Serbia: the betting pool

By pure coincidence, next month brings not one but two major turning points for Serbia.

First, there’s the Ahtisaari plan for Kosovo. As we all know, the plan would give Kosovo de facto independence. On one hand, that’s just recognizing reality on the ground; 90% of Kosovo’s population wants nothing to do with Serbia, and they’ve been running their own house for almost a decade now. On the other hand, it would involve UN approval of the involuntary dismemberment of an unwilling member state. That’s never happened before, and it would be a big step into the unknown.

The plan goes before the UN Security Council next week, and it’s really not clear what will happen. Either Russia or China might veto it — Russia because of its traditional support of Serbia, China because of concerns about Taiwan. On the other hand, neither one may want to be responsible for vetoing a plan that has broad support in both the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, Serbia’s quarrelsome parties are still trying to form a government. They’ve been at it since the elections on January 21, so as of today they’ve gone 67 days without success. That would be amusing, except that if a government isn’t formed within 90 days, Serbia’s Constitution requires new elections. That would throw Serbia into a major political crisis.

Here’s the thing: I could see either of these going either way. The UNSC might approve the Ahtisaari plan, or reject it; Serbia’s parties might reach agreement, or not.

So how about a betting pool? Continue reading

Comments are open! All Permalinks work!

Welcome back to afoe 3.1 – now running on WordPress. What I considered to be a weekend’s job – moving a blog of the size of afoe from the multiblog capable Movable Type to the single blog CMS WordPress and hacking it to the extent necessary to keep the impression of a multiblog – turned out to be just a little more complicated and time consuming.

I’ll write about this in a little more detail in a couple of days, so those among you, gentle readers, who might suffer from the same comment spam/Perl induced server problems, can benefit from my experiences to some extent, should you ever attempt to make the switch.

There are a couple of new features, mostly concerning comment subscription possibilities. Unfortunately, apart from the occasional lack of appropriate WordPress CSS, some things still don’t work, like our aggregator @afoe, which won’t function properly until I’ve renamed a couple of functions in the meneamé and pligg scripts it uses.

But for the moment, I’ll just sit back and wait for your participation – because the most important good news is the following:

Coments are open again – and despite the beautiful categorised permalinks which we are using now, not a single one of your links to any afoe archive page will break…

What the hell is an economic government?

So, somebody has a brilliant idea to solve all Europe’s problems. What is it? It’s to set up a European economic government for the EU. It’s not exactly new – several people in the Jospin government thought so, including Dominique Strauss-Kahn. It might have something going for it.

But what is it? The EU already has – already is – an economic government, in that it handles trade negotiations, operates a single set of product standards, interworking arrangements between big networked systems, some social and environmental regulations, and even operates some fiscal rules. If you include the European Central Bank, and why not, it conducts monetary policy.
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Another Trip to 50-50 Land

It’s getting terribly close…

The last two opinion polls in the French elections put Royal and Sarkozy level pegging in the first round, with one of them showing nils apiece in the second round too. With numbers, the first poll, carried out by CSA on the 21st, shows Royal on 26 per cent, Sarko on 26 per cent, and Bayrou on 20. The second, by LH2 for 20 Minutes, puts the top two on 27 per cent each.

The really interesting thing is that both polls also measured voting intentions for the second round. CSA showed Sarko and Sego breaking 50-50. LH2 put Sarko up 51-49. But that’s not the really interesting thing. To both come in at 49-50 per cent, the top candidates will have to gain about 48 percentage points between them. Obviously, if you voted in the first round, you’re likely to vote in the second. Which poses a question: how’s it going to happen?

Francois Bayrou’s support is around 20 per cent. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s is 13 per cent. Olivier Besancenot is at 3, Arlette Laguiller at 2.5 (up 1.5 per cent!), Marie-George Buffet 2, Frederic Nihous 2, de Villiers 1, Voynet 1, Schivarni 0.5. A total, then, of 44 per cent up for grabs. Out of which, say, 9 per cent can be attributed firmly to the Left and 15 per cent to the Right, before the difficult question of how to attribute Bayrou’s voters. Assuming the Le Pen/de Villiers vote goes to Sarko, that would put the balance at 35/42 of the original vote..but how do the Bayrou Boys and Girls break? At a minimum, the Left would need to hold its ground, then persuade 7 percentage points of Bayrou voters – not far off a third – plus a majority of the remainder to switch.

Not that this is reflected by Royal’s rhetoric..

Finnish Parliamentary Election 2007 – Lessons Learnt

Well, as it happens I know even less about Finnish politics than I do about the Italian version, so I thought I’d put up this piece that Aapo Markkanen of Aapotsikko sent me on the recent elections in Finland – Edward Hugh

Finland has chosen its new parliament, and the result was a historic triumph for the centre-right National Coalition Party. The last time the two non-socialist parties had as many seats as they do now was in the early 1930s, and they came near to it in 1960s when the Social Democrats had a disastrous election result. Manuel Alvarez-Rivera has written a thorough background article on Finnish politics for Global Economy Matters, and the blog is also hosting my own piece on the Finnish economy (available here). For further analysis of the election and the ongoing cabinet talks you can visit my personal blog – but right now I’d like to focus on two issues that, in my opinion, were the most important ones in this year’s contest.
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Moving again

Gentle readers,

should you be concerned about the relative silence on afoe while seemingly everyone else is celebrating the European anniversary, I would like to let you know that, afoe is once again in the midst of an important transition: Following the recent comment spam/Perl-related server issues with our host that forced us to temporarily disable the comments in order to keep the site online, I am now porting the blog from Movable Type, the blog CMS to which we have been faithful since 2003, to WordPress, which, as you can probably imagine, is not too simple given the plethora of small functionality differnces, differences in template structures and, not least, the size of the afoe blog family.

For you, I suppose the most important information will be that I am fairly certain we won’t loose even a single permalink during the transition due to a lot of google research and a hack for the WordPress Movable Type importer that allowed us retain the post IDs once assigned by Movable Type. Thus, at the end of the transition all MT Permalinks will be seamlessly redirected to the respective WordPress entry. No need to adjust any of your links.

So, if all goes well, we will be able to reactivate the comment functionality in a day or two, and hopefully, you won’t even notice that we’ve switched to WordPress.

Second Life, Second EU?

Right on time for the 5oth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union’s Communications Department, is thinking seriously about establishing a digital “embassy” in the (currently more hyped than) popular virtual reality Second Life. According to a (in German) report, EU spokesperson Mikolaj Dowgielewicz explained that an EU office in Second Life was intended to reach out, get closer, and communicate better with individual European citizens, since 54% of the alleged 4.4m virtual inhabitants of Second Life are European nationals, according to Second Life operator Linden Labs.
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Nothing is obvious and nothing is clear

Ségolene Royal’s campaign is doomed. The total vote for the Left is polling (32 to 36 per cent) almost as low as it was in 1969, when the second round vote was between a Gaullist, Georges Pompidou, and a centrist/classical rightist, Alain Poher, with everyone to the left crashing at the first turn on a total of 31 per cent.

Ségolene Royal is on course to win. Her polls, ranging between 24 and 27 per cent, are as good as François Mitterand’s in 1981, when he got 25.8 per cent, not a mountain more than the Communist candidate, Georges Marchais, who had 15.3 per cent . And, since 1958, the left has always been in second place after the first round, even when Mitterand won the run-off. The French elections remain fascinating, even though many of the delightful possibilities have boiled off.
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Tramp the Dirt Down

Somebody is worried that Slobodan Milosevic might escape from death. And so, they dug up his corpse and drove a stake through his heart.

Seriously. They really did it.

One might also want to read this.

French Candidates: What is this EU thing anyway?

Why do the leading candidates in the French presidential election seem to have utterly strange European policies?

Take Nicolas Sarkozy. He supposedly believes in “rupture” with old ways and a dash for a new free-market, hard-nosed, toughness cult future. And Euroscepticism is at the heart of this. But at the same time, he has promised to restore le productivisme – that is to say, the maximisation of volume – as the guiding principle of the Common Agricultural Policy.

That’s not free-market, tough, eurosceptic, hard-nosed, liberal, or anything else, except for pure clientele politics. Better yet, it’s the kind of clientele politics that uses other people’s money. Yawn. Not that the peasants’ representatives believes in it – one of them recently said that “there are no cloned Chiracs available”.

Fascinatingly, he’s also now blaming the European Central Bank for its exchange rate policy – as is Ségoléne Royal. Sarko thinks the trouble at Airbus is all down to the bank’s “policy of over-valuation against the dollar.” Sego apparently asked for Angela Merkel to help change the ECB’s charter so that “its sole objective would not be the exchange rate.”

One problem – the exchange rate is not the objective of the ECB. The ECB does not target the exchange rate. This is, of course, all part of the game with the straining “Bretton Woods II” arrangement between the US and China pushing the adjustment burden our way. But – the ECB does not stock and does not sell exchange rate targets.