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, 28 July 2011

Rebels Recognised as Libyan Government; Leader Killed

The Libyan rebel commander, Abdel Fattah Younes, was killed after being arrested by his own side.

Less than a day ago, Foreign Secretary William Hague expelled all remaining diplomats of the Libyan government in favour of emissaries from the National Transitional Council. Now, an armed gang has entered the building where Abdel Fattah Younes was staying, and shot dead three people: among them, the rebel commander-in-chief himself. The leader of the armed gang has apparently been detained, and called before a judicial committee.

The assassination was initially blamed on pro-Gaddafi forces, but that explanation was quickly replaced, and the attack put down to one of a number of 'armed gangs' in rebel-held areas. However, supporters of the generals have maintained that his assailants were rebel soldiers themselves, motivated possibly by accusations of being a double agent that had dogged him for days Ugly tales of unacceptable links with the regime - in which Younes was formerly defence and interior minister - have begun to surface. This has all the hallmarks of a classic fracturing within the rebel ranks, something which could leave Britain's attempts to reshuffle its foreign policy towards Libya up in the air.

It only goes to show the turbulent nature of revolutionary politics: we are not talking about men sitting safe in their armoured cars, or secure in the marble halls of a presidential palace. We are talking about men on the frontline, where every member of their court could be an assassin, for whom being captured or killed in war is a real possibility. It was premature and foolish of David Cameron's governance to announce that the Libyan rebels were now the official government. You don't need 20/20 hindsight to see this, either: Younes had in fact been arrested by rebel soldiers earlier in the day over allegations of connections with the ruling regime. When William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, announced triumphantly that the Libyan rebel council had 'sole government authority,' the wheels were already set in motion for the dismissal or impeachment of their leader.

This will certainly stall the rebel's advance, which is somewhat hyped in the media, and will possibly lead to a return of the stalemate that prevailed throughout April - something that will surely be a massive blow for the NTC, given that they are running out of money fast, and can no longer afford to actually govern the parts of the country that they rule (virtually all of the eastern half and some mountainous areas south of Tripoli). I highly doubt that the rebel council will collapse instantaneously, but this could well cost them all their recent gains, and could even restore them to pre-Misuratah borders. If that happens, then a fair proportion of senior ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will have rightly been shown up, and Britain's foreign policy regarding Libya would be in a right mess. That situation would have been easily avoidable, if the government had simply listened to the prevailing winds in Benghazi.

I suggest that a new policy be implemented: if a government wants to throw its weight behind a foreign cause that has absolutely nothing to do with us, it should find out what is going on on the ground first and use that as the basis of all decisions, rather than chasing media headlines and 'NATO commitments?' Of course, if such a policy were implemented, I doubt we'd be involved in any foreign wars at all...


This is the second blog update today; I posted one on Islamists preventing foreign aid from reaching the impoverished people of Somalia. Blogging will be light over the next two weeks as I'm off to Scotland, where my Internet access will be sporadic, at best. I shall still be able to do one or two updates in that time (one of which should be a post about how environmentalist policies ruin the lives and livelihoods of rural people in the northwest), however, and will pen a large article on the future of Euroscepticism in the UK, which will hopefully be worth the wait.

Somalia's Famine is not Caused by Western Hands

Someone - but necessarily us - must oust the Islamists before prosperity can return

I can't work out who has the worse job: Maryan Qasim, the Somalian government's former women's minister, or Farah Ahmed Qare, the commander of their navy. The government, I should add, controls barely a few square miles in central Mogadishu. It has no access to the sea and whatever control it has over the ports is sporadic at best. Most of the women have long since fled into refugee camps, and those that remain do not venture outdoors. There isn't much that the provisional government - or its embattled ministers - can really do to assist the impoverished, war-torn people of Somalia, other than write articles for the Guardian.

'I believe the international community has failed to tackle this crisis and thus we must do more now, before it's too late,' she writes, before setting out an ambitious programme. 'What is needed right now is for the international community to act immediately to save the millions who are starving. Food, water, medicine and shelter are all urgently needed. Aid needs to be delivered strategically to minimise the distance people are travelling in search of food and water.' She is not the only one calling for the west to do more - Somalia's Prime Minister, who perhaps has the worst job of all, insists that the United Nations is 'holding back aid.' They're either not distributing it or simply not sending it, according to him, and that's why it's not reaching the people on the ground who desperately need it.

But there is another explanation, according to Al-Jazeera. One of the most authoritative sources on the subject, they have reported what Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, a Al-Shabaab spokesman, said on Islamist radio (there's a contradiction in terms if ever I saw one). It pretty much explains why aid isn't getting through - it's been banned. 'The declaration of famine is political and is a lie with hidden agendas,' the Islamist rebels have decreed. They insist that the famine is merely a 'lack of rain,' and have forced all agencies out of their 'area of control' - pretty much the whole of southern Somalia.

This may be due to ideological reasons - aid is too 'western,' a claim which has some basis in reality seeing as the oil-rich billionaire monarchs of Arabia don't seem to be sending any - or it may be their attempt at punishing the west for the killing of their leader, Ibrahim Haji Jama Mee'aad, on the 25th June. But, either way, it's their fault the supplies aren't getting through. Not ours. So, with all due respect to Maryan Qasim, her attempted lecturing of the west falls on deaf ears: as long as local players are opposed to the presence of western aid agencies and NGOs, there's nothing us westerners can do to alleviate the situation.


Blogging will be light over the next two weeks as I'm off to Scotland, where my Internet access will be sporadic, at best. I shall still be able to do one or two updates in that time (one of which should be a post about how environmentalist policies ruin the lives and livelihoods of rural people in the northwest), however, and will pen a large article on the future of Euroscepticism in the UK, which will hopefully be worth the wait.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Lithuanian Euroscepticism Can Never Prosper With Paksas at its Head

Rolandas Paksas: tainted by his presidency.

If there's one man in Europe who's bounced around the political spectrum more than anyone else, it's Rolandas Paksas. Barroso may have came a long way since the Maoist revolutionary days, when he expounded the virtues of populism and anti-imperialism on the historic cobbled squares of Portugal. Now, he stands in the press room of his eight hundred million euro head office and speaks of building empires. But he still can't match the erratic career of the former Lithuanian Prime Minister and President

Rolandas Paksas was a member of the Communist Party - which, to be fair, was the only legal political party for a considerable part of his career - and its post-Soviet successor, the Democratic Labour Party, before joining the centre-right free-market Homeland Union. He then joined the Liberal Union of Lithuania, and then founded the Liberal Democratic Party. He holds a seat for the Liberal Democrats - or Order and Justice as they call themselves - now, although it is now as an MEP, rather than as a member of the Lithuanian legislature.

His party, Order and Justice (TT), were one of the most successful anti-establishment parties. Combining liberal conservatism, national conservatism, Euroscepticism, and, to some extend, classic liberalism, the party was the very definition of populism: it achieved a major electoral success less than one year after its foundation. The leader's experience as the former president of his own construction company and a distinguished aerobatics champion back in Soviet days - not to mention Prime Minister of the country - won over the Lithuanian people. Rolandas Paksas took the presidency after a run-off with Valdas Adamkus.

So, what, then, could possibly be holding the Eurosceptics in Lithuania back? Their leader is more eminently qualified than any other in Europe; he perhaps has a better CV than most heads of state. He has served in both of the senior positions in his country, has economics experience, is a former sportsman, and appeals to every faction of the Lithuanian political spectrum. Eurosceptics here seem to have it made. Their popularity is also rising steadily, as it is in other European countries; so what could be wrong?

The answer, unfortunately, is that their successes and their failures are inextricably linked. Rolandas may have been President, something which should, ideally, give him a massive electoral advantage over all of his opponents. It is certainly something that no other Eurosceptic and few other party leaders can boast. However, it is precisely because he was president that he faces his biggest disadvantage now.

This isn't on the orders of the European Union or some strikingly illiberal figure within the Lithuanian parliament: this is owing to his own actions in 2004, less than one year after he took power. He he was found to have rewarded a major political ally - an aviation tycoon who had poured four hundred thousand pounds into Mr. Paksas's campaign - with Lithuanian citizenship. He was forced from office, and put on trial: he remains the only European head of state ever to have been impeached. One of the terms of that impeachment was his banning from the Seimas: another was him being forbidden from running for the presidency for five years.

In January of this year, the European Court of Human Rights (which has nothing to do with the European Union) ruled that the lifetime ban on him running for parliament was contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, but the stench of the impeachment still lingers over the aerobatics champion. And, for as long as that stench lingers, Lithuanian Euroscepticism will have its wings clipped.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bringing Home the Bacon

In the EU, all bacon will look like this.

Nothing like a bit of blatant populism. The EU is getting quite good at it. Having seen the advantages that come with doing what the people want, it is now introducing new legislation - to improve the taste of bacon. The new measures, which will be introduced within four years, will aim to prevent the taste of the classic breakfast favourite from being diluted by imposing strict limitations on its water content: existing legislation holds that it must have no more than ten per cent. The EU's new directive will bring this down to five.

This is liable to cause just as much of a laughing stock - no pun intended - as the curvy banana rules (which did exist, by the way - EC Commission Regulation No 2257/94). The press is currently fawning over the European Union as the saviours of breakfast: 'Bacon could be tastier – and frying pan froth eliminated' reads the Telegraph. 'Good news! EU to make bacon tastier' says Yahoo! Now, I love bacon as much as the next guy, but there's a problem with this law that people won't necessarily pick up on in all their fry-up fan euphoria - it's source.

None of the media outlets that have so far reported on the subject have seen fit to disclose where the idea for this new law came from. But, as the European Commission - the EU executive - has the sole right of initiative - the ability to pass and repeal laws, exclusively - it's likely that it has come from them. The European Commission has never faced a popular ballot. No member of the public has ever cast his or her vote for them. The EU chief executive, Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, was only elected by the European Parliament as his was the only name on the ballot sheet. I'm all for bacon regulation - no, really - but the fact that laws are now being passed by unaccountable individuals rather than our elected representatives leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Especially so, when you consider that the EU's involvement is not strictly necessary. This law could well have been passed by our own elected parliament, or agreed multilaterally by elected ministers and officials from European countries. There is no need whatsoever for the involvement of unaccountable supra-national institutions and the unelected individuals that reside within them. Although this may be a law that you agree with, there are one hundred and seventy thousand pages of EU law that concern themselves with far greater, more important things than what's on your breakfast table: and they are all passed and repealed by individuals entirely outside of the democratic process, that no elected government - no matter the public opposition - can repeal.

The next time you have to choose between 'bacon' and 'bacon with added water,' spare a thought for all the democratic processes that have been harmed in the making of your product.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Euroscepticism On The Rise in Latvia

Andrius Kubilius, Prime Minister of Lithuania, left.

How unpopular does a government have to be before almost all registed voters - on a turnout of 45% - decide that enough's enough and sack the lot of them? I don't know, but President Valdas Zatlers does. The now-former head of state of the Latvian Republic dismissed the parliament in May, over widespread corruption fears, and accusations that oligarchs - with close personal connections to the legislature's one hundred members. He later lost his re-election bid, although the referendum that his actions led to has just finished, and 94% of voters have decided to take the radical step of dismissing parliament, leading to snap elections in September.

For years, Latvia has been dominated, like so many other European countries, by a contest between two establishment parties; one on the centre-right, one on the centre-left. Vienotība (Unity) and Saskaņas Centrs (Harmony Centre), respectively. Together, they picked up 57.26% of the national vote in the 2010 election: not a monopoly to be trifled with. Yet here, like so many other countries, there are disturbances in the established order of things. That comes in the form of the LNNK - the unfortunately-named For Fatherland and Freedom party.

Previously a party in their own right, the LNNK joined with the (genuinely) far-right All For Latvia! in July, and now the allied parties boast eight seats in parliament. And that looks set to rise. They were formerly competing for fourth place with the Par Labu Latviju! alliance, a centre-right group of parties that are widely seen as the oligarch's wing of Latvian politics, but following the corruption scandal that led to the dismissal of parliament, it seems unlikely that they will prosper at the polls. A lot of their former votes, being on the centre-right of politics, will instead turn to the LNNK.

Unlike Par Labu Latviju!, the LNNK has the ability to enter into debate without being suspected of being a front for rich business interests, something which will help its credibility in the eyes of voters to not end. It is also considerably more radical; the blend of traditional conservatism, liberal conservatism, and nationalism will prove an attractive combination to a variety of people than the reactionary, capitalistic politics of Par Labu Latviju! could ever reach - which, again, have been tainted by the corruption scandal. And part of this radicalism is more staunch Euroscepticism; and, given that Latvia is one of the member states where the EU is most unpopular, that is surely a vote-winner.

LNNK has a long way to go before it can think of taking over even a slice of the government - all the parties combined received seventy-four thousand votes at the last election, and came in fourth overall. The Union of Greens and Farmers (ZUZS) came in third - with one hundred and ninety thousand. But Euroscepticism is once again on the rise in Latvia, and, coupled with the public mistrust of the oligarchs, the conditions could be ripe for the LNNK to emerge as a top contendor in national elections. I shouldn't be too surprised to see them enter the government at some point in the near-future: one more country with 'right-wing populists' in government to add to the map.


I apologise for the lack of blog coverage over the last two days. The European media has been dominated by events unfolding in Norway. On the day that the terrorist attacks occured, Cecilia Malmstrom had made a speech about why Europe needed more immigrants - this was originally what I planned to write about. By the time I completed it it would have been too insensitive to publish it. Normal service has been resumed.

Friday, 22 July 2011

We'll Make No Money from the Bailouts

These loans are beginning to look suspiciously like grants. Picture by the European People's Party.

Cast your minds back one year. The original bailout for Greece - what was supposed to be the final one - was just being signed off, and European leaders were celebrating, convinced that they'd nipped the eurozone crisis in the bud. National leaders went back to their electorates after 'secret, dark debates' telling tales of how they'd profit from the return on the loans. More sceptical warnings that the loans would not be paid back - that restructuring or default would ruin them, or that they were not commercially viable, hence the involvement of states, rather than banks - were roundly ignored.

As it turns out, the sceptics now stand vindicated: Ireland and Portugal's interest rates were slashed on Thursday, to between three and a half to four per cent, with the deadlines by which they have to repay the loans increased from seven and a half to fifteen or thirty years. Greece's interest rate and repayment time was similarly reduced and increased, respectively, as part of a new bailout. The move may well be beneficial to the recipients of the bailout funds, and both the Portuguese and Irish premiers have saluted the eurozone's decision, welcoming it with warm words and appraisal. But for the countries - including Britain - that have had to stump up the cash? Hardly.

What they expected to receive is now even smaller, and will take a lot longer than they thought before they make a profit. Whether they actually make a profit or not is dependent on there being no major debt restructuring or default, as is already being discussed in Greece. As Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach, said of the move: 'ultimately it reduces the cost of our debt.' Which means that it also reduces the total amount that the creditors - i.e. you - will receive. Ireland's decrease alone is estimated to be worth £800,000,000 every single year, according to calculations by Irish officials. And the chances that we'll receive any profit at all could be drastically cut if there is continued talk of restructuring or default: Greece now looks almost certain to default on a least part of its debt, and if Ireland and Portugal follow suit then the money we could make from our 'loans' will be reduced further.

It may appear somewhat ruthless to talk of helping indebted countries in terms of what we can get in return, but we ought to remember that these aren't small sums we're talking about. Britons have spent well over twenty billion pounds so far on the bailouts - the equivalent of several hundred pounds per person, taken out of public funds. If we aren't getting something in return, then it's perfectly right to ask 'what is the point?' Why should Britons pay up massive sums of money when there is practically no benefit to them? We've all heard how a eurozone collapse would be disastrous to the UK economy, and it would be wrong-headed to say that it would not have an impact. But why should British taxpayers be involved in that, when the eurozone countries can handle it themselves?

And - lest we forget - our help is not strictly necessary. As the second Greek bailout - in which we did not participate - proves, we are not needed to help prevent a eurozone collapse. We are wanted. We should ask, as the people from whom the money ultimately comes from, what we get in return. And if the answer is 'nothing,' or, more accurately, 'very little - none of it guaranteed,' we should cease to involve ourselves in the affairs of the eurozone bailout scheme.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Hague Scuppers EU Militarisation Plans

William Hague: is this a line in the sand?

That's the one thing I enjoy the most of writing about the European Union; the way in which they attempt to conceal their actions behind closed doors. It makes it impossible to know precisely what they're up to, but, thanks to the largely free media and activists, there are enough small snippets of information on their actions for the keen eye to be able to put the pieces in the right places come up with a larger picture.

I have previosly written about the possible resurrection of an old Weimar Triangle idea about increased European Union military centralisation that - it appeared - was quietly put on the backburner when Baroness Ashton, a major figure in the new plans, was distracted by the Arab Spring and renewed controversy over her position and rank. Well, there is yet more evidence that the plan has indeed been resurrected; an article has appeared in EUObserver about possible plans to centralise command of all EU missions into a single headquarters.

The two things look completely unrelated at first: one talked about pooling of resources and the creation of new EU battlegroups, and one talks about the creation of a single, central HQ. However, the connection is not tenuous; at the bottom of the article, almost as a footnote, is a quote from Alain Juppe, who says that a 'very large majority was in favour' of the proposal of an EU headquarters, 'pushed by the Weimar countries.' This appears to have been another part of the French-German-Polish militarisation policy. However, there is no need to panic: William Hague has done something quite impressive, more than making up for this.

In an area where unaminity is still required, Britain - in which one of the five EU command centres is located - has vetoed the proposals. He didn't do it for Britain - he did it for NATO. But it was nonetheless quite a bold move. France and Germany are not to be trifled with; with the added power of the Polish rotating presidency, and the EU's foreign policy and defence chief, it takes a brave man indeed to resist their will. This effectively means that the EU's attempts to create a single headquarters for its armed forces have been blocked permanently.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Government is Ignoring Male Victims of Abuse

It's high time men organised a march of their own. Picture by Hugh Lee.

Has anyone in government read this? The story of the Russian burglar who was overpowered and used as a sex slave for three days by a female hairdresser who just happened to be a black belt in karate? If not, I highly suggest that they do: they may finally realise that women can be just as violent and abusive as men, and that all laws should apply equally to both genders. But apparently the government hasn't seen this or countless other stories - and are also unaware that one in four domestic violence victims are male. Because a new law being considered by the government could give partners the right to 'vet' people on the Internet to check their past behaviour and criminal record, and, by 'partners,' I mean, of course, women.

Only women have this right, which is reason enough to not pass the law in my view: there's no good reason for it to not be available to men, especially given the above statistic. Men can be victims of domestic violence too, and - even if feminists laugh - it is a serious crime. There are men who have been falsely accused of rape or thrown out of their own house - or even denied access to their children - on the basis of false allegations, made by women who have a track record in that sort of thing. Surely men have a right to know, as well? If you are going to make people's criminal records available for worried or curious Internet dates, both men and women should be subject to equal treatment.

But, even assuming that both genders had equal access to this law, it is yet another example of legislation based on the media headlines it could generate rather than the actual value of the law itself. People on the Internet do not exist solely on the Internet; the same people you meet online are the people that you could meet in your local pub, or in your supermarket. It's all very well to check up on men online, but what about when women meet these same men on the street?

People online often use aliases - especially if they're up to no good. They could provide false contact information, untraceable emails, and all kinds of trails that lead precisely nowhere. A woman could apply to have their details revealed to her, and find that they have no criminal record whatsoever - not knowing that the person whose details she's uncovered is not the person she's dating, who, in fact, has a long record of domestic violence.

It would also be relatively easy for a woman to ask for information on a man even if she was not dating him. Casual dating requires no official documentation that you show to police - thus the standard of proof would be very low indeed. A woman could theoretically ask for information on any man for whom she had a name and existant contact details - it's not hard to see how that could be misused. She could be checking up on a new neighbour, for example, or a male acquaintance, for no other reason than to satisfy her own curiosity. Or more malicious purposes.

If a man had equal right to do this, then, of course, the same arguments would apply to men: a man could dig up the dirt on a female friend just as easily as it could be done to him, with just the same standard of evidence. But that's just it. Men don't have equal rights to do this. It is only available to members of the female sex. And therein lies this law's biggest flaw: it may do something - albeit not much - to protect women who meet their partners online. But male victims of domestic abuse - almost half of the reported total of domestic abuse victims in the UK - are just as ignored as ever, laughed off by a cosy alliance of feminist pressure groups and politically-correct politicians who refuse to admit that the problem exists, and would much rather pander to media headlines of 'protecting vulnerable women' than produce a law that works - for both genders.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Jakobsen: EU Must 'Face the Truth'

The glass streets of the United Arab Emirates. Picture by Saudi.

Why would a man who is eminently qualified to talk of European economic affairs, being the chief economist at one of Denmark's leading investment banks, need to go as far afield as Jordan in order to get his views on the euro published? It is an intruiguing question, and one which may be harder to answer than it seems: there could be all manner of reasons for Steen Jakobsen to write for Al Bawaba, rather than a European national. If I hadn't seen for myself how the Arab press was consistently better at reporting the feud over Denmark's border patrols, which - as anyone here who reads the Times of Oman will know - is still continuing, despite the fact that European news agencies have scarcely mentioned it, then I'd be inclined to put the explanation that it's 'because he disagrees with the consensus' down to paranoia.

But, whatever the reason, the fact remains that Al Bawaba has a very interesting article and European papers do not. The comparison between the euro and Denmark's national football team might be lost on most people unfamiliar with the sport - how it will ever be relevant to the website's Arab readership I don't know - but nonetheless it is well worth a read. It's a breath of fresh air for anyone who is tired of reading the same old EU denials, and for any EU supporters who are tired of the 'I told you so' attitude that comes as standard in most 'Eurosceptic' articles since the euro crisis was announced (just for the record, we did tell you so).

'Let me help: if your income is less than your expenses and you can’t borrow money, you are done, finito, insolvent and in default'

This is an obvious fact for most people - but, not, it seems, EU economists who are still insisting that Greece will not default. That sentence pretty much says everything in one clause, and adds the rest just to prove the point. Greece has more going out than it has coming in and it is finding it increasingly difficult to borrow money to fund this; hence, it is unthinkable that it can pay off its debts. Greece has one of the worst track records for defaulting on its debts in the history of man: it has spent half its time as a sovereign country in a state of default. Expecting it not to default is the ludicrous opinion here, not the opposite.

The 'extend-and-pretend' nonsense, as Mr. Jakobsen calls it (by which he presumably means the bailouts, or the continued insistence that Greece will pay off its debts) must be discontinued, and in its place Greek must accept that default is the only viable option. Citing examples of European economies that have been in similar economic straights before, he concludes that default may not necessarily by a bad thing; Finland and Russia, for example: the former is now having to bail out Greece, against the will of the largest party in terms of electoral base, and the latter is now one of the BRIC nations.

If Greece defaults now, there will be short-term pain for long-term gain. The smoke and mirrors tactics that the EU is currently employing - with five hundred billion pounds of European public funds - only serve to make things worse. Mr. Jakobsen puts this much better than I can: 'that is another lesson from Greece; the longer you avoid facing the truth, the more you solve debt with debt, the deeper the hole you are digging.' He says all that really needs to be said. Now just to get the European Union to listen.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ashton Missed The Trick. And So Did We.

Individual nations can do the job just as effectively as the EU ever can.

 Earlier this year, Poland set out the priorities for its stint at the EU's rotating presidency: strengthening cohesion, strengthening co-operation, expanding the 'eastern partnership' framework, raising the European Union budget, and fighting the 'new Euroscepticism' that it said arose from states pursuing their national interests. Donald Tusk, Poland's Prime Minister, presented an upbeat, optimistic image of his presidency: Poland's enthusiasm for the project would invigorate other countries and confront growing scepticism of EU institutions. There was no public mention of their more militaristic aims: in fact, it wasn't for The Voice of Russia, the citizens of Europe would have heard nothing about this. Says it all, really, that Russia - a country with one of the least free presses in the world - knows more about this than we do.

Back in late 2010, when Hungary had just taken over the rotating presidency, defence ministers from Germany, France, and Poland wrote a letter to EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton. Britain's sole contribution to the EU's senior ranks, Ashton is also in charge of the European Defence Agency, and was called upon by the three countries to 'strength co-operation' among EU militaries. This 'co-operation' included the construction of new multinational units that could be deployed alongside the EU's standing army, Eurocorp.

The Arab Spring, however, effectively ended Ashton's involvement: there was little she could find the time for, and the plans got put on the backburner. Well, now they're back. Germany and France are a formidable alliance at the best of times - the 'engine of integration' according to Jacques Delors - and now with the EU's new major player and the rotating presidency they're in a position to put their plans into action. There is clearly some ceremonial importance to the new battleground: 'Poland' will take command of it (Polish officers, at least, who will be under the command of the EU whilst on active deployment) as well as contribute the largest number of men. But there is also a practical side to it: one thousand five hundred soldiers will be a welcome addition to the EU's rapid reaction force, and can also serve alongside their standing army, Europol. It will also be suitable for deployment to 'crisis areas' in the European Union and beyond.

There's one problem that the EU could encounter if it attempts to deploy the new battlegroup, however: that problem is the German High Court. In 2009, it ruled that that deployments of troops outside of Germany must be approved by the Reichstag. We shall see whether, if this EU battlegroup is deployed, whether that ruling is abandoned, or upheld.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

The BBC's Blatant Bias is No Excuse

The BBC is clearly biased. But does it matter?

The People's Pledge references Rod Liddle's video commentary on the Sunday Times, on its Facebook page. The topic this time is the bias of the BBC - the sort of topic that many conservatives, and non-establishment figures in general, have waited years to see addressed. Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former leader of UKIP, Britain's foremost Eurosceptic party, is one of those that weights in with his opinion.

BBC bias has long been the elephant in the room for opponents of our continued membership of the European Union; it is all to easy to accuse it, the dominant source for news and information in all of the British media, of being the one thing stopping us from leaving. What other explanation is there, when upwards of sixty per cent of the British population want out of the EU, for our remaining within it, other than our esteemed national broadcaster? The BBC sets the tone and topic of the debate for the rest of the media, and somehow the EU is never included. That's the conclusion that many Eurosceptics - and indeed anyone outside the dominant consensus in each of the three main parties - has come to over the years, and it's easy to see why.

There are countless examples of BBC bias towards Eurosceptics; arguably contrary to its charter, it does receive funding from the European Union, as revealed in Hansard. Lord McIntosh of Haringey, then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, replied that 'the BBC's producers' guidelines make clear that co-funding from any third party is not appropriate for programmes aimed at a general audience. But the BBC does receive some EU funding for some specialised educational and support material (such as basic literacy and IT skills training for adults).' The BBC's commercial subsidiaries also borrowed almost one hundred million pounds from the European Investment Bank. The full details of this are covered excellently by EUReferendum.

The European Investment Bank is supposed to promote the EU's objective of integration. That's according to its own mission statement. Would it loan money to an organisation that might act against this interest, as a truly unbiased organisation would? No, it would not. The BBC's bias is fairly clear-cut in my view. But, still, despite its immense power, the BBC cannot be used as a reasonable excuse for Eurosceptic inactivity; yes, its presence is regrettable, but it does not hold a monopoly on news, and, even if it did, to accept defeat at its hands would be to severely underestimate the power that we hold in ours.

Think back to 2008, when the Irish 'No' campaign was in full swing. The EU and EU-affiliated institutions poured hundreds, literally hundreds of millions of euros into the 'Yes' campaign. The amount of airtime and advertising space that they could buy dwarfed that of the 'No' vote. Allegations of conspiracy swirled around the head of Declan Ganley, the 'No' campaign's main sponsor, about his less-than-savoury connections. An investigation into his funding was ordered, and it was even suspected that he was a CIA stooge. Yet, for all this, the 'No' vote was, lest we forget, ultimately successful. And the problems that faced the Irish campaigners were not at all dissimilar to those that a similar campaign would face in the UK.

There was massively biased media coverage, unprecedented interference from Brussels, an almost complete cross-party consensus, and a classic smear campaign to contend with. They were actually compared to paedophiles. And yet, despite at first being behind in the polls, the 'No' campaign pulled out ahead and went on to win a landslide. By the logic of the 'if the BBC is against us we can't win' argument, the Irish 'No' vote should never have occured. But it did. And the European Union knows the reason why. It is not the intervention of big business. It is not Declan Ganley's millions. It is not Brussels simply being wrong. It is grassroots activists making a mess of things for the 'Yes' vote by exposing the EU's biggest lies. Bloggers, primarily, but street protestors and campaigners, as well. They all played their part in derailing the EU machine, and, despite the biased media and the hundreds of millions of euros in the pocket of the 'Yes' camp, they did so successfully.

The EU was so incensed by the problem that it even tried to 'regulate the Internet' in order to shut them up, proposing the creation of a regulatory body that could ensure, in the words of Marianne Mikko, the drafter of an official report on the subject, that bloggers could not 'pollute' cyberspace with 'malicious intent.' As Daniel Hannan observed at the time, 'the mainstream media was uniformly pro-Treaty, whilst Internet activity was overwhelmingly sceptical.'

If grassroots campaigners could defeat the European Union in Ireland, a country where membership of the European Union continues to be immensely popular, think what they could do in Britain, where scepticism or outright opposition to the European Union is almost universal. The simple lesson that we can learn - not just from the Irish referendum, but from France and the Netherlands, too - is that we do not need the media and politicians on our side to make a difference. Anyone can make a difference. Whether they choose to do so online, on street corners, or in Trafalgar Square is up to them: but we can no longer use the BBC's bias as an acceptable excuse to do nothing. If we believe - sincerely believe - that membership of the European Union is bad for the UK then we must make the point regardless of who will oppose us; whoever has something to say ought to say it, and, if they are a natural-born leader, then people will follow. We must continue to call for referendums. We must continue to call for withdrawal. Whatever the BBC thinks.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Multiculturalism Has Failed The Sudan

South Sudanese voters go to the polls in the independence referendum.

It is not part of any political ideology to state that limited resources plus many different groups leads to competition. It is fact. It is also fact that competition leads to division, and division leads to conflict. It doesn't matter if the different groups hold no animosity towards each other; humans are intrinsically tribal creatures, and will ultimately favour their own group - their own civic tribe, if you will - if they have to compete. This, too, is political and social fact. When the groups do hold animosity towards each other, and the resources in question are the most vital of all - food and water - you have a recipe for chaos.

And this is exactly what happened in Sudan. Despite all the columns that will be written about the subject, despite all the endless newspaper accounts, and despite all the speculation and analysis, that is the one angle that will not be covered by any major newspaper, I guarantee it: not a single journalist will ever cast even a quick glance over the theories that, somewhere, somehow, at the heart of Sudan's problems lies a failure of multiculturalism at its most extreme.

That is, at the end of the day, what multiculturalism is: the belief that different nations will somehow learn to share the same geographic territory, and share each other's ideas and beliefs with tolerance and respect. It is a Utopian ideal, and, like all Utopian ideologies, does not take into account its limitations. For one, it is unrealistic to expect anyone to share limited resources - social housing and education places, for example - with people from outside their 'civic tribe.' Second, it is unfeasible to assume that cultures will simply integrate. All historical and current evidence shows that communities that share a language, culture, or beliefs stick together and stay as communities; a brief look through east London is evidence enough of this. Thirdly, it is a two-way thing: one culture cannot, will not, show respect to another if it is not reciprocated, especially if the beliefs and values of both are diametrically opposed. You cannot reconcile female servitude with gender equality, nor homophobia with sexual freedom, even if you do try to sweep the problem under the carpet.

South Sudan is neatly divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south. Socially, politically, and economically, the divide runs clean across the country. Such a clear division does not apply in western multicultural states: in fact, western multicultural states may have hundreds of different nations, and inner-city estates may have patchworks of areas - streets, roads, or blocks - inhabited predominantly by a single ethnicity. But, nonetheless, the same rules apply. I am not proposing that Britain will end up like Sudan any time soon, or perhaps ever, but I am saying that South Sudan is a perfect illustration - if perhaps a simplistic one - of what can happen when multiculturalism goes disastrously wrong, as, due to its inherent Utopian flaws, it always will.

Britain will not see twenty years of civil war; but it will see - has already seen - social strife and racial tension, due to stoking the flames on both sides; righteous anger over apparent injustice and inequality for both the disaffected youths from ethnic communities and the abandonment of the original white inhabitants, who have seen their communities radically transformed in a short space of time, despite their constant objections, in favour of a tide of multiculturalism and diversity, have made a mockery of what was once a very fine ideal. Multiculturalism has failed Britain; it has failed the people of Britain. It may not have failed it on such an epic scale as South Sudan, but ultimately a Utopian ideology that is impracticable in one place will be impracticable in all others, for humans are the same the world over.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Does Portugal Need a Second Bailout?

Eurosceptics have been right for the last twenty years.

In all the coverage of Moody's downgrading of Portugal's credit rating to below junk, it is very easy to miss this little nugget: Portugal, like Greece, may yet need a second bailout in order to get its finances back on track. It hasn't been in any of the British newspaper headlines, which have focused solely on the downgrade itself, but Moody's has been quite clear: without a further EU-IMF bailout, Portugal will not solve its debt crisis.

The Guardian writes that there is a growing sense of despair in Brussels. It seems broadly accurate. The Netherlands threatens to deport Poles and other eastern Europeans who refuse to find work and the Danes significantly boost their border presence, and now the euro comes under a renewed assault as the bailout of yet another country has been called into question, at the same time as the legality of German participation is brought before their Constitutional Court.

The bailouts are an abject failure; that much has been proven. Schengen and freedom of movement is under a sustained assault from 'populists' (i.e. democrats) who are facing up to the fact that Utopia has no place in a modern European state. And, to make matters worse for the European elite, elected and unelected, the German government, the chief paymaster of the bailout scheme, may have been stumping up the cash illegally, against that country's constitution, which was put in place after the Second World War and will not be breached lightly.

That might explain the increasingly bizarre reactions from EU officials: Barroso weighed in earlier and deployed an argument that's usually reserved for national democrats and 'populists' in the European Parliament, lambasting the ratings agencies as 'anti-European.' Wolfgang Schaube called for the 'oligopoly' of the ratings agencies to be broken, and Greece said that there was 'no justification' for the measures.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Thick as Thieves

Greece and the EU: thick as thieves

EU conspiracy theories follow a certain trend. There is always a reference to international markets. There is often collusion between financiers, governments, and newspapers, or some combination thereof. And, funnily enough, the conspirators are always 'Anglo-Saxon,' whether that is British or American, or both. So many of the people that govern Europe automatically put their failings - or those of their policies - down to the intervention of foreigners. They always speak of suited financiers in the skyscrapers, as if British and Americans were collectively plotting against them from their glass towers. Yet there is a real conspiracy, and it is right in front of their eyes: it is not made up of high-powered money-men in their big American muscle cars, but panicked and tired-looking Greek ministers in the parliamentary building in Athens, whose cars are currently being set on fire by hordes of angry Greek protestors waving Communist flags.

'...Greek authorities also revised the planned deficit ratio for 2009 from 3.7% of GDP (the figure reported in spring) to 12.5% of GDP...Revisions of this magnitude in the estimated past government deficit ratios have been extremely rare in other EU member States, but have taken place for Greece on several occasions' - European Commission report, ‘Greek Government deficit and debt statistics’

'The exceptional combination in Greece of lax fiscal policy, inadequate reaction to mounting imbalances, structural weaknesses and statistical misreporting led to an unprecedented sovereign debt crisis' - European Commission communication

These two quotes come from the same source - the European Commission, the EU's executive body - and were written in January and May 2010, respectively. It is hard to see how the European Union could have been so blind. Greece was blatantly cooking the books in order to gain access to the eurozone: Greek officials have since admitted it, so we know this to be true.

'The Commission has been provided with incorrect figures for six years. Indeed, part of the responsibility was on Greece, but the Eurozone also lacked the tools to notice that' - George Papandreou, Greek Prime Minister

So there you have it: there is the conspiracy. In Greece. It's tempting to say that it is all the fault of the Greeks, as it was the Greeks who choose to lie and cheat their way into the eurozone in the first place. But it is not all their fault. As the Greek Prime Minister said, the European Commission - which vets any potential eurozone members - said, the European Commission should have noticed. It did notice.

'We knew that Greece was cheating, it was clear as soon as they joined that there was something wrong' - Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Trade

The Greek Prime Minister has now admitted that his country's statistics that allowed it entry were false, and the Commission at the time highlighted many of these outrageous claims and yet did nothing about them - at the very least they were suspicious, and it's entirely possible that they knew. And at least one 'knew' that the figures were false, and implied that there were others - perhaps everyone else, perhaps only a few, but there were others.

Over five hundred billion pounds - half a trillion - has been allocated in order to attempt to solve this crisis, an attempt that is currently failing. And even that may not be enough. Greece is on the edge of political chaos; yet more countries may fall. You have paid hundreds of pounds in tax money over the years to sponsor this, and, as countries restructure their debts or default, you will never see that money again. We are all paying the price for the EU's colossal errors in judgement, and - most importantly - we cannot vote out the people responsible.

Friday, 1 July 2011

True Finns: the New Largest Party

The streets of Finland are paved with Euroscepticism.

After their failure to be included in a coalition government after their 'surprise' electoral success, the True Finns, a socially liberal but fiscally conservative party which campaigned almost entirely on an anti-bailout ticket have now accomplished the unthinkable; they, a Eurosceptic party according to mainstream European Union parties, have now displaced all other factions to become the single largest force in Finnish politics. That's according to YLE News, which says that their overall support has now reached almost a quarter of the national vote.

That doesn't look too fantastic, but in a country with a myriad of different parties each with a similar share of the electorate that's enough to put them five points ahead of the social democrats - and, even better, their failure to prevent Finnish involvement in the bailouts has actually seen them bouyed at the polls, with support rising so much since the election they are now actually ahead of the National Coalition - one of the member's of the country's current government, which is comprised of themselves and the Social Democrats.

It's also worth noting where those new voters come from: the Centre Party has lost half a percentage point since the election, to its lowest level of support in history, the Swedish People's Party saw a 0.2 per cent fall, the Green League is polling at 7.2 per cent, and the Christian Democrats fell to just 3.1%. Their fall corresponds almost exactly with the True Finn's rise. In other words, the True Finns are attracting votes from all the other centrist and right-wing parties in order to become a broad over-arching movement representing pretty much everything from disaffected liberals to staunch conservatives.

The European Union officials and national politicians who conspired to shut them out of power, wrongly thinking that they were a protest vote, have now been emphatically silenced. It comes after quite pathetic attempts to smear them as 'nationalists.' The people in Finland know a nationalist or fascist party when they see one; and this isn't one. It's not surprise that the usual scare stories have simply failed to work. Perhaps now the pro-EU faction might have to deal with them on even, equal terms, with logic and reason rather than insults. Because if the rise of the True Finns has shown us anything, it is that the effect of these insults and slurs are beginning to wear off: no longer does the word 'racist' seen any potential voters running for cover. Not even in small, cold Finland, a country with a fascist, Nazi-affiliated past, can be put off from voting for 'unconventional' parties merely on an accusation.

They want facts; they want a counter-argument. They want to know why they should pay for the failures of Greece and for the euro, and the reply 'because all opponents are Nazis' or some variant thereof will no longer do it. The failure of the European Union and its supporters to provide either of those things has cost it dearly; it has allowed the popular discontent since the coalition agreement was made - without the True Finns - to swell. Euroscepticism now dominates the Finnish political landscape.