Euroscepticism does not get you elected

Jamie Kenny and Nosemonkey wonder why Labour is pro-EU. Enlarging on this post a little, I think it’s worth looking at some data. I suspect the data support that post. For example, despite all the bashing, a solid majority supports EU membership and has done consistently over time.

Further, the public does not worry very much about Europe; some 4 per cent according to a recent poll. However, this is historically low; in 1997 that figure stood at 43 per cent, and it was around 25 per cent during William Hague’s ferociously Eurosceptic 2001 election campaign.

But it’s not enough to say that the British simply don’t care, and that Euroscepticism is latent until activated by shouting sufficiently. 1997 was the election when John Major’s campaign ran huge posters of Tony Blair as a poodle on Helmut Kohl’s knee; and it wasn’t a great year for Eurosceptic Tories, was it? Of course there are confounding factors. Euroscepticism in 1997 involved either voting for the proto-UKIP Referendum party or a Conservative party as popular as nuclear waste; probably the issue was buried under the Labour landslide in places.

The principle, however, holds; nobody gets elected in Britain by being Eurosceptic. There are no votes in it; in a sense, Euroscepticism is a luxury. If you are actually struggling for office, you can’t be a true believer in it because you’ll have to take responsibility for it, and anyway, you have more productive things to do; if you have a safe Conservative seat, though, you are set for life and therefore free to spout any old tripe. The costs are minimal, and the benefits in terms of social approval in the kind of circles safe Tory MPs respect, considerable.

The same goes for the Eurosceptic backers, a small group of rich property tycoons (mostly – there are notably few industrialists) who amuse themselves by throwing money at politicians they like. As Winston Churchill said about small countries who insisted on proliferating battleships before the first world war, it is sport to them, it is death to us.

Turkey: Kurds Voting For Christmas?

Despite having read mountains (appropriately) of reporting on the Turkish-Kurdish-Iraqi crisis, I haven’t read anyone who has tried to answer the big question – why do the PKK seem to be doing everything possible to provoke the Turks into invading Iraq after them?

You’d think this was a pretty vital issue; who wants to be blitzed, after all? Fortunately, Handelsblatt does journalism; Gerd Hoehler reviews the history of the Kurdish movement and concludes that the PKK does indeed want Turkey to hit me as hard as you can. Why? It would set Turkey’s relations with essentially everyone in a state of chaos, it would probably upend the Turkish economy, and it would outrage the Turkish Kurds, to say nothing of all the others.

But it probably wouldn’t achieve strategic-level damage to the PKK; however, Turkey’s slow progress towards the EU and its (much faster) economic development have threatened to do so. The AK got an absolute majority of votes in most of Kurdistan at the last elections. So, the PKK needs an explosion; something that would reverse EU integration, wreck the economy, and whip everyone into a frenzy of rage.

Fortunately, as when this happened in 2003 and 2005, the Turkish government has been very good at moving towards war very slowly indeed and with immense ceremony; thus allowing the pressure to build for a resolution without an actual war. Hoehler, however, reports on a worrying degree of war fever – there’s been a surge of volunteers for the Turkish army, 4,200 in a week, and people are stopping cars on the highway with guns to make the drivers join in singing war songs. That has a nasty sound of August, 1914 about it; this would not be a good moment for losing control.

What’s left of France

Ezra Klein is having a bit of fun with Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that the U.S. “will be to the left of France” if the American electorate is “not careful” and doesn’t elect him:

We could elect Dennis Kucinich and 10 more Democratic senators and we wouldn’t get anywhere near France. France is a country where the rightwing reformer won’t touch the 35-hour workweek, where all sorts of powerful politicians call themselves socialists, where there’s over a month of legally mandated vacation and unlimited sick days.

Well, France is also a country where insulting the flag is a criminal offense, where the level of opposition to affirmative action would delight any card-carrying Republican, where about 20% of the student body attend religious schools (double the American percentage) and where capital income is much less heavily taxed than in the U.S. (see this pdf).

Not that I’m defending Giuliani’s idiotic statement, mind you. Especially one in which he equates caution with voting for his crazy self. But the idea that France is some sort of liberal wet dream doesn’t jibe well with the facts either. Continue reading

Is High Euroscepticism running down?

Has the British tabloid press reached peak rant? Like “peak oil”. The Sun this week claimed that “the Prime Minister turned the Lisbon banquet into a sordid Last Supper for Britain as an independent sovereign country”. Whoo! Some supper. More than ever before, the entire tone of the debate about Europe in the UK seems deranged. But this time out, it also seems to be increasingly recognised that this is so.

In a sense, the whole row has become conventionalised to a degree where it is a mere set of gestures. I recall the debates about the Euro in the late 90s and early 00s, and on the various treaties of the same period, to say nothing of the Maastricht ratification, the daddy of them all. This has had none of the same fire, despite the Sun reaching new heights of linguistic escalation and new depths of journalistic debasement. According to them, the treaty will create a mixed-manned European army and give the European Union (whether the commission or whoever is left unstated) Britain’s seat on the UN Security Council.

Weirdly, no-one ever says what will become of France’s UNSC seat.

The interesting thing, however, is that it’s as if all sides agree that a formal Euro-row is necessary, quite independently of its content. Both the British government, and to quite a large measure the opposition, agree with most of the treaty and the constitution before it. Introducing the national parliaments as a counter-centralising force is welcome to them. So is ending the ridiculous position of a High Representative who formulates and represents EU foreign policy but who leaves the means of carrying it out to an External Affairs Commissioner. Qualified-majority voting on more administrative issues is welcome to the government, and probably welcome to the Conservatives if they were honest about it. Fixing the voting system within the institutions is welcome to everyone. Eurosceptics can hardly oppose the clauses that make the arrangements for a state to quit the Union, can they?

But despite the fact that the government got what it wanted, we have to have these “red lines”; the Tories claim they are spurious. Indeed they are – but they are only there because the Tories badgered the government to have them!

It’s not even as if there is a mighty Eurosceptic groundswell of opinion. The treaty is not popular, but the principle of EU membership commands a good majority – 56 per cent in favour and 38 per cent against. Assuming no great conversion, which is fair enough, you’d expect the don’t knows to break evenly – which suggests that a new referendum would probably replicate the result of 1975. Even so, I find it hard to agree with Clive; having a referendum on EU membership feels too much like having a referendum on dihydrogen monoxide.

But of course that isn’t good enough. One of the depressing things about the Blair years was that what little campaign power the European cause had in Britain was allowed to fall apart.

Twins Zapped?

Jean Quatremer claims that the exit polls are showing the Civic Forum 10 points ahead of the Kaczynski Kidz; which could mean a knockout win.

More, as they say, as we get it.

Update, 2351GMT: Hell yeah. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has admitted defeat; Civic Forum coming in with a wet sail. As mentioned in comments, an unexpectedly large turnout…

The other day, Russian football fans drove round the streets where I live flying flags and hooting horns after they beat England in the European Championship qualifiers, in the Italian fashion that has become a European standard; but no Poles tonight. Perhaps they really did go back to vote?

Brown shadows

One of the things that’s generally known about Germany, but not often spoken about for various reasons(1), is how much continuity there was between the Third Reich and the early days of the Federal Republic. A certain degree of continuity is inevtiable any time a government changes; even the Bolsheviks brought back a lot of Tsarist officials simply because no one else knew how things worked. But the questions for West Germany after the war are how many, for how long and at what level?

Over time, and thanks in no small measure to confrontations in the late 1960s, more and more German institutions have taken an honest look at who did what to whom during the Nazi period, and where they ended up afterward. The answers to the three questions have often been quite a few, for their whole careers, and at leadership levels. Several forces have gotten companies and institutions to be more truthful about their activities from 1933 to 1945, and the continuity between that period and the postwar era. One such has been the simple passage of time. People who would have been expected to pay a price are now retired, or dead. No doubt, knowledge is coming at the cost of justice.

The latest institution to undertake such an examination is Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt, or BKA). Credit to the BKA’s current president, Jörg Ziercke. He didn’t have to do it, and he didn’t have to let it be done so thoroughly. What has turned up in a study by historians is a remarkable number of SS men who went on to leadership positions in the BKA. Files used by the Gestapo to harass and persecute Roma and Sinti were taken over by the BKA, and harassment continued well into the postwar era, in some form at least into the 1980s. The views on “criminal biology” formed during the Third Reich were still influental at the BKA into the 1970s. The essential stories are here, here and here, from the newspaper whose web site still could be better organized. (I had hoped to translate these for this post, but real life kept getting in the way. The story hasn’t really made it into English-language media yet.) There was also a Sunday article, complete with charts of who from the SS rose to what position in the BKA, but I can’t find it online. The English-language Spiegel online has a summary here.

The questions resonate in the present, as post-Communist countries continue to wrestle with the legacies of their dictatorships. Who rose to power? Who did they step on to get there? What are the demands of justice in a new era? Other European countries have their own debates, and indeed their comforting myths, about collaboration, about wartime acts, about the fates of fellow citizens.

There aren’t any easy answers, especially more than half a century later. One good side effect is that the revelations may prompt Germany’s main intelligence service, the BND, and the constitutional protection office (Verfassungsschutz) to examine their pasts. With luck, they will be as honest as the BKA.

(1) Soviet occupation of Central and Eastern Europe was a key reason at the time. As years passed, additional reasons came to include embarassment, fear of personal consequences, unwillingness to bother the old folks and now the passing of people with firsthand knowledge and consequent general ignorance. Another is that Germany has turned into a reasonably well functioning democracy despite the Nazi pasts of many people in its institutions.

Just So, Mr Marshall

Josh Marshall, on Obama and the presidency:

Obama isn’t so much running for the nomination in the sense of reaching out and taking it. He’s trying to show us how marvelous he is (and this isn’t snark, he’s really pretty marvelous) so that Democratic voters will recognize it and give him the nomination.

But that’s not how it works in this country. I don’t know if it really works otherwise anywhere else. But you have to really want it, come out and say it, take it. … You have to want it enough that you reach out and take it. Which isn’t always pretty and admirable. But that’s what it takes.

Exactly right.

I’ve had many conversations with Europeans, mostly Germans, about US politics and about presidents in particular. I’m surprised (though I shouldn’t be by now) at how often people say they’re put off by how arrogant, how grasping, how pushy people in that position seem. But it’s absolutely built in, and that’s a good thing. Leading a large country is about setting the agenda. It’s about making things happen. It’s about getting large numbers of people to do things that you want them to do. Shrinking violets need not apply. And indeed people who do not want the job badly enough to reach out and grab it will not be very good at it.

It’s the same in the larger European countries, and most likely in the small ones, too. (Except Belgium.) Angela Merkel seems all nice and pleasant, but competitors who underestimated her all have one thing in common: They’re not chancellor. Stoiber, Schroeder, Koch, and probably many more back through the years. Schroeder was a famous showboater, and Kohl’s ego was every bit as big as his waistline. And that’s just Germany. Why would anyone think that Mrs Thatcher or General De Gaulle were any less arrogant than American presidents?

I’m inspired by the thought of an Obama presidency. He could be brilliant. But it takes more than brilliance to get to 1600 Pennsylvania, and Obama has to show that he can reach out and take the prize.

495 798 10 34

It’s a year since the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, and it ain’t getting any better. We’ve had the beginning of a trial; a trial where the prosecutor arrested a gaggle of secret police agents, which might have been a good sign, and proceeded to explain that despite this it was all the fault of “a group outside the country” (read: exiles we want rid of), as were the murders of Paul Klebnikov, Andrei Kozlov and possibly Alexander Litvinenko. He didn’t suggest they were putting broken glass in the butter – not quite, at least. Naturally, the rather noticeable news that enemies of the state apparently controlled the FSB was not to be taken as a criticism of that agency, and certainly not of the President who made his career in it.

Equally, it was the Chechens, although the fact the ones who had most reason to do so are those appointed to run Chechnya by the President is carefully elided. Curiously, though, the trial has yet to fully take off as a grand unified theory of state self-exculpation. Anyway, all this to say that her old newspaper has reconnected her old phone number; (00 7) 495 798 10 34.

The EU: Nightmare of the Right

We’ve been tracking the US hard-right’s increasing take-over of British Eurosceptic rhetoric for some time; first it was Tom Tancredo who thinks there’s a secret plot to replace the dollar with the “Amero”, now it’s Ron Paul who’s scared of the “North American Union”. The major difference is that he makes an explicit link:

“The world’s elites are busy forming a North American Union. If they are successful, as they were in forming the European Union, the good ol’USA will only be a memory. We can’t let that happen.

The UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax. The UN elites want to control the world’s oceans through the Law of the Sea Treaty. And they want to use our own military to police the world.”

The interesting thing here is that he lines up with a US hard-right view in government that any kind of multilateral agreement with binding force is unacceptably oppressive, but frames it as being directed at individuals in the US; how responsible, I wonder, are the more prominent people who agreed with him in the 1990s for the Bush administration’s lawlessness? To some extent, the drive to reject any legal constraint on executive power sailed under the flag of rejecting any constraint on sovereign power.

Amusingly, of course, critics of the EU from the left tend to assume that it exists to impose covert US (or, you know, something) control on sovereign polities, which if left alone would certainly choose true socialism. Propagandistically, we can’t catch a break; uniting the extremes is often held to be a sign that you have the support of the reasonable, but quite often it’s just that you’re dull.