Bloggers for Bronislaw

It is simply intolerable that a EU member state’s government should try to dismiss an MEP elected by the people. I think everyone can agree on that, right? It’s for the public to decide who should represent them. It’s for the member states as a whole to decide on the overall organisation of the EU. It’s for the European Parliament to decide on its own rules of procedure.

Not if you’re Poland’s comedy prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczyinski, who wants everybody to sign a statement that they are not, have never been, and never will be a Communist. Never mind that Poland already did this in 1998. Never mind that this includes everyone who had a position of responsibility up to 1989. Never mind that the Polish president until a couple of years ago was a former commie, and the hens didn’t stop laying.

As Major Major in Catch 22 says, the thing is to catch them before they know what allegiance is and keep’em pledging. Bronislaw Geremek and Tadeusz Mazowiecki, veterans of Solidarity’s intellectual side and the first post-communist government both, have refused to sign the pledge on principle, and now the Kaczyinskis are trying to end their mandates.

I wasn’t aware that an MEP was responsible to his or her home government – in fact I’m pretty sure they aren’t, and I’m meant to be an EU specialist. Even Maggie Thatcher was unable to browbeat the British commissioner, or for that matter the MEPs. This is profoundly anti-democratic, and worse, anti-constitutional – it’s an exercise in rule by whim, and if the EU is anything, it’s a community committed to constitutionalism.

Depressingly, looking up Tim Garton-Ash’s 1990s essays, I find reams of stuff on “lustration”, aka sacking people you don’t like, which all seems to come to the conclusion that it was risky, but fortunately it’s all over and Poland is a normal country. News: it’s not anywhere near as normal as we hoped. Sadly, the opinion-current behind the current government is the same that was calling the ex-communists and most of the dissidents by the same horrible name in 1991 – “zydokommuna” or “Jewishcommunists”. Nice friends you got there.

I’d like to see a blog storm about this.

Afghanistan, seen from Berlin

The Globalist’s Stephan Richter weighs the pros and cons, difficulties and opportunities of an increased German military involvement in Southern Aghanistan and comes to the – in my opinion correct – conclusion that increased combat participation is much less a domestic policy problem than it is usually thought to be.

It’s a tricky question because the American example of nation-building as exercised in Afghanistan is not a particularly convincing one … The Germans truly believe in a different concept. It basically says that, in the long run, you cannot quell violence unless there is a bright future on the horizon. … But since Germans rightfully believe that there is good reason not to let Afghanistan slip back into a state of lawlessness and anarchy, they have to embrace an enlarged role — which implies more sacrifices. However, this must be part of a well thought – out strategy and not only another quick fix.

Solidarity with allies in the common fight is of utmost importance, but what do you do if you’re responsible for the lives of the soldiers you send, believe the common strategy to be seriously flawed, endanger the results achieved in the North, but you don’t really have the clout to change it? Exactly. You send some planes.

Serbia: Day 93

So Serbia still has no government.

I posted a while back that they had 90 days to form one after the January 23 election. Not true! They have 90 days after the first session of the new Parliament. That was on February 14. So they have 17 more days.

Still, three months without a government is pretty awesome. It totally blows past their old record of 70 days from 2004. Go team!

As to why this is happening… I don’t usually quote wholesale from other blogs, but Eric Gordy of eastethnia has pretty much nailed it: Continue reading

Europeans discover first habitable planet beyond Earth

Okay, strictly speaking it’s a maybe-habitable planet. But still!

Yesterday the European Southern Observatory announced the discovery of an Earthlike planet orbiting the star Gliese 581. “Earthlike”, to astronomers, is a pretty broad definition; it means a planet that is not so tiny it will lose all its atmosphere to space, nor either so large that its surface will be crushed under hundreds of atmospheres of pressure; and not so cold as to be a frozen iceball, nor either boiling hot. Basically, it’s a planet that can support liquid water.

This is a broad definition, but up until now astronomers have found over 200 planets around other stars without finding a single one that fit. Most were too big — it’s much easier to detect giant planets than little ones, of course — and the ones that weren’t, were either too hot or too cold.

But the new planet — which goes by the euphonious name of Gliese 581c — is a “Goldilocks” world, just right. It orbits Gliese 581c in the “habitable zone”, receiving just about as much sunlight as earth.

Of course, there are some complications. Continue reading

One in a million!

It’s too bad that WordPress seems to break HTML in the title field – so I can’t use a modest Roman numeral to indicate that it’s you! Yes, you, reader from pol.co.uk, who clicked on a link in your google reader at 2:32 am CET, who is the one millionth sitemetered unique visitor to A Fistful Of Euros. Of course that doesn’t mean you’re actually the millionth person to see this page or read its content. After all, the definion of “visit” is different from counter to counter, as is the definition of unique visit. Moreover, Sitemeter.com doesn’t have a chance to count even one of the about 4000 feed subcscribers we have – according to our feed statisticians over at feedburner.com – if they don’t come here in addition to reading afoe in their favorite feed reader.

Still, it could have been anyone – but it was you! Congratulations! To you – and to us.

French presidential election: brief comments

8:40: Sarko and Ségo in the second round then. Which means two important things. Firstly, someone at work owes me a coffee (I really should have bet for something more pricey). Secondly, the election that had been billed by some pundits as one of the most inpredictible ever has delivered very predictible results indeed: the two candidates that were ahead in the polls since the beginning get through to the runoff; the Bayrou insurgency receded in the late campaign, just like the polls were showing; and all the minor candidates were crushed, with the Communist and Green parties looking DOA now. The only half-surprise is the (relative) crash of the extreme right: but it is a surprise only because many thought Le Pen would get a big result, against what most of the polls were predicting. I sense the always-reviled pollsters will have a field day tonight.

Update by Alex: Libé carried time-series graphs for all the pollsters on Friday, and one of the striking things was that Le Pen had gained no more than 1 per cent or so over the campaign, whichever poll you looked at.

8:50 (Emmanuel) : there’s no denying that Sarkozy is looking good now. Not only is he ahead by a significant margin, but Royal does not have significant reserves of votes to tap into for the second round (the total of all left-wing candidates is around 36%). Much will depend on François Bayrou’s attitude in the next days but even if (a really big “if”) he calls his voters to support Royal, it remains doubtful that they’ll follow him.

9:10 (Emmanuel) : The much-awaited Bayrou is speaking. Begins with that worn-out platitude: “French politics will never be the same”. Big score despite negative media, polls and pundits. Strongly criticizes the two main parties. Hints that “decisions” will be taken in the next days.

9:20 (Emmanuel) : Official CW about Bayrou is that he won’t support Sarkozy and that he can’t support Royal (because UDF MPs clearly need the support of the UMP to be reelected in June). Hence his pox-in-both-your-houses attitude. One striking thing nonetheless: all the left-wing candidates have been falling over themselves to give their support to Royal (even the famously intransigent Laguiller); so far, no candidate has called to vote for Sarkozy.

9:47 (Alex) : Royal making incredibly long, incredibly lacklustre speech. Bayrou was bad enough but this is dire. You wouldn’t think this was one of the highest scores for a Socialist in the first round ever.

9:50 (Emmanuel) : Damn. Alex just wrote exactly what I was thinking. When you hear Segolène speaking, you always wonder how she managed to go that far. Really unispiring stuff.

10:00 (Alex) : Le Pen is gradually sinking with each update of the polls. He’s now below the lowest estimate of his score at the beginning of the campaign. And the Communists have done very badly in places like Ariége..

10:05 (Alex) : Thierry Maillet says it’s 1981 over again. Giscard got 28.3 per cent, Mitterand 25.9, Chirac 18, and Georges Marchais of the PCF 15. 2007==(Giscard:Sarkozy, Mitterand:Royal, Chirac:Bayrou, Marchais:Le Pen)? Perhaps. Maillet points out that many of the voters who left the PCF moved to the FN.

10:14 (Alex)
: It’s worth pointing out that so far, the départements that are reporting are very few, and most are overseas territories. As Libé’s front-page Flash map points out, the masses are yet to engage. Meanwhile, gurks! Eric Besson, the PS national secretary who walked out of Ségoléne Royal’s economic team, has announced that he’s supporting Sarkozy.

10:15 (Tobias) – coverage of international online coverage – the BBC duly notes the high turnout and realizses that “France opts for a left-right battle.” The BBC’s political correspondent Jonathan Marcus also states that

“Whoever finally wins the presidency, … it will mark a change of political generation and perhaps a shift in French international priorities, making this election matter even to those outside France.”

Quite right. The NY Times enlists the help of the AP and also notes the generational change, as well as the gender dynamics in play -

“If the results confirm that, France will get its first president born after World War II after the May 6 final round. If she wins, Royal will become France’s first woman president.”

Wondering about Bayrou’s weak results, the newspaper reminds that one principal motivation for many voters was not to allow the participation of Le Pen in the second round. Germany’s conservative “Die Welt” mentions that Sarkozy’s move to the right paid off in the first round but questions whether it might not have the opposite effect in two weeks, mentioning the importance of the Bayrou vote, the majority of which seems willing to rally behind Royal to avoid Sarkozy – possibly without any official recommendation from the former candidate. Sarkozy will now have to move back to the center, but Die Welt doubts his efforts will be convincing following months of rather divisive campaigning.

For the liberal weekly Die Zeit’s “Blog Tricolore” (in German) Alain-Xavier Wurst” files a report from Royal’s headquarters and notes that the mood is getting better by the minute after they realised that this election will not be a repetition of the last one. He also explains that one winner of the current election wasn’t even on the polls – the telecommunications industry apparently expects as many text messages as after last year’s world cup final, that, for the first time in decades, Jaques Chirac must has voted for someone else – probably Ségolène Royal, and that there are about three million new voters, mostly young people, many of whom live in the Banlieues offended by Monsieur Sarkozy.

It will be very interesting to dissect today’s result in a little more detail. A regional breakdown will be available at the French interior ministry’s site – but at the moment, all results are still empty. Don’t forget it’s a Sunday…

10:15 (Emmanuel): first second-round poll. Sarko 54% РS̩go 46%. As anticipated, it really will be an uphill battle for the left-wing candidate.

10:25 (Alex): Or maybe not. More results are coming in, and the gap is closing – 29.6 vs 27.4, with Le Pen tanking under the 10 per cent mark. PS, Liberation has a regional results map on their front page.

10:50 (Emmanuel): A lot of interesting tidbits in the Ipsos exit poll (pdf). Like, for all the talk about the underwhelming result of Le Pen, the fact that he’s still first in the blue-collar demographic slice (“ouvriers“).

10:59 (Tobias): Nadine Morano explains on arte.tv that Sarkozy wants to convince pro-European voters by explaining that he was the only one who wants to go forward with a “mini-treaty” and avoid a second referendum on the constitution.

11:05 (Emmanuel): France Info radio reporting Sarkozy first in Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis (aka the place where all those cars were burnt in 2005) départements.

11:12 (Tobias): Daniel Cohn-Bendit believes that Bayrou was in the end beaten by the problem that the UDF feels the need/needs to cooperate with Sarkozy’s UMP in the parliamentary elections. That, according to Cohn-Bendit, essentially made Bayrou’s “third way” proposal a lot less credible. Interestingly, he also praises Sarkozy for his ability to pull Le Pen voters into the “normal” parliamentary spectrum.

11:15 (Emmanuel): Another second-round poll, this time from CSA. And another expected result: Sarkozy 53,5% – Royal 46,5%. Among the people who voted for Bayrou it’s: 16% unsure, 45% Royal, 39% Sarkozy.

11:35 (Emmanuel): And the WTF award of the day goes to unknown candidate Gérard Schivardi (dead-last with 0,4% of the vote) who declares: “I’m a happy man. This electoral base will allow me to create a new political party“.

11:55 (Emmanuel): Droite caviar? Sarko gets 73% in his own (posh) town of Neuilly, and 58% in the (posh) 8th arrondissement of Paris. Meanwhile, Royal barely comes out ahead in Bordeaux, a bit of a surprise since this is the town of ex-Prime minister and Sarkozy ally Alain Juppé.

12:05 (Alex): Droite ouvriére. Sarko just sneaks it in the Pas de Calais. Even there, where the biggest city is still Communist-run, the PCF gets only 3.4 per cent.

01:05 (Emmanuel): well, the bottle of wine is empty now and the official results are still not coming, so just a last comment to say that I fully agree with Pascal Riché’s analysis: based on the first round results, Ségolène Royal really has an impossible equation to solve, considering that the total of left-wing votes and one half of Bayrou’s total still left her at something like 45%. Adding to that the fact that Sarkozy is a much better debater than she is, and it’s hard to be very optimistic right now if you’re a left-wing voter (which, I hasten to add, I am). But, as they say, one week is a long time in politics. And she has two. But she better get started now.

Oh, and a warm welcome to our soon-to-be-there 1,000,000th Afoe visitor.

This is what 86% looks like

At the French Consulate-General in London, the election is held in the classrooms of the Lycée Charles de Gaulle next door. There are plenty of lycées named after the general, but this one has a greater connection to him than most – the Free French air force had its headquarters in one of the buildings that now forms part of the school, and it was here in 1940 that suspected collaborators among the French community were dragged in by Andre “Passy” Dewavrin, de Gaulle’s intelligence chief.

Today, the French of London were queueing around the block, in the sense that each side of a double city block was taken up by queues, even though there were a total of three entrances. Such was the crowd that an ice-cream van was attracted to it, far from a bad idea given the number of children present. The people? Probably a population younger and more middle-class than the French averages, although hardly lacking in diversity.
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French Elections: Ticker

A few minutes to go to the official first results in the first round…

Unofficially, Ipsos puts Ségoléne Royal on 26.5 per cent, Nicolas Sarkozy 27.5 per cent, Jean-Marie Le Pen 17 per cent, and François Bayrou on 16 per cent, with OIivier Besancenot doing best out of the broom wagon candidates. CSA, which has been consistently more favourable to the Socialists, puts Ségo and Sarko level pegging on 26 per cent, and the same results for the others.

However, these figures are being constantly updated at the moment (see Le Temps de Généve). They currently put it this way:

  1. Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP): 29,4 %
  2. Ségolène Royal (PS): 26,2 %
  3. François Bayrou (UDF): 18,6 %
  4. Jean-Marie Le Pen (FN) : 10,8 %

There are also going to be exit polls soon enough. Everyone is clear on one thing, that turnout has been enormous: according to Radio France-Inter, the official figure is 85 per cent, although the unofficial data is going even higher.

Update

First official results (updated at 40% count)

  1. Sarkozy – 30.5 per cent
  2. Royal – 25.2
  3. Bayrou – 18.3
  4. Le Pen – 11.3
  5. Besancenot – 4.6
  6. De Villiers – 2.4
  7. Buffet – 2
  8. Laguillier – 1.5
  9. Voynet – 1.5
  10. Nihous – 1.2
  11. Bov̩ Р1
  12. Schivardi – 0.3

Crash for the far right…and not great for the Communists.

Update by Tobias – Sarkozy gave a conciliatory – or “presidential” – speech at his campaign headquarters, complimenting Mme Royal, thanking the French voters for a result that would allow the choice between, as he put it, two alternative sets of policies. He called for a dignified second leg of the campaign and hoped that it would amount to a true competition of ideas.

Update by Alex – Marie-Georges Buffet says all good communists must come to the aid of the party..the Socialist party. Pity there’s only 2 per cent of them.

Update by Alex – Arlette Laguillier says – for the first time since 1981 and the last time in her career – that her supporters should vote Socialist. De Villiers now ranting about “Européeisme(sic)” being a dead ideology responsible for abortion and euthanasia. Vote Sarko, he finally gets around to saying. Voynet goes Socialist, too, with the mighty weight of her 1.5 per cent. But what will Bayrou do?

Update by Alex – Olivier Besancenot calls on supporters to support the Socialists “at the ballot box and in the streets”. That should be enough to fill the gap… Also, DSK has been out calling for people who didn’t get their preferred candidate but want “renewal” to vote PS. Dominique de Villepin, meanwhile, congratulates Sarko through gritted teeth.

Update by Alex – Bayrou about to speak..whingeing about the pollsters..still blathering..and eventually says nothing..

Update by Alex – Le Pen says his supporters should abstain “for the moment” (eh?) but he will give further advice on the 1st of May. “Le Front National n’est pas a vendre!” But who would buy it?

RFI reports that 20 départements have completed counting, but the Ile-de-France (the populous metropolitan area around Paris) is still counting, with the large suburban départements like Seine-Saint Denis and Val-de-Marne still to come.

Update by Alex – Corréze, Chirac’s home turf, goes socialist by a distance, while the Communists crash badly in their old stronghold of Ariége.

Une certaine idée de la France, pt. 2

History is an important participant in French politics. As, for example, François Hincker, notes, the lasting impact of the French Revolution on the contemporary French polity can never be underestimated – „[c]ertes, [...] que l’essentiel de la France con¬tem¬poraine sortit d’elle est une idée dont la banalité n’efface pas la vérité.“ (François Hincker, La Révolution française et l’économie – Décollage ou catastrophe?, p 5)

The Revolution forged a nation based on Ernest Renan’s universalist “plébiscite de tous les jours” and introduced the French notion of the Republic, which is, according to the political scientist Michael Leruth “… all at once a form of government, a collection of venerable lieux de mémoire and familiar symbols, a political philosophy, and a secular substitute for religious faith.” (1998: p 60) Moreover, it is an ideology built on inherently conflicting, sometimes contra1dictory, concepts – liberté, égalité and fraternité – leading to a normative aim of active statism that is markedly different from the liberal political philosophy of other Western democracies. While French Republicanism is founded upon the rejection of all kinds of privileges and expects the state to intervene and protect the rights of the individual, other philosophical traditions are far more critical of the state, regarding it as one major source of arbitrariness.
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