The Fourth Annual Satin Pajama Awards

I hereby announce The Fourth Annual Satin Pajama Awards. You can nominate blogs in the comments to this post.

The purpose of the awards is to recognize the efforts and contributions of Europe’s many talented bloggers, to maybe help build a sense of community among us, and, more than anything, it’s a chance for people to discover lots of new good blogs.

A blog is eligible if it’s written by Europeans or has a European (Czech, Catalan…) theme. Our own blogs aren’t eligible. Finalists are chosen based on the number of nominations as well as editorial discretion. So you want to nominate a favorite blog even if someone else already mentioned it.

Please specify the category and provide a URL or link. We don’t have the time to track down blogs.

The polls will open sometime in April.

Nominees for Best Southeastern European Weblog
Nominees for Best CIS blog
Nominees for Best Writing
Nominate Best Culture Weblog
Nominees for Best Personal Weblog
Nominate Best New Weblog
Nominees for Best European Weblog Overall
Nominate Best Political Weblog
Nominate Most Underappreciated Weblog
Nominees for Best Humor Blog
Nominees for Best German Blog
Nominees for Best French Weblog
Nominate Best UK Blog
Nominees for Best Expat Blog
Nominate Best Academic Weblog

Best Political Weblog
Best Non-European Weblog
Best New Weblog
Best Humorous Weblog
Best Weblog By An Expatriate:
Best Culture Weblog
Best Expat Blog
Most Underappreciated Weblog
Best Writing
Best Personal Weblog
Best Expert or Scholar Weblog
The 2008 Satin Pajama for Lifetime Achievement
Best Weblog in Europe

Best Weblog From North Western Europe (The British Isles and the Nordic countries)
Best Weblog From Continental Western Europe
Best CIS Weblog
Best Southeastern European Weblog
Best Central European Weblog

Best French Weblog
Best German Weblog

Spain’s Economic and Financial Crisis Develops With The ECB Acting As “Pawnbroker of Last Resort.”

My co-blogger on Global Economy Matters Manuel Alvarez in his post on last weekend’s Spanish election called it “Zapatero’s election to lose”, meaning by this that the opposition scarcely seemed credibly poised to win, and their best chance of victory rested on the possibility that Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero might somehow or other manage to clutch defeat straight out of the jaws of victory (aka throw the election away). In the event he didn’t, and the Partido Popular now face another 4 years sitting it out on the opposition benches.

But there is another sense in which one might think that this was Zapatero’s election to lose, and that is connected with the scale and importance of the economic problems which are steadily arriving on the Spanish centre stage, since given the scale of what now seems to be happening in Spain I find it hard to understand how anyone would actually be able to relish having won this one. There are, surely, occasions when discretion is most certainly the better part of valour. Wolfgang Munchau effectively made a similar point in a recent Financial Times Op-ed where he suggested the the winner, whoever he should be was destined to ” spend the next four years cleaning up an economic mess on a scale not witnessed in Spain in modern times”. Continue reading

Regression Roundup

DTV (digital television) is here; just at a time when people are giving up on watching TV in favour of YouTube. Or so we might have thought. There’s also going to be a switchover in America. What if you’re poor and can’t afford a new television? US Congress has thought of this: two $40 vouchers are to be made available to every US household, on application; redeemable at your local Best Buy. Precedent: the Plebeian Games of Emperor Commodus.

A senior British police forensic scientist wants to put the DNA of children aged 7-12 on the British national DNA database (NDNAD). If they show signs of becoming troublemakers, that is. Precedent: criminological phrenology.

In the UK, unemployment benefit is taxable. (News to me, if not to anyone else.) Precedent: the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834.

This is the first in a series of posts monitoring regressive trends in our supposedly modern globalised economy. If you have any stories to share, let me know and I’ll include them in next month’s roundup.

Swords Paperclips from the North

It looks like Nicolas Sarkozy’s pet foreign-policy idea has been sporked, good and proper; his idea of a “Mediterranean Union” is now officially an ex-parrot, after it failed to get German support. As we’ve been saying right back to 2005, the key fact of European politics at the moment is that Angela Merkel has achieved a degree of influence that no other chancellor since Willy Brandt could claim; whether it’s over the economy, the Middle East, Russia, the EU budget, or the EU’s internal organisation, all roads now pass through Berlin. Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer both operated in a triumvirate with a very strong and universally respected French president and a very strong (and pretty respected, but far from universally so) European Commission President; there’s certainly an argument that the Barroso commission is the best for some time, but nobody could seriously describe Nicolas Sarkozy as a leading force in European politics. The UK is absorbed by its own self-inflicted crisis; Italy is coming over all Italian; problems go either to Brussels or Berlin for solution.

So what was this Mediterranean Union thing all about? Well, Sarko’s adviser Henri Guaino had this idea, see; it would be a bit like the EU, but would encompass states along the southern shore of the Mediterranean as well as Spain, Italy, France, and Greece – but no other EU members. This would have done a number of things; for a start, it would have created an undemarcated frontier between the EU’s various existing policy initiatives there and whatever the new organisation did. It would also have been potentially in conflict with the EU accession process. Certainly, the new entity would have been politically dominated by France; which, it’s fair to say, was probably why France wanted it.

This could have worked in a couple of ways; perhaps the EU could subcontract its policy in the Mediterranean to the new organisation (or to the French Foreign Ministry), or else the two would work out a division of labour. Alternatively, the freies Spiel der Krafte, the “free interplay of forces”, would have seen them compete until some sort of de facto arrangement emerged. But what would it actually have been doing?

There are two answers to this; one is that it would have been doing the good work of spreading European integration onto the potentially unstable southern rim (whilst also tactfully getting around the special significance of, say, Moroccan membership in the EU). Another is that it would have been a substitute for accession; rather than the real thing with its guarantees, open borders, trading privileges and development funds, warm words (and the special benefits of Francafrique), and probably highly restrictive agreements on nasty things like immigration. (Via Randy McDonald, check out this view from the other side of the table.) Certainly, the British government reckoned it was a way to put Turkish membership off the table.

Yet another unexplained angle was the relationship between the new organisation and NATO; despite the new organisation’s Frenchness, it’s worth pointing out that all its proposed European members would have been NATO member states. In fact, either three out of four or four out of five, depending on the inclusion or otherwise of Portugal, are home to a major NATO multinational HQ; Portugal, Spain, and Greece all have a Joint Subregional Task Force HQ, Portugal is also home to a NATO SACLANT naval headquarters, Italy is home to NATO headquarters for Southern Europe, SACEUR’s southern naval headquarters, the southern air forces’ headquarters, and the US 6th Fleet. NATO has relationships with most of the other potential members under the Partnership for Peace; the interworking between these and the MU was left for the imagination.

So, plenty of problems. Then there was the touchy subject of whether the MU (with a net-recipient membership) would have EU funds; no wonder Merkel wasn’t keen. As always, for EU funds read “net-contributions from the Northern Alliance of Germany, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Slovenia”. Yes, Slovenia – it’s northern, right? No? Well, it is, isn’t it – look at it, it’s parliamentary, it’s a net contributor, it’s got mountains (like Holland…), it’s sort of social-democratic, and vaguely German. Clearly. And so they kiboshed the MU.

But was it a good idea? I think not. The single most effective – almost the only effective – method of EU foreign policy is the enlargement process. So I’m opposed to anything that diverts from it. Our international-society-theory with balls/prototype world government is about the only grand political vision of the last 100 or so years that remains valid; with all its inconsistencies and bizarreries……hold it. The inconsistencies and bizarreries are precisely why it works. A curious combination of bureaucracy, anarchy and diplomacy, it’s not a prototype world government, it’s a world un-government in permanent beta test; we just haven’t invented the right buzzword yet to name it. (Which may be a problem. Successful projects usually breed their own tribe, and hence their own language; we don’t seem to be so good at that. But you’re welcome to try in comments.)

The version of the MU that was actually signed off is considerably more like the EU; it includes all the EU member states, it’s intended to do concrete and practical things, and it actually offers the ‘tothersiders something, namely ERASMUS student exchanges, money, and a higher priority for the extension of the EU free-trade area. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zapatero manages to snap up the headquarters.

Macedonia’s government collapses too

Well, that was unexpected.

Just a couple of months ago, I noted that Macedonia’s PM Gruevski was the most popular head of government in the Balkan region. Well, his government just collapsed. The Albanian party — his coalition partner — has pulled out, leaving him without a majority.

Here’s a brief primer on Macedonian politics. Somewhere between 25% and 35% of the population is ethnic Albanians. The majority Slav Macedonians used to treat them pretty badly… not as badly as the Serbs in Kosovo, but they were definitely second class citizens. So, in the wake of the Kosovo war, Macedonia developed its own Albanian separatist movement. This led to a brief near-civil war in 2001-2. To everyone’s surprise, this was resolved by the 2002 Ohrid Agreement, which mandated power-sharing between the two groups.

Then Macedonia had a stroke of luck: the Albanian minority split into two parties. This meant there wasn’t a single “Albanian party” claiming to speak for a third of the country. That’s good, because it would have been really hard to accommodate such a party in government, but impossible to leave it outside. In every government since 2002, the two Albanian parties have taken turns — there’s always one in coalition with an ethnic Macedonian party and the other in opposition.

But now the Albanians are pulling out. Why? Well, they say that they made a bunch of demands of the government, and these demands weren’t met. What’s interesting (and worrisome) is that all these demands were Albanian-centric. Continue reading

Hesse Tries the Belgian Model

It was a long weekend for the possible Social Democratic (SPD) minister-president of Hesse, Andrea Ypsilanti. At the end of last week, she said that she would go back on the SPD’s pledge not to work with the Left party, the latest incarnation of Germany’s post-communists. She would form a minority government with the Greens, brought to power on the sufferance of the Left. That would be a one-vote majority to bring in the government. Except it didn’t happen.
Continue reading

Elections in Serbia, again

Serbia’s government seems to be collapsing.

The cause is, of course, Kosovo. Most of the EU countries have now recognized independent Kosovo, which pretty strongly implies that they won’t accept a Serbia that still claims Kosovo into the EU.

Last week, the nationalist Serbian Radical Party introduced a resolution in parliament calling on the EU to “clearly and unambiguously” confirm Serbia’s territorial integrity as a condition for further European integration. Since 16 of 27 EU members have now recognized Kosovo, this was not likely to happen. But PM Kostunica’s party went along with it. The other coalition partners in the government, the Democratic Party and G17 Plus, said that they wouldn’t support the resolution. (They said its aim was not the defense of Kosovo, but putting a halt to European integration.)

Kostunica then said that he “no longer had confidence in the sincerity of his coalition partners to fight for Kosovo,” and before anyone quite knew what was happening the government had collapsed.

It’s a bit of a surprise. I expected the government to survive, largely because almost everyone is afraid of new elections. But the Radicals seem to have decided that it’s worth rolling the dice; they seem to think they won’t lose seats and, in the general mood of national funk following the loss of Kosovo, may gain. They might be right. What’s less clear to me is why PM Kostunica went along with the Radical resolution. My best guess is that his nationalist rhetoric of the last few weeks has been so strong that he’s really painted himself into a corner.

Anyway, it looks like elections will be on May 11. More on this in a bit, I’m sure.

Holland? Flowers!

I am loathe to add to the Wilders-hype, created both by him and the Dutch government, but the following video by Thomas Erdbrink is simply too amazing to let slip by AFOE’s international radar.
Thomas Erdbrink is a Dutch journalist and correspondent for NRC Handelsblad and he has a wonderful blog called Onze Man in Teheran or “Our Man in Tehran”. You guessed it, this man is working and living in Iran.

In his latest post Nederlanders in Iran or “Dutch people in Iran” he describes how he was contacted, in the wake of all the Wilders hype, by a Dutch television journalist regarding the safety of Dutch people in Iran. Erdbrink tells the journalist that “No, Dutch people do not have to go into hiding yet” and that “Things are pretty cool tension-wise”. Erdbrink then discovers that the unnamed journalist did not find this interesting enough and decided to show on television some spectacular stories about Dutch people in Pakistan instead. The tv programme apparently does not show anything about Iran. However, they do mention Iran in the same context.

Thomas Erdbrink does not find this “fair and balanced” and subsequently decides to make his own little documentary. He dresses up like a typical Dutch soccer fan, including orange hat, and starts interviewing Iranian people in the streets showing them a photo of Geert Wilders… I do not have the time, nor the technical skills, to subtitle this video in English, but absolutely no-one Erdbrink interviews mentions either Wilders or any zionist plot in The Netherlands against Iran. The people associate Holland with flowers, dope and Van Basten. Also mentioned are Dutch racism and freedom of speech in The Netherlands.

What I love about this video, apart from Erdbrink’s clear and justified statement about the way journalism should be practiced, is that it shows normal people instead of foaming-at-the-mouth politicians or clergy. Watch, for instance, the Iranian skaters. What a familiar sight they are to our Western eyes. I also have to mention that this video is NOT apologetic of the Iranian regime. A good journalist simply needs to show, as best he can, the diverse reality on the ground and not stoop to all the hype-making politicians are known for. Hence the caption Erdbrink added to his video: “This video may be shocking to people watching Dutch current affairs programmes.” And at the end of the video he walks into an Iranian store to buy some pistachio nuts and… Gouda cheese!

Here is the video. And do not worry if you do not understand Dutch. The interviews are conducted mainly in English and I think the images speak for themselves.

Update: Correction. The guy in the video is not Thomas Erdbrink but a friend of his. And it was this friend who was contacted by the television journalist. Erdbrink and this friend then made the vid together. Sorry, my mistake.