub with friends - even if it is just orange juice - and giving and receiving Christmas presents. They are out there. But radical Muslims also exist - and, whereas I am more than willing to admit the presence of moderates and to speak in their defence, the defenders of mass-immigration and multiculturalism, and all the various institutions that have ignored their rise, are not willing to admit that radicals exist. Not only is this an indefensible position given that the vast majority of terror plots discovered in the UK, although often logistically and financially supported from Pakistan, were intended to be carried out by British-born radicals, it is also dangerous; the longer we ignore the presence of extremism in British cities, the more brazen the extremists become.

In order to tackle extremism, we must first tackle the social conditions in which extremism arises. The problem, in my opinion, is monolingual, monocultural ghettoes. Compare the extremism of different generations of Muslim immigrants to see where I'm coming from. In 2009, a survey was conducted in various cities across the United Kingdom: based on over two thousand detailed interviews over a two-year period, the report, funded by George Soros (which may, understandably, affect its reliability in the eyes of some of the readers of this blog) concluded that, overall, British Muslims were the best integrated in Europe. 78% of Muslims identified themselves as British.

There was also a significant difference in the popularity of extremism among the different age groups, though, and this is what is important. While older Muslims do not countenance extremist views in any form, Muslims under thirty-five have different opinions. Take for example, the statistic that one in three Muslim students in the UK think that killing in the name of religion is justified, as discovered by an ICM poll for the Daily Telegraph. A Populus poll found that thirteen per cent of young Muslims said that they 'admired' organisations such as al-Qaeda. About twenty per cent of over-fifties would prefer to live under sharia law, compared to almost forty per cent of those under twenty-five. Munira Mirza has the right of it when she blames multiculturalism for the problem: 'the emergence of a strong Muslim identity in Britain is, in part, a result of multi-cultural policies implemented since the 1980s which have emphasised difference at the expense of shared national identity and divided people along ethnic, religious and cultural lines.'

The key difference between the older generation of Muslims and those new to the country is that the older generation had to integrate. They had to learn English and to take on a British identity, and were thus exposed to mainstream society - a society that many of them did become active and valued members of. However, the newcomers do not have to integrate. Due to multiculturalism, which encourages other identities and other languages, Muslims from the same national community (for example, Bangladeshis) have congregated in certain areas and have transplanted the local culture with their own.

They speak their own language - many of them monolingual, others simply unwilling to communicate - and have no exposure to the outside world at all. There are Islamic schools with Saudi curriculums. There are Islamic radio stations. There are Islamic television channels. Nowhere does mainstream British - or, if you like, multicultural - society penetrate their world. Extremist Islam is growing here not because of some innate tendency of Muslims towards jihad, but simply because it is unchallenged, and, due to monolingualism and monoculturalism - actively promoted, ironically, by the doctrine of multiculturalism in order to foster 'diversity' - it is the only option available to many of the inhabitants.

The extremists must lose their hold on the local communities, and, for that to happen, action must be taken to open up these ghettoes to mainstream society; prevent the publication of official documents in any language other than English, impose a two-child limit or child benefit, and ban those who incite violence - jihad, the execution of gays, abuse of women - from mosques and withdraw any public funding that these institutions may have had if they are found to have harboured extremist views.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Greek Coalition Will End in Tears

The Greek Revolution?

There is some speculation that the Greek Prime Minister is about to offer his resignation. The embattled premier, George Papandreou, has been attacked from both left and right as a traitor and as a vassal ruler, running the country on behalf of its EU and IMF creditors. 98% of the people blame him and his government for the financial crisis; hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, and most of them are still camped out in major cities across the country, and eagerly await news of the Prime Minister's resignation speech.

But, however jubilant the celebrations in the public squares, there is more to this supposed 'resignation' than meets the eye. It comes after talks with the conservative opposition leader, where they proposed the formation of a national coalition government, which themselves took place after a formal visit by the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, who urged the opposition to unite behind the bailout plans. The conservatives agreed to a national coalition as long as Papandreou wasn't it's head - and so the Greek premier looks like he will get the chop.

Van Rompuy and the party leaders may think that a national government will bring stability. They couldn't be more wrong. They are making a huge mistake that will cost them dearly. The CIA has warned that if further austerity is imposed upon the country then there may be a coup d'etat. And what is going on now, if not for negotiations about yet another massive bailout plan, and yet more austerity?One third of the population, according to respected polling company Public Issue, now support a 'revolution.' There are tens of thousands of protestors camped out in major cities. There are armed left-wing rebel groups and far-right nationalists launching racist pogroms on the immigrant population. A coalition goverment would remove the last democratic means of expressing popular anger; if one party is held responsible for the crisis, it can be replaced. But what if both are involved? What then?

I should clarify that I don't support a Greek revolution, but there really is no other option for many of the tens of thousands of people already camped out in front of the parliament building. I'm not going to argue over who is responsible: I'd say that it's a combination of Greek political arrogance and the inherent faults in the euro, but that's not the point. The point is that the Greeks are a nation on their knees. The crushing austerity measures, the mass-unemployment, the constant political chaos, and the collapse in government administration after a wave of general strikes has set the stage; now all it needs is a single leader or leadership council to unite the 98% of Greeks who blame the government behind them, and it's all over.

Unless the EU, the IMF, and the Greek government seriously consider other options then the Greeks will have their revolution.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Martin Schulz: President of the European Parliament?

'Ultra-nationalists, fascists, and former communists.'

Of all the people that the European Parliament could have chosen to be the favourite to succeed incumbent president Jerzy Buzek at the end of his term, German MEP Martin Schulz is the worst. Not because of his personal talent and political skills, which, compared to others in the European Parliament, is actually quite considerable. But because he is one of the best examples of a federalist that a Eurosceptic can point to to prove that what they say about the EU - namely, that it is undemocratic, elitist, distant, and contemptuous of the populace - is correct.

Martin Schulz shot to fame in Britain last year when UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom repeated a Nazi slogan at him, and then accused him of acting like a 'undemocratic fascist.' Bloom was then escorted from the chamber and evicted by a parliamentary vote. It made the headlines in the UK and had a significant impact on UKIP's poll ratings, but it was no surprise to Eurosceptics: those who've followed Schulz's actions in the chamber would know that he has been involved in several incidents over the past few years, and each of them have involved the word 'fascist' or accusations of fascism in some way.

Arguably the most famous was when he called Dutch MEP, Daniël van der Stoep, a 'fascist' for asking Barroso to publish details of his expenses accounts. There was once a video on YouTube but is has since been removed. It's a shame, because it would make Martin Schulz's denial a lot less believable. But there have been others. He once described all Eurosceptics as 'ultranationalists, fascists, and former Communists' - groups which, as everyone knows, make up over 60% of the British population. It speaks volumes about the intolerance of opposing views and Eurosceptics in general that is exhibited by a man who could one day be in charge of overseeing the European Parliament.

But they also reflect the intolerance of opposing views and Eurosceptics in general that is typical of the federalists in the European Parliament; as even Jon Worth admits, albeit reluctantly, this 'plays right into the hands of the loopy folks on the political fringes (i.e. the 60% of the British population that is Eurosceptic).' It enables them to 'seek to present the political mainstream as conspiring against them, and this incident looks like precisely that is happening.' If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. We don't 'seek to portray' the political 'mainstream' as conspiring against us; it just happens that way, because it is.

Take, for example, the eviction of Austrian MEP, Andreas Molzer, after a 'disturbance' in the European Parliament where eight MEPs protested against the EU's refusal to respect the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. Andreas Molzer was accused of being one of the people who were involved, although it was pointed out at the time by Nigel Farage that he was actually not in the parliament at all. He was not even in the country. He was in Frankfurt. The President of the European Parliament is able to evict MEPs at will - as Roger Helmer says of the incident, 'HGP himself was witness, accuser, judge and jury in the case.' He can hand out fines of up to a thousand pounds, and, as Roger Helmer also points out, is more than capable of using these powers to 'settle scores.'

No better reason, then, for a person who thinks that transparency in government is the same as fascism, to be denied that office.


The original picture at the top of this article was made by High Contrast, on Wikimedia. The adapted version, used here, was made by Daffy123.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Euro May Fall Out of Favour in the Baltic

The Bank of Lithuania, Vilnius. Picture by Alma Pater.

The euro was once the currency that all Baltic economies were supposed to convert to. After the era of Soviet oppression was ended, the euro was their ticket to a better, more prosperous future as part of the western economy - the famed EU single market. It was a general position for all politicians to be broadly supportive of the euro, and for all economists to swoon over it as a matter of course. But times change. The governor of the Latvian Central Bank has launched the most controversial analysis of the euro for years. It's barely opposition at all - in fact, it's more a realistic assessment. But nonetheless it has got the consensus on edge.

'We have to create the necessary conditions for growth. And if we are a state that meets the criteria to introduce the euro, we can take a pause and think, ‘Is it needed?' Latvia is no stranger to the eurozone's strict entry criteria: its neighbour, Lithuania, had its application turned down in 2008 when its inflation was only slightly above target. But by saying that questions should still be asked of the euro's suitability after the criteria have been met, the central bank governor - Ilmars Rimsevics - is widening the scope for the opinion that joining the euro might not be needed at all. His Lithuanian counterpart, Vitas Vasiliauskas, said in an interview that consumer prices and high energy costs would lead to above-target inflation, making joining in 2014 - Lithuania's current target - 'unlikely.' This was four days after PM Andrius Kubilius warned the government would not change course and that the target for joining the single currency in 2014 was still on track.

For the first time, doubts about whether they should join the euro at all are becoming mainstream in Baltic political discourse, and among the inhabitants of the Baltic states. But the disputes of their politicians and economists will matter little in the redefining of public opinion: all eyes are on the tiny state of Estonia.

Estonia joined the eurozone earlier this year, and provides a good test for the other Baltic states to see what would happen if they joined the euro. That's the role given to its economy by media and populace alike, and, so far, they are not impressed with what they see. Despite the initial optimism and the increase of foreign investment in the Baltic state, Estonia has been hampered by a series of economic problems. The Eurosceptics who warned that joining the euro would cause a rise in prices and inflation, dismissed at the time, have been proven correct.

It was never an unsubstantiated opinion: wherever the euro has been introduced, it has been followed by massive price rises. The cost of basic consumer goods in Greece almost doubled; in France, Italy, and Germany, too, there was a considerable impact on family budgets - increases of hundreds of pounds in their food expenses were average for southern Europe. Some people predicted the same thing happening in Estonia. They were dismissed as lunatics, of course, by one of the standard propaganda campaigns, but Estonia's inflation rate, which had hovered at around 3% for the whole of 2010, rose to 5.4% after joining the single currency. Consumer prices have risen dramatically.

And the price that the citizens had to pay wasn't only at the checkout. There were also massive cuts in public expenditure. The budget deficit was high above the European Commission's acceptable levels - and, as a former socialist republic used to decades of the welfare state and government dependency, there was a lot of effort put into bringing the country's budget deficit in line. There were reductions in salaries across the public sector, and public services were scaled back. All this contributed to the country's self-assured promotion of itself as the ideal euro candidate, but it came at a high cost to the average citizen. With higher prices in the shops their most obvious reward, the Lithuanians and Latvians may be less willing to pay.

Unlike the Estonians, they have not only seen the bailouts; they have seen the bailouts fail. When the Estonians went to the polls, Greece and Ireland had been bailed out once. Now Greece has been bailed out twice, and there is still talk of debt restructuring and selling off its assets. Portugal has been bailed out and Spain - with a bigger economy than Greece, Ireland, and Portugal combined - is still uncertain. Belgium and Italy are also under scrutiny by the markets. The Lithuanians and the Latvians have seen the austerity imposed on bailout recipients, and the costs to their creditors who will never see the money again. They've seen the idea of the eurozone as a 'mechanism for stability' and a means of 'resisting irrational shifts in the market,' and of a way of rescuing countries in need, exposed as utter folly, and they've started to wonder whether Estonia made the right decision.

The opinion that the euro may never be a wise option is becoming part of the mainstream - if not the majority.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Rights of British Citizens are Non-Negotiable

The inhabitants of the Falklands want to remain British. Picture by Eric Gaba.

This is, we're told, the post-colonial age when all nations have surrendered their empires and their protectorates to the whims of world affairs, scaling back their borders and standing down their imperial armies. But it seems someone forgot to tell the Argentinians; they've been making a lot of noise about the Falkland Islands recently, which, contrary to popular belief, are not actually a 'conquest' held down by an oppressive British imperialist attitude, but rather a willing part of the United Kingdom inhabited solely by people who are more than happy to be British citizens. Argentinia's goal is not one of reclamation - for they never owned the islands, and, apart from drawing upon the claims of their imperial predecessor, have no claim to them. It is one of imperialistic expansionism. They claim the South Georgia Islands and British Antarctica as well.

But it's not the Argentinians that are the problem. Britain can do nothing whatsoever to prevent them from retaking the islands, as revealed in the Telegraph, but Argentina lacks the capability to launch an invasion force capable of taking them in the first place. Its military is not what it was in the days of the junta. Rather, it's the attitude of the American government that is the problem: the US government has effectively taken Argentina's side in the 'debate,' firstly by calling for bilaterial negotiations on ownership of the islands - a position which the British government, and the island's inhabitants, find untenable - and secondly by calling them by the official Spanish name, Los Malvinas, which is used by the Argentinian government.

It's time for David Cameron to make it plain and clear to anyone who seeks to impose their will on British citizens by force of arms or diplomatic subversion that the right of self-determination for British citizens is absolutely non-negotiable. David Cameron might like to remind Mr. Obama that the islands are British; they want to say British. The first people who ever settled on them were European colonists - there is no question of 'indigenous rights' or 'native self-determination' for the British are the indigenous population. They are exercising their right to self-determination when they say that Argentinian rule is absolutely out of the question.

Not only is this retort morally sound, it also has a precedent under international law: the right of people in disputed territories to choose their government is the defining principle according to the UN. Whichever country they want to be a part of will enjoy the UN's backing. The inhabitants of the Falklands have consistently stated that it is their wish to remain a part of Britain, their native country, and Argentinia's claims - which are incredibly flimsly, as far as territorial claims go - cannot override that.

If that doesn't do, then our Prime Minister could point out the small matter of Afghanistan, where Britain has wasted hundreds of soldiers' lives and billions of pounds for no benefit whatsoever, with no end in sight, and how morally reprehensible it is for Mr. Obama to side with Argentina against the rights of British citizens when the United Kingdom is one of its key partners in international conflicts. If Mr. Obama takes this action any further, there should be repercussions: how about the UK scaling down its Afghan involvement, to the applause of the British public and the detriment of the United States military mission? Because, frankly, that's what Obama's treachery deserves. You do not ask us to give up our soldiers, our money, and our international reputation to continue to assist you in one of your errands and then turn around and take the side of our enemies when it comes a territorial dispute that should have ended in 1973.

EU Regulation Costs Six Hundred Billion

Skyline of Frankfurt. Picture by Thomas Wolf. 

The beauty of the European Union is the proliferation of quotes by so many of its founders and current politicians. There are literally hundreds of them; thousands, even, that seem almost designed to denigrate the European Union. Most of them could have came out of the mouths of hardened Eurosceptics.

Barroso claiming that the EU has 'the dimension of empire' is a remark that would have seen any Eurosceptic who uttered it chastisted and pilloried by the media, his political career in ruins. Romano Prodi admitting that he had 'powers that can only be described as government' was confirmation of what Eurosceptics had tried to tell the people of Europe for years. Even Jean Monnet was heard to remark that 'Europe should be guided towards a federal superstate without its populace knowing what is happening.' All of these quotes have been invaluable in the fight against 'ever-closer union,' and for them I humbly thank our wise but not too PR-savvy rulers in Brussels.

Undoubtedly, however, the biggest clanger was that of the now-retired Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, German Günter Verheugen. He was a Commissioner that many businessmen and free-marketeers would look back on and be quite fond of: he spent much of his time trying to cut back on red tape and to improve standards of innovation in the European market. He spoke out against the idea that 'the more rules you have the more Europe you have.'

He also made the oft-repeated claim - one of the favourites of EU supporters, in fact - that the benefits of the single market vastly outweight the costs of membership. It is a claim that, despite its profligacy, is utterly untrue, and demonstrably so. In 2006, the Commissioner casually estimated that the cost of EU law and diktat to business was over six hundred billion euros. Yes, that is over half a trillion: it is more than the GDP of Poland. And it is the annual cost.

If that wasn't staggering enough, the benefit of the EU single market to businesses - from 1986 to 2002 - was estimated by the Commission as a whole to be only one hundred and ten billion. To be unduly lenient to these people, that may well have increased somewhat since then, but with a recession and the eurozone crisis there's no way that just over one hundred billion made can outweigh six hundred billion euros lost every year.

Far from being an integral part of the success of UK or Continental businesses, as its supporters often insist without any evidence, the European Union is actually a ruinous institution. The scale of the costs to business of the European Union's prolific law-making and over-zealous regulation makes any benefit from operating in the European market redundant, and it is demonstrably true that, far from the benefits outweighing the costs, it is, in fact, the other way around. And that is according to the EU itself.

Friday, 10 June 2011

What's the Difference Between EU Directives and Onions?

Britain will pay up. Picture from the European People's Party.

No-one cries when you chop up EU directives.

Benefit to the UK of EU membership no. 233: an official somewhere in Germany incorrectly announces to the world press that Spain was the source of the e-coli, and British taxpayers have to pay the bill. £16.6 million, in fact, has been contributed gratefully by the British taxpayer to assist the Spanish farmers affected by the false information.

Why should Britain pay? No, I'm not demanding exceptionalism for us if we were responsible. But we played no part in any of this, and we're suddenly on the hook for twenty million pounds? Twenty million, of course, doesn't quite compare to the nine thousand six hundred million we pay the EU each year in net membership fees, or the twenty thousand million we've so far contributed to the utterly ineffectual bailout scheme. But it could still save one town somewhere from local budget cuts. And there's no good reason why we should pay it.

Whoever is to blame should pay compensation. It's a simple idea, really, and a just one. But 'European solidarity' has demanded that everyone is collectively responsible, and everyone should pay up. You don't have to be a hardened Eurosceptic to see that that simply does not make sense.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The UK Has Lost Economic Sovereignty

EU flags displayed in Brussels. Picture by Lemonc.

Take a look at these two articles. One is from the Guardian, and was written in June 2010. It states that the UK has vetoed the proposals by the unelected Commission to examine and scrutinise national budgets before their respective parliaments get to vote on them. The idea was 'flatly rejected' by the British government. Now take a look at this article, from January 2011. The EU, obviously not happy about being contradicted, went back to try to push the proposals through a second time.

British ministers warned that this would effectively end Britain's fiscal independence, and, by removing parliament's right to see and vote on the budget before the unelected European executive and other member states unaccountable to the national electorate, would end our democratic control over the finances of this country. But, no, there was no resistance a second time around: the proposals got through, and now the EU can remark on our national expenditure with impunity.

Note how I had to go to the Filipino site to find out the details of what the EU actually said: British and European papers never said anything about most of the information on that page. If it wasn't for the foreign media, we wouldn't know what our elected representatives were doing, or what the unelected officials were telling them to do.

Note, also, how they describe it - quite correctly - as an EU 'report card.' The EU may be quite correct in its analysis of the UK economy - it might not be. But who gave it the right to intervene in matters that should be the sole preserve of a democratically-elected government? The idea of an elected Chancellor making decisions on the economy, with full accountability to the general public, is a good one. At least, it is superior to the idea of unelected people controlling a nation's economy.

The more power that unelected officials have over our economy, the less power we, as individuals, have over the economy, and, by extension, our own finances. What happens when the EU advises the government to increase taxes or raise VAT? It may well be incredibly unpopular with the people and economically damaging - but there's nothing that we could do about it.

These unelected officials can tell the elected government what to do. The elected elements of this review of the UK's budget may include other elected heads of government, and MEPs, but neither of them are actually elected by the people that their decisions affect, being the representatives of other EU nations or European constituencies in other countries. Their legitimacy to comment on UK affairs is equally questionable. Basically, an elected government of a country should have the right to govern the country that elected them, and the new Brussels powers over budgets - which the UK actually rejected once - is a clear violation of that basic principle of democratic and statehood. And this isn't standardising safety requirements or banning imperial units; this is the economy, one of the most important aspects of government, and the one that should, above all, be ultimately in the control of the people.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Barroso Argues For Democracy

If it wasn't for the Arabs, we wouldn't have a clue about the actions of the most powerful politician in Europe. It was van Rompuy last time; this time it's Barroso, the chief executive of the European Union, who, without the oversight of the European media, has visited Portugal, his native country. He went there in the standard hypocritical mode that comes as default for European Union officials: Catherine Ashton was talking about 'true democracy' in the Guardian, and Barroso and Herman van Rompuy - or should that be President van Rompuy - spoke of the importance of democracy and accountability.

He then issued a declaration with the African Commission, saying that: 'economic growth in Africa will be sustainable only when political foundations on which democratic societies are built have been put in place. Without them, the people cannot realise their full potential, cannot feel part of the society and share the prosperity of their countries.' Yes, he, the unelected head of an unelected body that is the sole source of European law and legislation and meets behind closed doors with no media oversight whatsoever said that without democracy, economic growth is impossible.

This probably explains a lot of the issues regarding the abysmal way in which the Commission has dealt with the eurozone problems; if it moves, throw money at it, and, when that doesn't work, throw some more. This is the institution that has so far squandered the GDP of a small European country on ineffectual bailouts that then have to be repeated, at a massive cost to you, and even after the bill arrives - several hundred billion pounds - there is still talk of a restructuring or default, meaning that the whole thing would have been entirely wasted.

But, wait, there's more: 'This is why the changes that have shaken Africa today are so important. They remind us that there are too many places where people are deprived of the chance to take control of their lives, to participate in the decision-making process and contribute to the economic stability of their country. The unusually high number of young people calling for changes should remind us that the empowerment of youth is fundamental to building a better future.'

There are hundreds of thousands of people camped out in the city centres of Greece, Spain, and Portugal, calling for 'revolution' and 'real democracy' - most of them students - and this man, who was elected by the European Parliament when his was the only name on the ballot paper, is telling Africans how important it is to let their young citizens participate in democracy? Does Barroso even know of the protests that are taking place? Is he ignoring them, or has no-one told him? I doubt that he and other EU politicians are going well out of their way to be as hypocritical as they can, but it seems so.

As a former Maoist, once seen speaking against 'anti-popular' policies and 'imperialistic' government, who is now at the head of an organisation which he likes to compare to an empire and has a barely-disguised disliking of 'populists' in the European parliament, he probably cannot avoid appearing somewhat hypocritical. He may have left his Marxist days far behind him, but someone becoming the complete opposite of the radical they were forty years ago is a bit of a stretch, surely. Politicians sometimes move parties: they do not move from peasant to emperor, from proletariat class warrior to chief architect of the bailout plan, from populist to elitist. But Barroso is not alone; every single one of the EU's three main figures - himself, van Rompuy, and Ashton - have done the same, writing about how important democracy, rule of law, and freedom of speech is when they - and the bailouts - defy the first two principles and make the third redundant.

All this makes a rather effective argument for democracy, does it not?


Also, the lack of a picture for this blog is partly because I don't want any more pictures from the European People's Party website - they're pretty much the same as each other, once you've seen one lavish dinner with champagne you've seen them all. And I can't get the computer to work properly. Sorry about that.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Greenpeace Moves Into Deeper Water

An Inuit seal-hunter. Picture by Ansgar Walk.

If environmentalists wonder why they're losing ground to 'nutty climate deniers,' they should look no further than northern Greenland. Here, in the pristine Arctic wilderness inhabited by only a few hundred indigenous peoples who still hunt and fish as their ancestors did centuries ago, they are protesting against the titanic efforts of Scottish energy firm Cairn Energy to scour the ocean floor for oil. Oil, they say, is an unnecessary fossil fuel that is polluting the landscape and causing climate change, and drilling for it in the Arctic will destroy the traditional lifestyle of the inhabitants, and the environment that they have sustainably exploited for generations.

Now, that may or may not be true. I don't wish to turn this into a climate change blog, simply because both supporters and opponents of that theory are both wasting too much time and money on the wrong solutions - it is far better to use our resources to adapt to a change in global temperature, which, as the Ice Ages prove, changes with or without CO2, than it is to make futile attempts at combating it. But environmentalists do seem to miss the irony here.

They would not be warm, they would not be fed, they would not have lights, they would not have transport. In fact, it would be pretty much impossible for them to get that far north in the first place without oil, yet still they seem to think that oil is unnecessary? Their clothes, boats, and planes are made out of and powered by oil, without which their construction would have been impossible. Not only are Greenpeace now well out of date, with environmentalism having long since been adopted by national governments several decades ago, they still believe in one of the most ridiculous assertions of the modern era: oil is unnecessary? How do you get around, the bus?

Still, we shouldn't mock, because Cairn Energy has filed for a lawsuit in Denmark that could bankrupt them. That should cut down on most of their carbon emissions, at least...

Friday, 3 June 2011

The EU Doesn't Like Referendums

Slovenia is about to hold a referendum reform to its pension scheme that will see people work for five years longer, retiring at the age of sixty-five, due to the pressure put on the country's budget by the current system. It's a fairly small issue, as far as the EU is concerned. But van Rompuy was here - a man whose job it is to oversee the deliberations of elected heads of state would rather be lecturing the Slovenians on why they have no choice in the matter. In characteristic EU style, his response to the referendum was to dutifully inform them that they 'will have to implement the pension reform sooner or later.'

Unlike the referendums on European integration, which the EU has always ignored or repeated, van Rompuy has no actual power to force the Slovenians to do anything. Well, almost. He could inform the other EU heads of state that it needs to get its budget deficit below three per cent of GDP, as per European rules, and therefore cause a whole load of legal problems between the EU and the Slovenian government. But that's the EU's attitude to democracy displayed once again.

Also, van Rompuy's involvement hints at something else: how much power the EU has over citizens, and how decisions made by unelected officials, such as van Rompuy, can have major effects on the finances and careers of every European. The Slovenians probably never realised before this referendum that EU rules could force their government to radically alter the pensions scheme. They do now. But they never got to vote on any of the people that drew up these rules, nor the people that enforce them; and, now, when they have a national vote on the subject, the most senior of those unelected officials, other than Barroso himself, is now telling them that it doesn't matter.

The Slovenians have long benefited from EU funding and the sense of integration after the fall of Communism; now, however, they may be seeing that the EU is not in their best interests. Van Rompuy declared Croatia is now on track to becoming an EU member. There's one problem: Croatia, their neighbour, a country whose acceptance to the EU they championed, is now firmly opposed to EU membership. Only 23% are now in favour. This officially makes it the most Eurosceptic country in Europe. But the EU and the national government doesn't seem to care what the populace think, and it's becoming increasingly apparent to the Slovenian population.

Perhaps now the peoples of southern Europe will realise that if they truly want to preserve the democracy that they fought so hard for, they must remain outside the EU?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Europe Is Incompatible with Democracy

Ukrainians know more about democracy than van Rompuy. Picture by the European People's Party

Why do we have to go to Arabic and Russian media to find out what our European leaders are doing? They've obviously taken time out from their important schedules - which include sorting out major economic upheaval, revolutionary fervour brewing in Spain and Greece, and defending challenges to their power from elected national governments and 'populists.' Why? To hold a meeting with representatives from the world's major religions in Brussels, that's why. The meeting was so that they could talk about how to 'share democracy' between the European Union and its neighbours. Yes, it was another one of those meetings, where two unelected individuals - or, in Barroso's case, secretly elected individuals who just happened to be the only candidate on the ballot sheet - look interested as someone else tells them about the merits of 'rule by the people.'

I assume the Arabs had quite a lot to teach their European counterparts, so the meeting lasted quite a while. Van Rompuy seemed more than satisfied when it finished, and, feeling himself enlightened on the subject of democracy, proudly declared that it was not incompatible with Islam. 'These revolutions are not the work of fanatics or extremists. On the contrary they prove that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy.'

I'd just like to point out, before anyone talks him too seriously, that he owes his position as President of the European Council, the chairman of meetings of elected heads of state, to a secret deal made over dinner, and no-one ever elected him to that position at all. He can't really sound off about democracy. He can't really sound off about the Arab Spring, either, as Nigel Farage brilliantly showed an indigant European Parliament.

And if you think van Rompuy was hypocritical enough, then wait until you hear Barroso. 'Our task and ambition is to promote democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights, and social justice not only in Europe but also in our neighbourhood.' As the chief executive of the European Union, Barroso's only experience of democracy is a secret ballot in the European Parliament where he was the only candidate. The executive as a whole isn't much more democratic, either, with each of the Commissioners nominally answerable to the European Parliament and approval of elected heads of state, but in practice very difficult to remove from office, and completely unaccountable to the people themselves whose laws they are solely responsible for proposing and repealing.

As for pluralism, Barroso has consistently derided 'populists,' and has - along with elected heads of government - disregarded every referendum that's ever been held on EU integration, preferring instead to do as he pleases regardless of the result. The rule of law has also been abandoned, with the European Union retrospectively changing treaties to make bailouts legal - after they've been agreed.

Then comes what is perhaps the most hypocritical part of the whole thing: van Rompuy heaped praise on the Arab rebels, saying that 'Arab people are liberating themselves. These are their revolutions and we have common values.' This came a few days after he warned Greece to pledge new austerity measures, and made no comment whatsoever on the popular 'Greek revolution.' I hope that he is actually aware of what's happening in Greece - I assume he is, but given the apparent lack of ability of accurate information to penetrate the Belgian bunker, who knows?