A fist in the face?

British Spin, the anonymous author of the British Politics weblog makes an interesting suggestion about how European politics could become more interesting:

One of the problems of Europe (of many) is that it is just too respectful. It is a good sign for Europe when various leaders clearly wish to bitchslap each other. Frankly, to build a stronger european community, nothing would be better than a no holds barred brawl.

Think about it. If British politics was conducted with the restraint, the gentle diplomacy and careful choreography on Euro-summiteering we would not only be asleep, but we would be far less alive to the vital issues of the day.

This is why I cheered when Silvio Berlusconi made a tasteless joke about a German MEP, and why I cheered louder when Schroeder then cancelled a holiday in Italy. I can?t wait for Blair to liken the Franco-German alliance to two drunks staggering down the street (c. Bill Clinton) or for Chirac to tell the Poles that they don?t have a right to a veto because they should be jolly grateful not to still be communist.

This stuff isn?t just trivia, or froth, or yah boo politics. It?s a sign that passions are engaged and that politicians need to speak to their people, not just to each other.

The demotic and the democratic voices are the same. They are loud, energetic, rough, vicious and full of life. Courtly language, diplomacy and soft speaking are the language of the elite, of the few, of the exclusive.

I’m not sure I agree with the idea of controversy for the sake of it, but it is an interesting point. Do we need more confrontation within Europe to make people more aware of what’s going on? Does the relative lack of public disagreement between Europe’s leaders make the people at large feel excluded from the process, or make them think it’s about technical issues rather than real and important matters? Would we see more of the European Parliament in the news if there were more heated debates going on there?

Getting Endorsed

In the US presidential elections the big news of the week must be the endorsement of Howard Dean by Al Gore. A somewhat smaller, but still interesting, development – although this isn’t exactly new, but simply new to my attention – is the fact that someone has created an Economists for Dean weblog. Finally, if you are really short on ‘breaking news’ and if you really want to go down to the fine print of the week, you might just notice that I seem to be included in the sidebar, in amongst a variety of other economists who undoubtedly have rather more public appeal than I do. I would like to say that as a European I consider it an honour to figure in such company: this does however present us with a number of questions worth thinking about, and it is to those that I would now like to turn.
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Klaus: Grumpy Old Man

Jiri Pehe — once an advisor to Vaclav Havel, now an academic and a go-to man for international journalists seeking smart quotes about Czech politics — once pointed out to me that Czech president Vaclav Klaus is more anti-integration than just about every mainstream politician in Europe with the exception of one branch of the British Conservative Party. The only other guy who might approach him is Hungary’s nationalist noisemaker Viktor Orban, whose star was fading last I checked.

Yesterday’s Czech papers were awash with Klaus’s comment that he’d prefer to have no European constitution at all. He’s thus the first European head of state (but oddly, not an EU head of state) that has rejected the constitution. EuroSavant hits the nail on the head with this sentence: “I get the picture here of old grandpa over there sounding off in the corner, right when the rest of the family has gotten together to try to make a decision – he’s got some mighty strange views, and he’s sure to express them in his cranky way, but as long as you are polite and say ‘Yes, grandpa’ you can otherwise pretty much ignore him.” (Pragueblog expressed similar sentiments recently: The Czechs are dealing with Klaus the same way they dealt with the Communists. That is, let him have his special title and then ignore him.) But…
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My Bet

Is that there won’t be a compromise under the Italian Presidency. I remeber hearing a few weeks back that the Irish government has been making plans to finish up the IGC’s business during its six months at the helm.

How much of the current worry is due to Berlusconi’s initial fumbles? Six months disappear awfully quickly, if you spend the first two healing self-inflicted wounds.
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Nose Count

As next weekend’s Brussels EU summit about the constitution is approaching quickly, it’s only too normal that all national players are digging their trenches and defence lines by publicly downplaying the importance of an agreement if the “national price to be paid is too high” while Europhiles of all nations are trying to increase pressure on them by painting a gloomy picture about the future of Europe should there not be an(y) agreement. We’ve been there, we’ve done that.

European intergovernmental negotiations are always like n-dimensional chess played with innumerable official and unofficial players and, alas, without any agreement on the rules. So how much more difficult can it be when there are actually some things at stake? A lot. David’s post below already alluded to this and by now the media are increasingly putting the summit on the agenda.
Today’s International Heral Tribune updates the Economist article linked to below and briefly outlines the curent state of the union – the Franco-German leadership duo is being mistrusted for fear of a private agenda (especially in Paris) and their bullyish recent behavior while, notably Spain and Poland are trying to use these fears to get a better deal for giving up some of their overproportional votes in the Council.

Institutional changes will clearly be the most difficult subject to deal with, not least because it’s much easier for the public to figure out winners and losers, which in turn increases the pressure on the people negotiating. But, again, EU agreements are package deals which are so difficult to disentangle that it becomes almost impossible to find out if anyone lost, or – if anyone got a better deal than the others. There’s always something in there for everybody.

So, as the IHT states,

“[i]t is of course possible that last- minute negotiations will yield a deal acceptable to all 25 new and existing members. Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who is mediating the negotiations, said Sunday that he was “55 percent optimistic” that a deal could be struck at the summit meeting of EU leaders, which begins Friday in Brussels.”

It all depends on the layout of chessboard and those playing. Which moves are allowed, which are off-limits? What’s your opinion, what will be the outcome, if there will be one (which I am still rather confident about, although some newspapers are reporting leaked news that there are already backup plans to reintroduce the constitutional draft next spring). Maybe the blogosphere, still outside the public limelight – is the better place to discuss these kind of things these days ;)…

An MEP writes

British MEP Nick Clegg has an article in today’s Guardian, putting forward the argument that MEPs and the European Parliament are a lot more powerful than people give them credit for.

But the parliament most certainly isn’t irrelevant or unimportant. In the four years I’ve been an MEP, we have adopted legislation stopping cosmetics being tested on animals, boosting recycling, forcing the French to open up their energy market, opening up travel for British pets, boosting the development of renewable energy and biofuels _ the list goes on.

It is no exaggeration to say that MEPs are now Europe’s most influential lawmakers. The European parliament is blissfully free of overweening government majorities. Individual MEPs, regardless of party affiliation, exercise a degree of direct leverage over legislation unheard of in national parliamentary systems.

However, the credibility of the Parliament is being threatened by the ‘democratic deficit’.

Yet the lack of interest in the European parliament among voters threatens its credibility. Reversing the lamentable voter turnout at next year’s Euro-elections will be a defining moment…

As with so much in the EU, the European parliament suffers from a poverty of political leadership. Europe’s leaders created it in the first place. Now they cannot simply disown their creation. Political leaders everywhere must make the case for Europe and its institutions where it counts, at home. Don’t blame Brussels for voter apathy. Blame ourselves.

However, while the European Parliament may be powerful, it does seem that Clegg finds it hard to resist the temptations of London – he’s standing down as an MEP next year to be a candidate for the next Westminster elections.

The drafting of the constitution

For some reason, I stopped covering the constitution when I started AFOE. Since Cosmocrat has been on hiatus for two months, and Henry Farrell after joining CT generally restricts himself to subjects the US bloggers care about, there’s barely been any informed discussion of these things in the blogosphere, that I know of. That’s a shame. I will try to fill the gap, to the best of my ability:

This Economist article from a while ago is a good starting point.

“But the draft constitution has ambitious and arguably more important plans for the extension of EU powers in such areas as justice, foreign policy, defence, taxation, the budget and energy, all of which are now under attack. The most dramatic proposal is that EU policy on serious cross-border crime, immigration and asylum should be decided by majority vote. Several countries are now having second thoughts about this. The Irish dislike the idea that their system of criminal law could move towards the continental European model. Britain, Portugal, Slovakia and Austria are against the notion of harmonising criminal-law procedures. And if these articles on home affairs are reopened, the Germans, for all their determination to stick by the convention text, may be tempted to abandon their support of majority voting on immigration.

Britain, Ireland, Poland and Sweden also dislike the idea of calling the EU’s foreign-policy supremo a ?foreign minister?, since this smacks too much of a superstate. Provisions to allow a core group of countries to forge a closer defence union, from which they might exclude others, are also meeting opposition from Finland, the central Europeans and the British. Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, are leading the battle against any hint of tax harmonisation. And the British, after heavy lobbying by the big oil companies, are belatedly trying to insist on changes to proposals to create a common EU energy policy. A bevy of finance ministers are also keen to limit the European Parliament’s planned powers over the EU budget.

If many of these changes are made, defenders of the convention text will cry foul and start saying that the whole thing has been gutted. That would be melodramatic. Most of the details of the draft constitution are all but agreed: a big extension of majority voting, a binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, a president of the European Council, a ?legal personality? for the Union and the first explicit statement of the supremacy of EU law over national statutes. These are not small matters.”

Indeed, these aren’t small matters. What has been proposed is a fairly substantial transfer of sovereignty, as well as some other far-reaching proposals. The lack of attention paid to of these matters is bizarre and disconcerting.

The situation is particulary bad in Sweden and Great Britain, which are the two countries where I follow the debate. My impression is that while the there has been significantly more public discussion in some of the other countries, it has still been confined to an small segment of the population, and has nowhere gotten the attention it deserves. I’d love to hear that I’m wrong on that count.

The media bears a lot of responsibility for this. Are people even aware of what’s being proposed?

In coutries where there’ll be referendums, that should remedy the situation. Of course referendums have sometimes proved a flawed way of making these decisions, but representative democracy’s record is in this particualr regard tragically clearly worse.

In Sweden and Britain, the pro-integration parties have no interest in discussing these matters. The anti-integration parties meanwhile (Tories in the UK, the semi-commies and greens in Sweden) have repeated the same tired rant and silly hyperbole over any EU matter for fifteen years, they are the boy who cried wolf, and not interested in constructive criticism anyway. The commentariat seems strangely uninterested, along with everyone else. Bizarrely, despite having the most eurosceptic electorates, our governments have negotiated largely free from public pressure. (As opposed to interest group pressure.)

They are (again) changing our entire political systemsbehind people’s backs, aided by media indifference and voter apathy. It’s a scandal.

Now, as to the merits of the Convention’s proposals; I’m largely negative. I’m not anti-integration in the long term, but I believe we need deal with the democratic deficit before we go about transferring any more authority to Brussels.

The Charter includes various ludicrous things as rights and will invite lots of jusdicial activism, which is no good at all.

Having a president of the council with poorly defined will only create overlapping authorities, institutional warfare, make the decision process more cumbersome and even harder for the avarage citizen to understand.

It’s not all bad. I like that the Parliament gets more power. I like how it was done, the Convention. I like various other serious but minor stuff. And it’s not nearly as bad (or as radical) as the europhobes say. But I think the non-debate of the constitution itself demonstrates how dysfunctinal democracy is on the EU level, and therefore why this isn’t the time for closer union.

I’m so excited

Following certain rather snarky remarks by a blogger that shall not be named, I want to clarify that in the preceding post I’m not actually expressing excitement; I feign excitement. Or rather, I am of course excited and my faux excitement is a way of mocking myself and commenting on my excitement, and at the same time expressing my genuine excitement in an ironical fashion. Now, admittedly my excitement is caused in part by my appreciation for the silliness of these sort of things, and by my enjoyment of being ridiculous, and in that sense it’s not really seriously meant. So there are layers upon layers of earnestness and pretense in the post.


Wizbang is having a Blog Awards competition. We’re one of twenty nominees for Best Foreign blog (What an odd sort of category on the Internet one would think, but I’m not complaining.) Please, please, please go there and vote for us if you think we’re any good, because I really want to win this thing. I’ve never won anything in my life.

Update: Now here’s a good reason to vote for us, tell all your friends, family, and random strangers to do the same, pimp us on your blogs…
The frontrunner is currently Merde in France, the France-hating wingnut. (#2 is Tim Blair, the Australian one-man Sasmizdata.net) We’re third and are well positioned to stop him from winning. I daresay we’re easily the best of the ones with a chance to win. Keep the eurohaters from winning. Vote AFOE!

The poll is open until dec 14. I will occasionally bump this post till then.

The Dutch Auction

Following points made by both Frans and Elliott in the comments sections, the Netherlands may well in fact breach the 3% growth and stability pact limit next year. I bet Zalm is blogging away more furiously than ever. But who will be the object of his wrath this time?
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