Stupider than you can imagine. Evidence, the map over at this fine post from Sadly, No!. Read the whole thing, but as well as introducing the best title for a blog post ever, they’ve caught “Gates Of Vienna” pretending that in the future, Europe will be divided into Islamic states (with incredibly silly names), Russian protectorates, and the Russian empire, due to teh demographic menace.
Yes, that’s right – they think Russia doesn’t have a demographics problem. They also think that although Iceland will become an Islamic state, Switzerland and, for some bizarre reason, the Czech Republic will remain “neutral”. And Germany will re-divide, with the old Federal Republic sliding into Islamic rule and the old DDR being a Russian protectorate.
Either that, or they’re using a map that’s still got East Germany on it. It feels a bit like mocking cripples to take the piss out of people who are obviously so ill-equipped to take part in any kind of debate, but, what the hell! Read the whole thing and don’t forget to bring your fisker.
But among the routine partisan knockabout, there’s a gem – this UPI article on demographics, which finally offers Randy McDonald some relief in his role as the NATO-standard debunker. Martin Walker notes the French demographic turn-around, but the especially interesting bit is that he actually has some numbers on the rate at which immigrant groups’ TFRs converge with the norm.
The birthrates of Muslim women in Europe have been falling significantly for some time. In the Netherlands, for example, the TFR among Dutch-born women rose between 1990 and 2005 from 1.6 to 1.7. In the same period for Moroccan-born women in Holland it fell from 4.9 to 2.9, and for Turkish-born women in Holland from 3.2 to 1.9.
In Austria, the TFR of Muslim women fell from 3.1 to 2.3 from 1981 to 2001. In 1970 Turkish-born women in Germany had on average two children more than German-born women. By 1996 the difference had fallen to one child and has now dropped to 0.5. These sharp falls reflect important cultural shifts, which include the impact of universal female education, rising living standards, the effect of local cultural norms and availability of contraception.
There is, as they say, no crisis. However, this doesn’t overturn something else we occasionally point out on AFOE, which is that whatever happens in Europe, the demographic transition is worldwide. Unlike my dear colleague, I personally think this is a damn good thing in the light of energy, environmental, and international security issues. I’d much rather be K-selected than r-selected.
The global trend is down, very sharply down. In all, 80 countries around the world, comprising almost half the Earth’s population, are now experiencing a birthrate that is below replacement….With a few exceptions like Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories, Haiti and Guatemala, the countries still experiencing strong population growth are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Depending on its birthrate, the current 750 million are likely to become between 1.5 billion and 3 billion by the end of this century. And if European, Latin American and Arab birthrates continue to decline, then Islam as well as Christianity will be a predominantly African religion, with some outposts in Europe.
Which raises the question, what kind of Islam will that be? The rise of African Christianity has been a force for conservatism and fundamentalism in the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church; but the rise of African Islam looks likely to be a phenomenon of the city, what the Lounsbury calls the “Pious Middle” class. In this context it’s interesting to note that several African countries already have political parties that have adopted the language of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party; it’s not impossible that this Islamic Christian Democracy might find its niche in African cities.
The American continent is about to get its first high-speed train. Where?
Argentina on Tuesday signed a contract with a consortium led by Alstom of France to build the first high-speed train in the Americas, linking Buenos Aires with the cities of Rosario and CÃ³rdoba in three hours, nearly a fifth of the current journey time.
Patrick Kron, Alstomâ€™s chairman and chief executive, said construction would start before the end of the year and last for four years. Alstom, which designed and built Franceâ€™s TGV, Spainâ€™s AVE and South Koreaâ€™s KTX, is providing the rolling stock, signalling and maintenance to the Veloxia consortium, which also includes Iecsa and Emepa of Argentina and Spainâ€™s Isolux Corsan.
The total project, financed by French bank Natixis, will cost some $3.7bn and Argentina will issue 30-year debt. Alstomâ€™s share of the project is worth around $1.7bn. The project is five to eight times cheaper than similar ones in France or Spain, Alstom says.
How long before Sarko shows up to offer them a nuclear power station? Alstom and Areva: two great French quasi-state industries that taste great together. And Argentine railway bonds – now there’s Edwardian for you…
The Georgians may have lost two more UAVs in the escalating crisis between them, Abkhazia, and Russia (in so far as the latter two are distinct). At least, the Abkhaz side is claiming that their “anti-aircraft forces” shot down two drones, presumably Georgian ones; the Georgians deny it, which is interesting because they were keen to publicise the last such incident. Back on the 20th of April, the Georgians lost another UAV to a MiG-29 fighter – subtext, to the Russians, as no-one seriously believes Abkhazia operates an independent air force and certainly not one equipped with modern fighters. (They claim to have some Czech-made L39 fighter/trainers.) You can see the video here, complete with MiG-29 and missile.
Shootings-down of aircraft are always overclaimed, so it’s possible that everyone is wrong. The Russians suggested that the video actually shows a “NATO MiG-29” (which isn’t actually impossible – Germany has some left over from the DDR), but no-one is convinced. If today’s statement is true, one has to wonder what the Georgians are up to as well – the drones in question are rather expensive Israeli Elbit Hermes-450s, and Georgia has only a couple of dozen. If they are deliberately testing the other side or seeking a provocation, they must really mean it.
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.
A while back I started a series on “frozen conflicts” in the former USSR. The first two (on Transnistria) can be found here and here. I was planning to do them in order from least bad to worst (which would put South Ossetia next) but decided to jump ahead a bit to Nagorno-Karabakh.
What the heck is Nagorno-Karabakh, anyway?
Briefly: it’s a small, mountainous territory in the Caucasus, about the size of a small US state or a large British county. Until the USSR collapsed, it was part of Azerbaijan. But the population was mostly Armenians. So there was a vicious little war in the early 1990s, which the rest of the world pretty much ignored.
The Azeris lost, so today Nagorno is almost entirely Armenian. It claims to be an independent country, but nobody recognizes it.
Last week, the EU peacekeeping force for Chad/the Central African Republic/and anywhere else in the general mess left of Darfur looked all set; after the French government offered to pony up more troops, and specifically enough Transall cargo planes and Puma support helicopters to assure the force’s mobility, the EU foreign ministers signed off the deal. It was settled that a multinational HQ at Mont-Valerien outside Paris, headed by an Irish general, would command the operation, with a French land force commander on the scene; the first-flights were due to arrive on Thursday and Friday, bringing an advanced guard of Irish Rangers and various logistic elements.
However, it seems Chad’s rebels have adopted the bear principle. Remember the man who tried to give the powder to the bear, said Winston Churchill; he rolled it up in a piece of paper, pointed it down the bear’s nose…but the bear blew first. The initial airlift was held on the ground, as a column of rebels appeared at the gates of N’Djamena; instead the French army brought in 150 more troops from their base in Gabon. The rebels, who raided the city last spring and were beaten off with the help of French aircraft are reported to be fighting towards the presidential palace. As Secret Defense (my new favourite blog) points out at the link, it’s in the nature of desert warfare that enemies can appear suddenly almost anywhere, especially when the modern ship of the desert is the Toyota Land Cruiser.
The French troops evacuated 400 or so nationals to Gabon, but the million-dollar question is whether they will support Idriss Deby in trying to stay in power; French forces have been doing precisely that ever since 1986 under Operation EPERVIER. Apparently Deby refused the offer of a Dassault Falcon lift into exile and is fighting it out; the head of the Chadian army was reported to have been killed in action, which argues that this is pretty serious business. For what it’s worth, Bernard Kouchner says France is neutral in this conflict, but we support legality and the powers-that-be.
Pretty clearly, part of the point was to act before EUFOR deployed across the route from the border to the city; the questions are now whether EUFOR will ever move – after all, will there be any peace to keep? – and whether its French elements move to save France’s man in Chad. This only points up the ambiguity in the entire mission; protecting the civilian population and supporting the African Union in Darfur are goals that are easily merged with saving Idriss Deby’s skin and TotalFinaElf’s interests. As Daniel Davies so wisely said, unless you can make it rain as much as it used to, you probably aren’t going to solve Darfur’s problems.
“Against stupidity, the Gods themselves contend in vain.” — Schiller
So Serbia’s government has agreed to sell its oil and gas company, NIS, to Russia’s Gazprom.
By itself there’s nothing wrong with this. What’s stupid about it is the price. NIS has a market value of around $2.8 billion. The government is selling it to Gazprom for $400 million, plus the promise of another $500 million in investment over the next five years. In other words, Gazprom — a company not exactly strapped for cash — is getting a windfall of almost $2 billion, at the expense of one of the poorest countries in Europe.
Why is the Serbian government doing this? Several reasons, all of them bad. Continue reading
It’s become a routine part of any foreign trip President Sarkozy takes that he announces the sale of a nuclear power station. On his recent visit to the Middle East, for example, the two keynote announcements from his meetings with the leaders of the UAE involved a) the sale of a nuclear power station and b) the establishment of a French military base. We’ll come to the base later; first, the nuclear, as Harold MacMillan said. Not only that, Sarkozy went on to Saudi Arabia, where he offered them a couple of nuclear power stations. Qatar had also lined one up. He’d already sold a number of them to China, and offered the possibility of one at least to Libya.
Clearly, not only is Areva a major export earner, it’s also an important part of French foreign policy. When we say that Sarko “signed” a contract for a nuclear reactor, what we mean is of course that the agreement was held over so as to be announced when he showed up; this bit him on the backside when the Indians refused to play, arguing that boosting his image was no concern of theirs.
But I would suggest that nuclear technology, as with aircraft and arms sales and even branches of the Louvre, has been restored to the sort of foreign-policy place it held in the 1950s; impress a superpower and win a reactor. That kept going until even Kinshasa University got one; one hopes Sarko doesn’t go quite that far. In this, and many other things, Sarkozy is as neo-Gaullist as they come; this symbiosis of the state, technology, and policy is a core element.
Even if his report on economic growth includes no less than 314 (told you he was like Chirac with too much caffeine) individual propositions, it appears to consist of the creation of some new educational institutions, heavy spending on R&D, pious vows about reducing labour costs, and a nod to Danish social policy. Note that the president of Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, was consulted.
Over New Year, the SNCF brought a gaggle of trains into the Grand Palais for their anniversary celebrations; the centrepiece of this Gaullist techfest was the video of the world speed record set in the spring. A large crowd of sober citizens gathered, as if to view the latest howitzer sometime in the 1910s. Sometimes, progress exists; this is something the French state understands.
So does realpolitik, though; the backstory of the UAE base is that the emirates have been trying to reduce their dependence on the US for some time, especially Abu Dhabi (which dominates the military). As well as asking the Louvre to open a branch, they bought Mirage 2000 aircraft, and now they want an EPR reactor and a French military presence.
So Albania had a country-wide blackout yesterday. (N.B., I’m not going to post about Albania every day. It’s just sort of random.) They’ve had plenty of blackouts before, but this was the first one to talke the whole country down. It lasted for several hours. Fortunately, it happened on a warm day, so nobody froze and there don’t seem to have been any deaths. Still, not good.
Albania has problems with electricity, and has had since… well, pretty much always. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha tried to electrify the whole country, but he did it in a really slapdash way, with generators, equipment and networks ranging from ramshackle to crappy. The country gets all its electrity from Communist-era hydropower plants; hydropower is clean and all that, but the generators are old and in need of constant repair and a season of bad rain (common in Albania) can turn the lights off.