About David Weman

The founder of A Fistful of Euros. He is Swedish, and was born in 1980. Works as a translator and subtitler.

Territorial integrity

The UN General Assembly declares the Crimean referendum invalid, 100-11.

Russia absorbing Crimea will be the first time since 1945 that a country other than Israel has taken over a part of a neighbouring state and formally annexed it, other than colonial outposts. Some people are maybe not appreciating what a break with international norms that is.

A few of those annexations of colonies were a lot more brutal affairs than Crimea: Ogaden, East Timor, Western Sahara. It’s still a very short list. Iraq and Kuwait was very briefly an exception and was supposed to once and for all end that sort of thing (and end history).

1 September 2003 – A day that lives in infamy

We’ve managed to miss our own ten year anniversary, so a very heartfelt and sentimental happy belated to us. It’s a grand old age for a blog, and I think we’ve maintained very high standards year after year. It’s everything I could have hoped for ten years ago and I’m immensely proud of my part in all this. “This is the blog you want for creative, English-language coverage of European affairs”, we boasted, and I think we delivered.

Cheers to my fellow contributors, to Nick Barlow who hopped on board, to Matthew Turner, Tobias Schwarz, and Scott Martens who came along, and to Doug Merrill, Edward Hugh, Mrs Tilton, Scott MacMillan, Claudia Muir, Douglas Muir, Alex Harrowell, Guy La Roche, Iain J Coleman, Jurjen Smies, Emmanuel, Brussels Gonzo, Charlie Whitaker, Jamie Kenny, P O Neill, and Kantoos.

It’s also a reminder to get moving on a long-delayed overhaul of the site. Plans are already in place, so stay tuned.

Oman too

I’m wondering if the civil war in Libya would mean the Arab 1848 wouldn’t spread to any countries where it hadn’t already built up a good deal of momentum, since people would be afraid protests would lead to chaos. Apart from maybe Yemen, I think the actual risks would be small, partly because the militaries of the other countries are much more stronger and cohesive.

Given that, the protests in Oman are heartening. They became (somwhat) widespread in just the last few days. This should make the Saudis nervous. I haven’t expected protests to become major in any more countries other than maybe Algeria or possibly Morocco. The protests are hardly at Tunisian levels yet, and we don’t know if they will go anywhere, but if Oman, which is wealthy and as far as I know relatively well-governed and not that repressive, can have a revolution, no regime is safe.

A Rose in the Desert

Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies. Her style is not the couture-and-bling dazzle of Middle Eastern power but a deliberate lack of adornment. She’s a rare combination: a thin, long-limbed beauty with a trained analytic mind who dresses with cunning understatement. Paris Match calls her “the element of light in a country full of shadow zones.” She is the first lady of Syria.

Queen Rania’s got competition! Syria hasn’t been declared good guys, though they might still, and aren’t altermondialiste chic either. She really is astonishingly beautiful, which I guess trumped everything else.

Is the reporter in on the joke here?

Two hundred children dressed variously as elves, reindeers, or candy canes share the stage with members of the national orchestra, who are done up as elves. The show becomes a full-on songfest, with the elves and reindeer and candy canes giving their all to “Hallelujah” and “Joy to the World.” The carols slide into a more serpentine rhythm, an Arabic rap group takes over, and then it’s back to Broadway mode. The president whispers, “All of these styles belong to our culture. This is how you fight extremism—through art.” […]
“This is the diversity you want to see in the Middle East,” says the president, ringing his bell. “This is how you can have peace!”

Via Foreign Policy. I was a little surprised by the reaction in FP’s comments – do the kind of people who fall for this read FP? – til it struck me they’re likely on the Syrian government’s payroll.

Egyptian opinion poll

Pechter Middle East Polls has a new Egyptian opinion poll out, commissioned by AIPAC’s think tank, WINEP.

It’s from Cairo and Alexandria rather than the whole of Egypt.

52% dispapprove, 15% approve of the Muslim Brotherhood.

27% for, 37% against annulling peace treaty with Israel.

35% support Mubarak, Suleiman or the PM Shafiq, as president, 26% Amr Moussa, 3% El Baradei, 1% Nour, 1% Babi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But 57% approve, 17 disapprove of the The Egyptian national association for change, the opposition parties who are part of the protests.

The Brotherhood has mostly rural support, and I bet other cities are less secular.

I guess WINEP supports the revolution? They don’t even acknowledge the poll’s not representative.

You can’t draw too many conclusions from this poll, but I wonder if the opposition’s proposed a yearlong transition before new elections partly because they wanted a chance to establish themselves and organize. I also have a gut feeling that if they do have regime change, they’ll end up with Amr Moussa as president at some point, he just seems like a better politician than anyone in the opposition. He was smart enough to cautiously side with the protesters quite early.

Maybe this will make democracy more palatable to the military and the US. I wouldn’t expect Egypt under someone like Moussa to become a model democracy. At best a Iraq/Turkey style pluralisism mixed with authoritarianism, at worst a democratura. Liberal dissidents like Nour rarely become heads of government for some reason.

Mubarak…Suleiman…Tantawi

One could be forgiven for wondering how cheering it is for Mubarak to be replaced by a military council, but the key thing that happened yesterday isn’t that Mubarak left – he was already gone, he just didn’t know it.

Suleiman prabably became the regime’s most influential figure when he was made vice-president, and when Mubarak delegated most of his authority to him, he looked like the undisputed leader of the government. (At the very least, before yesterday, he was formally in charge, and even in the dictatorships, institutional setups, and constitutional rules often matters, even in a partly lawless enviroment. ) The US, for reasons they know best, had pushed for and encouraged Suleiman taking over. The protesters of course weren’t happy with that, and when the regime relented and kicked Mubarak out, they had once again yielded, and strengthened the protesters. But it also constituted a change of power. While this isn’t quite regime change, the leadership have gone from Suleiman and his government to a military council led by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

I’m not clear on Suleiman’s role in this new setup, but presumably he’s been entirely sidelined, esp. considering his hardline quotes so close to the resignation. That could only be a good thing.

By his statements on the 9th and 8th, saying Egypt wasn’t ready for democracy and saying a opposition takeover would be a coup, and would not be tolerated, he confirmed would should have been obvious, that he is a hardliner and not at all keen on yielding power. Suleiman, like Mubarak, and most figures in the regime, sincerely believe that their kleptocratic dictatorship is in the best interest of Egypt. If the revolution fails, Suleiman could, and maybe still can, become the leader of his country. If there is genuine regime change, even in the event of a managed transition he stands a greater chance than most regime figures of eventually being forced into exile or being prosecuted, having been directly involved in repression and persecution. The military council is probably not enthusiastic about democracy, but have less to gain and less to fear, and may not be as intransigent.

Tantawi, who leads the council, sounds even more intransigent in his attitudes, but he doesn’t look like longterm dictatorship material or as someone who’d dominate the council or be as nimble as Suleiman.

On the other hand, a lack of nimbleness and politcal skills coupled with the fact that the military can’t now both distance themselves and support the regime could make an escalation more likely.

The Nixon option

(I will spell things out a bit more in this post than I might have if we didn’t have an infusion of NYT readers, but probably I should anyway. Some of our readers don’t know a lot about economics.)

We’ve been debating the wisdom of savage wage cuts in Spain and other countries, which Ed thinks is necessary. The idea is that wages have risen far more than is reasonable because of bubbles, which means they’ve become uncompetitive. Normally, that could be solved by currency devaluation, but Spain is in the euro. So Ed wants “internal devaluation”: wages cuts, which will also lead to cuts in prices.

The thing is, what we’re calling internal devaluation isn’t actually analogous to actual devaluation. It’s not even close. It’s not a question of your perspective; it’s not “only” a psychological difference. So how would you get an “internal devaluation” that lived up to its name? Richard Nixon might have an idea…

Currency devaluation can be relatively painless, but wage cuts will be a very painful process. People will be poorer, which will also lead to a collapse in demand, which will lead to a general economic collapse. Price cuts – deflation, sound nice, but are very destructive. It leads to people expecting lower prices, and delaying purchases, which lead to lower production, which leads to lower wages and lower demand, which in turn leads to even lower prices, which leads to people delaying purchases even more. A downward spiral of misery.

Also unlike an actual devaluation, lpeople will have less money to pay back loans, which isn’t a small thing. You already have a lot of people underwater or close in Spain.

History shows that wage cuts and deflation will normally be a very slow and painful process. A government can induce a faster “internal devaluation” by slashing wages for public sector workers. That would still not be very similar to actual devaluation. It would give the economy a body blow, a veritable death blow. Deflation would still be gradual and destructive. It would also hit some people far harder than others, without necessarily targeting less productive sectors of the economy. The more well-off segments of private sector workers probably wouldn’t see any wage cuts at all.

This won’t do. So if – if – savage wage cuts are the least bad option, why not just have a government directive to cut wages for every resident and all prices in one fell swoop, and then retain controls for a couple of months? This way you won’t get a deflationary spiral, you won’t get the same utter collapse in demand. There would be a collapse in corporate profitability, which would happen anyway. It would also be less manifestly unfair.

This still leaves you with loans that haven’t gone down. One immediate thing you could do would be to institute (temporarily) very lenient bankruptcy laws. Currently, they don’t allow any kind of personal bankruptcy, you just (fail to) pay off your debts until you die, and live like a pauper. Probably something more radical is needed.

Most of the arguments against a conventional use of wage and price controls don’t apply here. In any case, Spain doesn’t actually have any good options. What we need to figure out is the least bad option.

Does anyone know if there are any EU rules against something like this?

Instant speculation, instantly out of date

What will happen after the election? If there’s a Lib-Lab majority, which seems likely, though not certain, Nick Clegg, among others, have a few unpleasant decisions ahead of him.

One unusual factor is that any coalition agreement or pact has to be voted on through several levels of the party. Exactly what qualifies as an agreement is a bit vague, however.

If the Tories would agree to PR, Clegg would most likely support them. They almost certainly won’t though. They’re an uncompromising lot and FPTP has served them very well.

Clegg will probably let Cameron through without a good deal on PR. I don’t actually think it’s sensible. (CF) I think Clegg may be savvy about election campaigns, but not about these sort of things. He’s not bloody minded enough. Tories getting a shot has become what’s expected, what’s supposed to happen. From a not-losing the-three day news cycle perspective it would make sense, and because people sort of expect a Tory minority, because the immediate reaction to a Labour-liberal deal would be negative. Never underestimate the feeble mindedness of anyone who isn’t actively evil.

If Clegg makes a less attractive deal, he risks getting overruled, so I reckon he’ll tolerate Cameron without any preconditions, to bypass the grassroots.

If there’s a Lib-Lab pact or actual coalition, the Tories will almost certainly get much high poll numbers fairly soon – the Lib Dems won’t be in opposition anymore, and the economy will still be crap. So if the Lib Dems lets them through with only a vague promise of PR, they’ll soon be in the position to say: “we dare you to vote us down”. And there’s a good chance the grass roots will nix it. The Lib Dems will do very badly in the next election then, whether it’s early or in 2015.

But will Labour offer a good deal? Even if a majority of them wants to, will the leadership be unified enough to offer something some figures are strongly against, with no one in charge and election campaigns starting (for both leader and deputy)?

If both larger parties are uncompromising, Clegg will have no less than six, maybe seven shit sandwiches to choose from. A pact with Labour, or with the Tories. Letting either of them in without ANY deal, to bypass the grassroots. Immediate early elections, which doesn’t only risk a Tory majority, but global economic meltdown (or so people will say). Or outside chance, a national unity gov’t. I think he may then choose what may be the shittiest shit sandwich.

Having said all that, I think the combined odds of a Lib-Lab pact or toleration, either now or somewhat later after some unpleasant twists and turns, is slightly higher than a long term Tory gov’t.
Of course, in thinking about the future we should also consider the risk of the economy imploding because of political uncertainty, even if we get the in my opinion lesser evil in the cabinet.

Update: If Clegg lets Cameron through and then the next Labour leader and Clegg wants to do a deal, could they avoid a new election? My understanding is now that Clegg and the next Labour leader could avoid a new election. This would make letting Cameron in more likely and a bit less irrational. If Cameron goes down to no confidence and doesn’t see it coming soon enough to call a new election, the leader of the opposition gets a shot at forming a government.

Thanks to Ajay, Alex and Keir for their input.