The European Parliament: It’s Doing Democracy

Nobody likes the European Parliament, and that’s probably why everyone had such low expectations about the “telecoms package” it was meant to pass. There was all kinds of horrible gunk in there – the French government, for a start, had outsourced its policy to the owner of a chain of record shops, who decided that all ISPs should be required to cut off service to anyone they were told was downloading illegal music. Then, for some reason, British Conservative MEPs joined in; it looked like we were on our way to a continent-wide mandate for deep packet inspection, with various horrible lobbies getting access to the take.

Not any more. Hardly anyone’s bothered reporting this, but as was the first to report, it’s been successfully castrated, using a selection of targeted amendments. The “three strikes” proposal so dear to Nicolas Sarkozy and friends has been struck out, Malcolm Harbour’s attempt to pass everybody’s clickstream to the record industry killed off, and a guarantee that surveillance can only begin with the approval of a court inserted. There’s more (in French) here;

en vertu du principe selon lequel aucune restriction aux droits et libertés fondamentales des utilisateurs finaux ne doit être prise sans décision préalable de l’autorité judiciaire en application notamment de l’article 11 de la charte des droits fondamentaux, sauf en cas de menace à la sécurité publique où la décision judiciaire peut intervenir postérieurement

So you can’t intrude on the rights of end-users without getting a court order, except in case of a threat to public safety, in which case the courts can strike down your decision retrospectively. Great. It’s a cracking piece of work all right, especially for the various tiny and unreported campaign groups who dragged it on deck and the various Green and Leftist MEPs involved. Like Danny Cohn-Bendit.

The package was supported by the EPP, the conservative group in the EP, and the worst things in it were their ideas. The EPP has a significant majority; it’s well worth pointing out that flipping a prestigious piece of legislation like this in the face of a working majority just doesn’t happen in the House of Commons, dominated as it is by the whipping system.

So who’s left to cry, other than monopoly-minded lobbyists and spooks? The blogosphere’s own Tim Worstall, it turns out. In a spectacularly idiotic piece published in The Register, he takes the expert advice on public international law of woman-hating nutbag UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom and concludes that this statement means you’re not allowed to use Google.

“End-users are able to access and use services, including information society services, provided within the Community.”

His argument, if the word can be applied, is apparently that “Roman law” blah blah…but here’s the problem. It doesn’t say that you’re allowed to use them, does it? There is no value judgment in there. Strangely, nobody in the night-haunted tyrannies of the rest of Europe has ever found this a problem, either. For example, I’m able to stab the next man on the street; but Timmeh’s logic would imply that this makes it legal to stab the Prime Minister, as I haven’t…whatever. This is so stupid and intellectually dishonest it just makes me feel tired.

But you have to cut him some slack. After all, typing “Britney Spears sex tape” into his spam blog must get tiring. For the Register, well. I still remember when it was a reasonably useful news source; more recently it’s declined into publishing arsewit climate change denial bollocks and rehashed ECHR-bashing from the Sun.

The people who actually did the fight on this occasion, La Quadrature du Net, deserve your thanks, Tim. But that’s in French, by the way.

Meanwhile, in Cyprus

It’s generated amazingly little discussion in the international press, but the Greek and Turkish Cypriots are sitting down and trying to resolve their 35-year-old-and-counting conflict.

The talks started about three weeks ago. They are moving slowly — the negotiators just took a break for two weeks, and they don’t expect to complete the discussions until early next year — but they’re serious.

Cyprus-watchers will recall the Annan Plan, negotiated five years ago in 2003-4. It was supposed to provide a fair and reasonable framework for reunification under a loose federal system. In March 2004, both sides subjected it to a referendum. The Turkish Cypriots approved it by about 4 to 3, but the Greeks rejected it by almost 3 to 1.

That killed reunification for the next four years, but in the last six months it’s jumped up and come to life again. The prime mover here is Greek Cyprus’ new President, Dimitris Christofias. I wrote about his election back in February:

Christofias has said that he hopes to restart talks with Turkish Northern Cyprus, which have been stalled since Greek Cyprus rejected the Annan Plan in 2004. I wish him luck — he’ll need it. Even with goodwill on both sides, reaching a settlement will be difficult; the Turks are still resentful that the 2004 deal was rejected, a lot of Greeks are either apathetic or actively hostile to any negotiation with the north, and both sides will be vulnerable to nationalist attacks on their flanks. I’d say Christofias’ victory raises the chances of a successful settlement from “zero” to “very slim”.

Still, it’s an interesting development. Let’s see what happens.

I still think it’s unlikely this will succeed. Even with good will on both sides, reunification is horribly complicated. Refugee return, property compensation, voting rights for Turkish immigrants, apportionment of power… it’s a real mess.

On the other hand, it’s moved farther and faster than I would have thought possible. And the lack of media attention may be a feature, not a bug: both sides seem to be taking the negotiations seriously, so neither is interested in making a spectacle.

And a successful reunification… well, damn. That would be awesome in about six different ways.

Watching with interest.

Vote of confidence?

The IMF has just released its latest assessment of Hungary (news release, detailed report).  It’s interesting and sobering reading — this is a country where the budget deficit nearly hit 10% of GDP last year and which is still spending 4% of GDP a year on public debt service.  In Ireland we know how this can end badly: if interest rates go up, debt service suffocates everything in the budget and you’re screwed.  Anyway, one bit of uneasy reading comes from the assessment’s assurances that the banking system is “profitable and well-capitalized”.  Isn’t this the assurance that is given to every banking system right before it tanks?  The profits come from huge leverage and “well capitalized” is just relative to the usual standard for thinly capitalized banks.   So good luck to Hungary.  There is a tricky balancing act of getting the public debt under control while not destabilizing the system that has a big share of mortgages denominated in foreign currency.  At least all the USA’s problems are in dollars.

South Ossetia Kosovo Counterfactual Poll!

We haven’t used the poll function for a while.

So okay: the Russians say that they’re only recognizing South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence because the wicked, lawless West set a precedent with Kosovo. And at first glance, this seems plausible! After all, the Georgia crisis came just six months after Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence. South Ossetia and Abkhazia had previously made declarations of independence, but nobody — not even the Russians — had recognized them.

Kosovo, said Moscow, made the difference. And not just Moscow. Many commentators, including some who were sympathetic to the Kosovars, quickly agreed.

But… Continue reading

Blonde on blonde: State elections in Bavaria

So we have state elections here in Bavaria this week.

Yeah, I know. Bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

There are political signs here and there around our small town, but not as many as you’d expect. A surprisingly high number are for the nationalist, anti-immigration Republican Party. I say “surprisingly” because the Republicans only got between 2% and 3% of the vote in the last election. On the other hand, that’s compared to less than 1% nationwide, so I guess they’re focussing their efforts in a state where they have some small chance.

I suppose I should talk about how the Landtag is dominated by the CSU, and has been forever, and about the internal power struggles there, and what it’s like living in a de facto one party state. But, eh, don’t feel like it. So instead I’m going to talk about blonde children in campaign ads. Continue reading

The lame left?

Newsweek has a longish (for Newsweek) article this week about how the center-left is in trouble in pretty much all the large European countries:

No matter what they call themselves—Social Democrats, Socialists or Labour—rarely have they simultaneously appeared so troubled. In Britain, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s popularity has hit rock bottom. Germany’s Social Democrats are a dwindling party, squeezed between conservatives in the center and populist extremists on the left. In France and Italy, telegenic new-style rightists have managed to reduce the left-wing opposition to tatters. Even Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the last unchallenged mainstream-left ruler of a major European power, looks increasingly besieged as the Spanish economic miracle crashes all around him…

Last week Germany’s Social Democrats dumped their fourth chairman in as many years and nominated a charisma-free career bureaucrat, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to face off against the popular Chancellor Angela Merkel in the September 2009 national election. Only days earlier the annual late-summer confab of the French Socialists in La Rochelle erupted in discord and intrigue over the party’s direction.

So far, reasonable enough. Unfortunately, the article then tries to explain just why the left is in trouble: Continue reading

Georgia: next?

So the Russians are saying they’ll withdraw from Georgia Real Soon Now. Meanwhile Moscow has signed treaties of mutual defense with the, you know, totally independent and sovereign nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If Georgia makes a move — or something that Moscow thinks is a move, or wants to think is a move — Russia will intervene again, with as much force as it thinks appropriate.

Meanwhile Georgia, of course, has renewed its national commitment to recovering the lost territories. This includes building up its military, continued pursuit of NATO membership, and sucking up massive amounts of foreign aid from anyone who will give it, most notably the US.

Apropos of which, here’s a recent article in EurasiaNet that lays out some options: continued occupation a la Turkish Cyprus (most likely), formal partition, and internationalization (currently very unlikely, but who knows). Continue reading