They’re Selling Postcards of……the Fiesta

It’s party time in Barcelona. There’s no circus in town, but there is just about everything else. In fact many of you may be surprised to learn that today is a public holiday here, and indeed it may surprise you even more to discover that the holiday is only Barcelona. This situation is strange for many outside Spain, and draws attention to the fact that decisions about public holidays (and of course, many other matters) are taken at three levels: national, autonomous community, and municipal. (Oh how well I remember the days of travelling round Europe, and needing to change money on just the day………that everything was unexpectedly closed). It also draws attention to the prevalence and social importance of public holidays and festivals here. Of note too is the way these holidays draw attention to that unique combination of the traditional and the modern which characterises contemporary Spain. (Actually, to be really pc here I should say ‘the modern Spanish State’ since this is the terminology adopted by those of its citizens who do not especially consider themselves to be Spanish, there is no equivalent of the British/Welsh/Scottish/English classification here, and Catalan, Basque, and Galician football teams are definitely not encouraged in the new ‘multicultural’ Spain).
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A change at the top of NATO

Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been named as the new NATO Secretary-General, and will take up the position on January 1st when George Robertson steps down. From the reports, it would seem he’s a sensible choice for the role, and seems likely to continue the work of Robertson and his predecessor, Javier Solana, of developing and defining NATO‘s role in the 21st century.

I must admit that I don’t know much about Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, so if any of our Dutch readers want to share information with other FOE readers about him, then please go ahead!

A different pro-war argument

Kevin Drum says thinking about the war in Iraq: that there was a perfectly sensible case for war, and wonder why the Bush administration didn’t use it:

  • We can’t keep up sanctions forever, and they’re hurting the Iraqi people anyway.
  • Saddam’s past history is pretty unambiguous, and if we lift sanctions there’s not much doubt that he will begin developing WMDs again and might very well use them in a regional war.
  • Therefore, the only reasonable course of action is to forcibly remove him from power.
    It’s funny, that’s exactly why I (most of time) think the Iraq war was the right thing to do, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard that argument from any pundits or bloggers or the like.

    Actually, I think I know why that is.

    The government weren’t prepared to argue that way, because they would then be arguing against sanctions, which was their policy.

    Likewise, all the hawks, or rather all opponents of the far left position of simply ending sanctions were emotionally invested in defending the sanction policy, and weren’t prepared to attack it too.

    In the minds of both hawks and peaceniks, “sanctions are bad” was the peacenik argument. They “owned” it.

    It’d be cognitive dissonance.

    Also, if they would have argued along those lines, I suspect the media would have decided it was a bad argument. Simplism is the new being persuasive, to (very poorly) paraphrase Josh Marshall. The hawks may ahve made a good call in going for the “wrong” arguments. (Of course, I’m fairly certain their “right” argument weren’t this one, but PNAC’s.)

    In fact now that I think about it, I remember a writer in the NY Review of Books, raising the argument just to dismiss it by saying something like “not even the hawks have the gall to argue like that. He only raided it to mock the hawks. I’m like: Yes I have you tool, try to refute it.

  • Jean Cohen. And Henry Kissenger recycled.

    Today, I attended a lecture Columbia University political scientist Jean Cohen gave at the annual congress of the German political science association. She made a long, complicated theoretic argument about the future of sovereignty in a global society to support her real point that the (alleged) American imperial project needs to be stopped.

    Interestingly, on the eve of the first meeting of Chancellor Schroeder with the US President since 16 months, it was her, an American scholar, who was most critical of the current US administration’s politics. German political scientists, publicists, and politicians, who had earler participated in a panel discussion contemplating “the world post 9/11” were much more balanced in their assessment than her, and than I had expected.

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    Where is the European project headed?

    This is a slightly revised version of an early Europundit entry that I thought deserved a second life.

    What will enlargement mean?

    There has been a lot of talk lately [back in May at least] about what the long-term consequences of enlargement will be, and also about the rift that the Iraq war has caused in Europe. Some people, especially Americans have been saying there’s a risk of crisis, and that the Union will become divided and dysfunctional. There’s one in my estimate strong indication that they’re wrong: Look at the Convention. Divisions have not at all been on the lines of “old” or “new” Europeans, but between small and big states and between intergovernmentalists and supranationalists. The actors have taken positions out of what they think is right, and what they perceive is in their interest. And that’s how things will continue to be.

    The Common Foreign and Security Policy have been weakened, but no one has ever imagined nations would take common positions on every issue. I think the Convention also demonstrates there’s a lot of agreement, and a strong will to work together and move forward. Integration and reform has been continued at a rapidly accelerated pace. If the issues of division of power between institutions, between the nations, and the future shape of the EU aren?t causing paralysis, why would fishing disputes or whatever?

    There’ll probably be friction between France and the Central Europeans, but what people have missed is that the group of eight’s letter was not the only cause of divisions, but mostly something that brought divisions to the surface. In my opinion, it’s not so much because of any particular irreconcilable differences; rather it’s part of a long-term trend. Starting about five years ago nations stopped deciding almost everything by unanimity. This has to do with the growing number of members and with the increase of decisions taken on the EU level. Indeed, it’s also because national sensitivities have decreased, and issues aren’t looked at only from the national perspective or as national horse-trading, so therefore acceptance has grown of majority voting. Also, the group of eight’s letter was a reaction to French-German hegemonic tendencies, but remember the reaction was because the French-German engine had been revived after being dead 1997-2002. Changing alliances aren’t an impediment to progress or “ever closer union.”

    So what we will see is these trends continuing, and being reinforced by, enlargement and further integration. More open divisions, and factionalism, but not so much divisions between any set camps, rather division on an issue-for-issue basis, and not so much one nor two power centers, though France-Germany still will be a power center in many instances. And, I don’t think it will put any brakes on integration.

    Ever Closer Still

    The last six or eight years saw these trends starting, and at the same time integration has not just continued, but at an accelerating pace. These were also the years of the Commission losing power and initiative to the Council (the national governments.) Integration is not driven by ideology or by some long-term federalist strategy. Rather, it’s the product of a thousand smaller decisions. Rather, it’s driven by “historical forces”, by a situation where every further step makes sense, by a self-reinforcing logic, and because there are no significant factors acting to slow or stop integration.

    By the evidence of the Convention, plus my general knowledge of the Candidate countries, I don?t see enlargement seriously working against these trends, though if the constitution will be a drastic step, it may cause a temporary breathing pause. I don’t see anything else seriously slowing the process either in the foreseeable future. (Granted, in these matters, that’s hardly longer than a decade as I see it.)

    That begs the question when will it stop? I don’t think this gradualist, often not noticed by the public, process can’t possibly continue to the point where suddenly we find ourselves citizens of a federal state. At some point something’s gots to give. When and how that will happen, I have no idea. Everything about the EU’s development is so gloriously uncertain and unprecedented, which is why it’s so fascinating.

    (Actually, things are already changing, integration is no longer mostly by stealth or couched in bureaucratic terms, and there is a debate about what the final goal is.)

    I started out sounding like I defended the EU from its detractors and now I sound almost like a eurosceptic. I should note that one explanation for the success of “Ever closer union” is that it simply makes sense, because of increasing interdependence et cetera. But the problem is, no one bothered involving the public, or at least didn’t succeed.

    The Last Question, or How to Embarrass Tony Blair.

    I just watched the press conference Gerhard Schroeder, Jaques Chirac, and Tony Blair gave after their talks regarding Iraq in Berlin today. The last question came from a British journalist whom I wasn’t able to identify so far. But her question was quite interesting.

    She asked the British Prime Minister whether he wasn’t embarrassed talking to his European colleagues given that (so many people believed) he was only an envoy for George W. Bush (from my memory, I couldn’t find a transcript so far).

    Well, I don’t know if he was actually embarrassed when talking to his colleagues, but he was certainly embarrassed to get this question. I somehow had the impression that he was blushing a little bit when Gerhard Schroeder took over and answered the question for Mr Blair, saying something along the line of “Tony Blair came as himself, talked as himself, and will also leave as himself” before Jaques Chirac added that this is “a question so far out of the imaginable that not even the three governments’ communications people were able to dream it up it in their briefing to the heads of state”.

    Unimaginable? Apparently not. Embarrassing? Definitely so.

    Two years in Europe

    Two years ago today, I got off a Lufthansa flight from LAX to Munich and passed through Schengenland customs. I had originally been scheduled to fly on September 12, from San Francisco to Brussels via Frankfurt, but when it became plain that no one was going to be flying on September 12th, I called Lufthansa and changed my flight before the rush. After five hours in LAX getting past security (I had a very scruffy beard and a well-worn passport full of Asian entry stamps, so I got picked for a “special” screening) and ten hours in the air, I passed through customs in Munich, getting nothing but the most cursory glace at my Canadian passport and Belgian student visa from the Bundespolizei, even though it was barely a week after September 11. There was no passport check at all when I landed in Brussels.

    My biggest surprise in moving to Flanders was how easy it is to get by here. Language doesn’t constitute a huge barrier either to school or to employment. My landlord doesn’t speak English, but he is old enough that he speaks fluent French, so my lease is actually in that language. I think finding an apartment is the only thing I’ve done here where I couldn’t use English.

    There are a lot of non-natives living in Belgium who primarily use English, many of them are also non-native English speakers. There are so many that I’m beginning to think they form a sort of “Euroanglo” culture that merits some study. It is a culture that has adopted largely continental norms, but that still speaks English and has a set of common cultural references taken largely from the anglophone world.
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    What kind of Europe?

    The Guardian recently hosted a debate on ‘What kind of Europe do we want?’ between writer (and Guardian columnist) Timothy Garton-Ash and Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore. The full transcript of the debate is available in pdf format, but there’s also a shorter summary that covers most of tha min points the two made. Given that most would label Garton-Ash a ‘europhile’ and Moore a ‘eurosceptic’, it’s interesting to see that there is quite a lot of common ground between their two viewpoints.

    Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee also makes similar points to Garton-Ash, addressing the problem that many of us who are ‘pro-Europe’ face – that the ‘Europe’ of our ideals is not lived up to by the EU of reality:

    The limping Britain in Europe campaign now needs to reform itself into a radical anti-government voice, not the pet of ministerial patronage. Time to lay into both Brown and Blair with full euro knuckledusters. Time to attack Brussels, too, and lead the charge for reform; it will never be credible to defend the inadequate status quo.

    The European idea is magnificent, but pretending that current reality matches the rhetoric only heightens scepticism.

    The combination of EU expansion, the constitutional proposals and the advent of the Euro have brought us to a ‘where do we go from here?’ moment. 50 years on from Schuman and Monnet, there is now a concept of ‘Europe’ as an entity that there wasn’t back then. However, the question of what that that entity will be in practice has still not been decided (and probably never will entirely be) but the onus is now on all sides of the debate to actually think about where we’re going and how to get there.