Is It Smart?

The reluctance of EU countries, particularly France and Germany, to contribute to rebuilding Iraq certainly reflects their governments’ policies and their publics’ preferences. The Washington Post reported that the EU will contribute $256 million, and that US contributions will be roughly $20 billion. That’s more than 78 time as much. While the final figures may change some, the massive disparity will not.

If we presume that EU governments want to exercise influence in postwar Iraq, is this a smart policy? Do they believe that they will be influential regardless? Is this a continued fit of pique? Are they eschewing influence based on the wishes of the population?

I’ll admit, I’m puzzled.

Sex and the Singapore Issues

OK, before anyone tries to get us round to the painful reality that I’m a tiresome old bore: some titilation for you. Unfortunately, this is not about ‘sexual tourism’, except, that is in the most general sense. (Although if anyone wants to pick up on this in the comments, I think we’re in the same ballpark). No the ‘topic du jour’ here is a bit nearer home. And the underlying issue is – believe me – one of the Singapore Issues: use and abuse of ‘indirect obstacles’ to prevent the free exercise of a service. Whatever the ethical stand you take on this, my feeling is that the French law got involved because the business was being ‘outsourced’ in the wrong direction. Well, at least we British are good at something.

French court officials looked baffled and bewildered by the sheer scale of the scrum of British journalists, photographers and camera crews waiting to get into Courtroom 14 of the Palais de Justice

Continue reading

Life Before Power Point

Another quiet Saturday morning here in Barcelona. This post is definitely for those looking up at the grey sky, and feeling the need for some pretty mindless entertainment. Power Point presentations: ever been subjected to one of them. Or put another way: what was life like before Microsoft? Well Peter Norvic has been thinking about this, and I for one had a good laugh. Looking for a European connection in all this: well what would count as our equivalent of the Gettysburg Address? Suggestions Please.

BTW today is Diwali in India, so happy Diwali everyone (and no, my real name isn’t Dilesh, but would it matter if it was?).

Anyone Want to Play Ball With Me?

Even though it may appear that this post runs along much the same lines as my last two or three, I should warn you: appearances are sometimes deceptive. The origins of what I want to say here stretch back in time two or three days to some comments I made on an earlier post and a subsequent piece which I have entitled the ‘Pele-Ronaldo’ effect. Surprising as it may seem, the topic here is only tangentially football. The real topic is the so-called brain drain, and how our initial intuitions may mislead us. The aforementioned effect is associated with the apparent detail that all those Brazilians ‘heading the ball’ here in Europe have not notedly had a detrimental effect on the rate at which Brazilian football produces outstanding new stars. In fact quite the contrary.

Now here’s the rub: just think of all those Indian IT ‘stars’ working at NASA, Microsoft and the like, and try to imagine the consequences back home in India. Well then try to imagine the consequences of the secondary effect in India on the employment situation in the US and now increasingly in Europe, and we get to the point of all this. We are experiencing a phenomenon which some are calling ‘hollowing out’. This has been noticed in the first place in the US, but with the EU structural reforms, and the relatively high euro, this tendency is going to make itself felt more and more over here. So this is the purpose of the post. To find out what people think.
Continue reading

From Gunboat Diplomacy to Compassion?

The sinking of a boatload of Somali immigrants off the island of Lampedusa seems to have set off something akin to a feeling of collective remorse in Italy. (Would that the human tragedy that is occuring on a regular basis just off the straits of Gibraltar could provoke a similar reaction here in Spain!) Indeed Belusconi (always the master of great theatre) appears to have had them near to tears over in Strasbourg.

Irony apart, even his old ‘enemy’ – the good-soldier schultz – is quoted as saying he has “the impression that what Mr Berlusconi said came from the heart”. He could not however resist a reference to remarks which were last year attributed to Italian Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi to the effect that he wished the navy would open fire on ships carrying illegal migrants. Schulz is quoted as saying: “We are very happy that it is not those members of your government who want these boats sunk who are responsible for this issue in the (EU) home affairs council.”

Well this is the second time this month I find myself asking whether Berlusconi is having a change of heart. Since I try not to engage in type M speculation, I don’t need to answer this. What we might note is the way Interior Minister Pisanu is making the direct link with Italy’s ageing population and (hence) pension difficulties. After the Greeks tried to raise the question in Thessalonika, we could ask ourselves whether the South of Europe (where the demographic collapse is most profound, and immigrants are traditionally less in evidence) is about to adopt a collectively different approach on this question.
Continue reading

Some thoughts on borders

One of the things about living in an island state is that you rarely cross over national borders on land. To get to any other country from Britain you have to fly, sail or travel underground and all these have their various formalities for border crossing and, like most Britons travelling abroad, my travels within Europe in recent years have been a case of going from Britain to another country and then coming back.

So, on a day trip to France on Monday, we took a brief detour into Belgium and crossed a European border on land for the first time in several years. Having spent some time travelling through the US last year, it was quite an interesting experience to notice how little paraphernalia there is to mark the border nowadays, especially compared to the changes you notice on the borders of many US states. A simple ‘Belgie’ sign, a sign telling you the new speed limits and a single police car on the French side of the border are all that marks the transition from one country to another, which is a rather strange state of affairs. There are obvious differences that soon become apparent – the signs are now in Flemish, rather than French, and there are subtle differences in architecture – but the ease with which one can now cross borders within Europe is, in my opinion, one of the great benefits of European integration.

However, even though the physical borders have gone, it does not mean that there has been any homogenisation of the culture across the border. Adinkerk, the first town across the border in Belgium, is still unmistakeably Flemish, even with the large number of shops there selling cheap tobacco to British (and now also French, after their tobacco tax rises on Monday) visitors, and the other side of the border is still clearly French.

Anyway, what I want to do here is open up the floor to our readers for your thoughts on and experiences of travelling across borders. Are there places where the borders are unnoticeable physically and culturally? Where are there still strong border controls within the EU? What do you think the future is culturally for the borderlands of Europe? Will they maintain their identity or will continual cross-border traffic eventually create a homogenous border culture?

And, for a quick consumer travel tip for our readers. If you are planning on travelling between Britain and France then Eurotunnel are currently charging ?39 (approx ?59) to take a car and passengers for a day return trip.

Maybe I’m on to something

I found this article from Dagens Nyheter (temporary link) very interesting.

“‘If anything, I think we work more effectively now than we did before, even though we’re almost twice as many’ an EU diplomat tells Dagens Nyheter.

‘People stop to think one more time, if what they’re going to say really adds something new or is just a way of [looking good?] in front of their colleagues, says an experienced negotiator.

Since the new arrivals signed the accession treaty in Athens this April they get to participate in the Council of Ministers as observers. They attend all meetings, on all levels. They have access to all documents. They have complete freedom of expression, and may also bring up issues they want to dicuss on their own. In short, they have everything except the right to vote.

The thinking is to give them the possibility to learn what’s on the agenda, and how things are done.
‘In the beginning it was the same old countries that dominated and the newbies were mostly quiet. But now they’re picking up steam. In questions of importance to them they’re active, and both can and want to influence decisions, even if they can’t be a part in making them.’

The Poles are among those that most often speak up. They’re big, they’re many and they’re hard bargainers. Representatives of the Baltic countries are also fairly active, as well as Hungarians and Czechs.
With 25 [delegations] around the table, everyone realizes that they can’t be too longwinded. Even if every country only would speak for three minutes there would be an hour and a half of debating. Just to do one item on the agenda.

Negotiations are therefore more to the point. The elaborate flowery language has been cut down, and silence has increasingly come to signal agreement. This is true on all levels, from the working groups to the ambassador’s preparatory meetings to the ministers’ Council meetings.”

(Crap translation by me)

This suggests that people like for instance Chris Bertram were wrong:

“But getting back to enlargement …. My take on this, for what it’s worth, is that it gives the UK everything that lukewarm Europhiles/moderate Eurosceptics have always wanted. EU will now be so large and will vary so much in cultural and economic conditions that a thoroughgoing federalist project is dead in the water. The centre – Brussels and Strasbourg – will be fatally weakened vis-?-vis the component parts of the union because twenty-five (or more) states will find it almost impossible to reach agreement on anything but the most anodyne proposals.”

And that I was right.

And hey, seems I was right about this too. DN writes: “How the countries line up depends more on the issue and where one can get support than old bonds and allegniances.”

Update: Slightly edited.

Col Lounsbury

I’ve added a new blog to the blogroll that has quickly become one of my favorites.

Col Lounsbury is a financier currently in Jordan, involved in Iraqi reconstruction. He’s a scathing critic of the administration’s efforts.

He’s quite bright, extremely knowledgable about Middle Easter culture and society. He’s also a delight to read, with a very distinctive style, and also a very distinctive, larger than life personality.

Give him a try.

IGC: ‘Decisive Measures’ Needed?

Well it certainly seems to have gone eerily quiet over here. Meantime the Intergovernmental Conference has been working its weary way onward. Perhaps it’s a measure of the magnitude of the boredom that no-one has felt sufficiently inspired to get down to writing about it. This definitely hasn’t been the case with fellow blogger Eurosavant, who has a substantial piece reviewing the response across some parts of the European press. His principal conclusion on the progress: there hasn’t been any. His feeling: that we Europeans need to ‘be more decisive’. Maybe he has a point. He certainly is right that pragmatically this might have been better sorted-out if things had been done before the membership expansion. I suppose in the end we will ‘muddle through’. I don’t share the disintegration perspective, I don’t really think there’s anywhere else to go in an increasingly interconnected world, but equally I don’t really suppose we have missed an opportunity to inspire the world with our dynamic and vigourous European leadership. I don’t think things ever were going to pan out in that direction. The future is looking as if it’s going to have a decidedly Asian flavour about it.
Continue reading

Immigration: Europe’s Difficult and Perplexing Road to Reform

The Economist has a couple of useful pieces this week ( here and here ) comparing the politics of immigration in the US and the UK. Meantime US economist Richard Freeman has an NBER paper where he argues we should “Stop spending so much time thinking about the WTO. Technology transfer, international migration, and financial crises have orders of magnitude more important impacts on human welfare and the state of the economy”. In other words globalisation is not after all so much about trade as about labour migration and capital movements. And just how is Europe shaping up to the challenge? Well, by all accounts, not very well. But a surprising proposal has just surfaced from a very unexpected quarter. Immigrants in Italy may (eventually) get the right to vote. Even if this is a very limited proposal, it is certainly a positive one. I am just very surprised by its source.
Continue reading