Regional Elections in France: The UMP takes a hit

Yesterday was regional elections day in France. France has not traditionally had any strong local government structure – one of the first acts of the revolution was the abolition of the old provinces and their replacement with purely administrative “departments.” However, the last 20 years have seen radical changes in the way French government is structured and the EU in particular has been a big force in decentralising the French state. The creation of the regions in 1982 was motivated by a desire to create institutions able to participate in partnering programmes with German Länder, particularly programmes subsidised by the EU. However, they have since taken on a life of their own. France is a quite diverse country on the ground and it has a number of long-standing problems related to regional differences.

So, although the regions are still not very powerful in comparison to the central state, they have been growing in power, particularly in areas that are culturally or economically outside of the core of the French state – Corsica, Alsace, Brittany and the overseas territories in particular. A number of significant powers over regional economic development and education are shared with the regions.
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Dominique Moisi talks sense

In the Herald Tribune:

March 11 forced Europeans to confront a tragic reality, which many of them had refused to see for too long: They too are at war, without any exceptions – both “new Europe” and “old Europe.” Islamic fundamentalism is at war against democracies, irrespective of their stand toward Washington. It is liberal democracy that terrorists want to punish, not our presence or absence in Iraq. In France, the law on the head scarf provides a convenient pretext for threatening a country that played a leading role in opposing the war in Iraq. If there was no such law, another pretext would be used by the extremists.

In reality, since March 11, we on both sides of the Atlantic are more clearly than ever in the same boat. But beyond the obvious and necessary immediate joint action against the terrorists, we continue to disagree on the best way to steer the boat through an ocean of perils. The danger is that each side may use the behavior of the other to confirm its prejudiced view of the other.

The rest is here.

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Recently, Samuel Huntington laid out his reasons for being afraid of Mexican immigrants to the US in an essay in Foreign Policy. You should read it. But even more importantly, make sure to read our AFOE co-editor Scott Martens’ most excellent three part (one, two, three) point by point refutation of Mr Huntington’s effort over at pedantry. While the case study is about the US, there are important lessons to be drawn for European immigration, too – “It’s all Tim Berner-Lee’s fault.”

Privatisation Run Riot

I am normally a pretty staunch supporter of privatisation. I just provide the double pronged caveat: where it is well thought out, and where it makes sense. Juan Cole has a contract tender specification posted which for me defies all reasonable explanation. It is for a private contract force to protect the Green Zone, the headquarters of the American administration of Iraq in Baghdad. This seems beyond comprehension in its absurdity, but I am sure someone out there will be only too willing to try and put me straight.

The threats that the private security force will be asked to meet provide a summary of the dangers facing U.S. and coalition personnel 10 months after President Bush declared the main fighting over. The contractor, according to the bid proposal, must be prepared to deal with vehicles containing explosive devices, the improvised explosives planted on roads, “direct fire and ground assaults by upwards of 12 personnel with military rifles, machine guns and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade], indirect fire by mortars and rockets, individual suicide bombers, and employment of other weapons of mass destruction . . . in an unconventional warfare setting.” To meet that challenge, the bidders’ personnel must have prior military experience, and those involved directly in force protection must have “operated in U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organization or other military organizations compatible with NATO standards.”