French protests : it’s the politics, stupid!

There are some offers you can’t refuse. An invitation to join the permanent roster of Afoe is one of them. Let me first say, then, that I was initially happy and thrilled and grateful to be part of this wonderful blog. All the more so since it means that I’ll be ineligible for the Afoe Awards next year, and thus spared the humiliation of a third crushing defeat in a row. (For those of you who are scratching their head and wondering “who the hell is this guy?”, check this post)

If is say “initially”, it’s because, as the French guy of the team, I now have the daunting task of trying to explain clearly our current social row over the Contrat première embauche (First job contract) to a mainly non-native readership. As it happens, the BBC has already done a quite decent Q&A on the topic. So go read it to get the basics. And then come back here if you want my long and -I hope- not too muddled thoughts on what it all means.
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Steinmeier on Belarus

Well, following up the last post on Belarus, it seems that German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has mirrored what went on in that Patterson School command post exercise to an eerie degree. In the simulation, apparently, Gerhard Schröder made a fool of himself by lining up with the Russians…and, strange to tell, Steinmeier has done so too, at least in the eyes of Transitions Online’s Belarusoblogger.

Seems he’s arguing for a “measured” approach and more “dialogue” with the Belarus government – or to put it another way, doing nothing. Is it “the natural gas, stupid”? Perhaps. One of the delivery pipelines from Russia to Germany (the Yuma pipeline) passes through Belarus, but German policy seems to be more about bypassing the Central Europeans, and surely (as I blogged regarding the Ukrainian gas crisis) it would be in the EU’s interest to limit the degree to which Russia can disaggregate the customer states.

Deeper than that, I think it’s fair to say that Germany – or to be more accurate, the German foreign policy establishment – has an enduring preference for Moscow. As far back as Willy Brandt, in fact. The Treaty of Moscow in 1970 preceded the Treaty of Warsaw and the Grundlagenvertrag with East Germany, and extensive partnership agreements were signed with Gorbachev as a preliminary (indeed a quid pro quo) to the reunification. Timothy Garton Ash, I think, remarked that “this Germany and all previous Germanies have a special interest in good relations with Moscow”.

This was obviously true regarding Deutschlandpolitik and reunification–the Ostpolitik was a prerequisite of the Deutschlandpolitik. But is it still true now? Clearly the degree of hostility between Germany and Russia is much less, which is all good, but the degree of interdependence is much greater. And the conflicts of interest are hardly less.

One thing the German policy establishment did well in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was to synchronise their own policy with that of the EU. It would seem that a tension is emerging.

ETA ‘Calls Permanent Ceasefire’

Now this is news (even if it not entirely unexpected).

The Basque separatist group ETA on Tuesday announced a permanent cease-fire, apparently bringing a dramatic end to nearly four decades of violence that claimed more than 800 lives, Basque television reported following a communique from the group.

The authenticity of the announcement could not immediately be verified, but ETA often uses local Basque media outlets to issue statements. The group said the cease-fire would start Saturday, and that it would be “permanent.”

Speculation about an end to ETA’s armed campaign has been building for months, despite a recent wave of small-scale bombings against Basque businesses.
Source Reuters

The origin of this report is the Basque Newsd Agency EITB24, and the english version of this site does seem to does seem to be collapsed by all the traffic at the moment. However, if you can access, this thread is the one to watch (and this review of ETA statements, and this history of ETA ceasefires, are obviously highly relevant).

I don’t have time for much in depth commentary and analysis about all this right now, so please consider this post an open thread for any comments or questions, which I will try and answer if I can.

Defining protectionism down

Something worthwhile on the new Guardian blog: A post by Daniel Davies.

Economic “protectionism” is back in the news with a vengeance, with France objecting to takeovers in the steel sector, Spain putting together national champion utilities and the USA crying blue murder over Dubai Ports World’s proposed acquisition of P&O. James Surowiecki had an article in the Saturday Guardian painstakingly setting out the conventional wisdom on this subject (ie that it’s very bad). Trouble is, this isn’t really what “protectionism” means.

Via Atrios.

Ceuta’s place in history

Brian Ulrich writes a brief history of Ceuta.

What’s more, Ceuta has historically been a gateway to Europe rather than one to Africa. As noted above, the city was difficult to take, but even after it was taken, the mountains surrounding it meant that you couldn’t easily advance into the Moroccan interior. However, many invasions of the Iberian Peninsula and reinforcements of Muslim positions there were launched from its harbor. In fact, one could take this “gateway” pattern even up to the present, where desperate African economic migrants try to use it as a stepping-stone to continental Europe.

Via Coming Anarchy

Belarusobloggin’

Want to know what’s happening in the Belarus civil war? Belarus Today‘s yer blog. Except, of course, it’s not. As it says at the bottom of the page:

This website is part of a foreign policy simulation. The events depicted are not actually taking place.

Thank God for that. After all, by the end of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs’s scenario simulation, the NATO Secretary General had suffered a heart attack, Gerhard Schröder had made a fool of himself, Minsk was in flames and USAF and Italian aircraft were heading for their targets..

It sounds fun. Just a pity that the transcript isn’t on the web.

Update: (From Edward, apologies in advance to Alex for butting-in like this, but there didn’t seem to be enough for a separate post here). Events still seem to be tense in Belarus with Lukashenko opponents attempting to gain ‘orange-like’ traction, and EU observers keeping up the pressure. Also it may be worth pointing out that Belarus is another one of those incredible shrinking countries, and I’ve just posted a little data about this on Demography Matters, so either way – with or without Lukashenko – the future looks extraordinarily bleak for these long-suffering people (remember they were also hit by Chernobyl).

Update the second: The Patterson School’s website is here.

Theatre of Citizenship

Everyone’s been terribly worried about France. First of all, last autumn’s carburning outbreak saw a lot of people who really ought to know better gathering to hail the end of days and the Islamofascist conquest of Eurabia, or something. Now, the students are out on the streets to protest the government’s new labour laws, and perhaps the trade unions will be coming too. And then there was the supposedly anti-semitic stabbing of a few weeks ago.

That stabbing, one will remember, brought thousands onto the streets for a heavily earnest, government supported demonstration against antisemitism, terrorism and a few other isms. I’m usually very sceptical about demos like that, and the Spanish tradition of demonstrating against terrorists-they aren’t listening, after all, and it is always worryingly close to demonstrating in favour of the government. There’s a strong case that one shouldn’t take part in a modern version of the demos by (supposedly) torpedoed merchant seamen that Winston Churchill put on in the first world war to shame strikers.

But is there more use to it than I think? (More, and more sense, below the fold..)
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Berlusconi’s followers

I wish I saw this great recap of the Prodi-Berlusoni debate earlier by European Tribune diarist ‘de Gondi’. But I found something better. This comment he made to the post deserves a larger audience.

I rarely meet someone who openly admits he/she sympathizes for Forza Italia. (For AN, yes.) Conversation doesn’t go too far because it bangs into “devotion” with a big starry-eyed “D.” The figure of Berlusconi is fundamental to the party. I don’t see it surviving him. It’s more a personal political entity with religious overtones. Either you believe or you don’t. Basically his electorate is reactionary, similar to followers of poujadisme or qualunquismo. The party appeals to primitive fears while idealizing the leader. Marketing is a strategic component of the party. Candidates and themes are created according to the logic of launching a product.

Many of the party’s functionaries or key figures come from the radical communist left. My impression is that he appeals to the “orphans of Stalin” type of personality.

Another component of his movement reflects party struggles in the eighties. At the time, Italy’s chronic state of being a limited democracy in the context of the Cold War gave enormous power to political parties and currents within the parties without any effective popular base. Italy was a partitocrazia in which citizens were at best clients when not subjects. This brought about diffused irresponsibility and massive corruption. (And Berlusconi was a major player at the time.) The power system became feudal in which the distinction between left and right, between Socialist and Democrat-Christian was purely nominal. With the collapse of the partitocrazia after the Cold War, three new forces coalesced: the modern left with the ex-communists as the major force, the minor democratic fascist party, MSI, which became AN, and the Lega Nord which represented a racist impulse for major territorial autonomy. There was a void where the old power structure had been. Forza Italia filled this void aggregating the minor conservative parties with the so-called Socialists into a winning coalition in 1994, only to fall apart within little more than a year.

At face value it seems strange that a political entity can house contrasting forces that range from the extreme rightwing to the mock-left Craxi orphans. If you look at it as a representation of Italian political collusion in the eighties manifested in the King’s body (le corps du Roi) it makes more sense. Rather than reverentially attend the good Lord on his chaisse percée, a good kick in the ass is called for.