Disgraceful

The treaty is basically the constitution minus some symbolic things (and an exemption from the Fundamental Rights for the Brits.) Henry Farrell had it right a couple of days ago.

This is a quite substantial set of changes. It should be presented to people so that they can vote on it (and taken off the table if they don’t want it). It’s a shame and a disgrace that the EU member states have responded to the 2005 defeat by going back to their old practice of seeking to achieve integration by boring the general public into submission, and a very substantial backward step. If people aren’t willing to sign up to major changes in the EU system of governance, then too bad for the EU system of governance.

The Catalan Statute

Well here in sunny Catalonia we don’t have a fooball team of our own right now, so maybe that’s why we chose this precise moment to hold a referendum about our future.

Now the first thing to get straight is that despite all the direst predictions, Spain is still here the morning after the big vote, and in one piece, I just touched the floor to prove it. Indeed 11 footballers (some of them Catalan) will also come to earth on German turf tonight just to graphically illustrate the point. So it does seem that some of the concerns raised in the coments to this post were well wide of the mark.

Some issues do, however, remain.
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Not as exciting as the World Cup

If anyone has the energy to think about the European Constitution at the moment, I’m afraid this entry will not encourage you to keep up the effort.

Last week, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) put on a show for those of us in Brussels who are interested: a lunchtime meeting, discussing the way forward after the “period of reflection” on the fate of the Constitutional Treaty. The speakers were the leaders of the three main pan-European political parties – for the European People’s Party, former Belgian prime minister Wilfried Martens; for the Party of European Socialists, former Danish prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen; and for the Liberals, Belgian politician Annemie Neyts.

I found it a depressing meeting, depressing because of the complicit complacency of the three.
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French protests : it’s the politics, stupid!

There are some offers you can’t refuse. An invitation to join the permanent roster of Afoe is one of them. Let me first say, then, that I was initially happy and thrilled and grateful to be part of this wonderful blog. All the more so since it means that I’ll be ineligible for the Afoe Awards next year, and thus spared the humiliation of a third crushing defeat in a row. (For those of you who are scratching their head and wondering “who the hell is this guy?”, check this post)

If is say “initially”, it’s because, as the French guy of the team, I now have the daunting task of trying to explain clearly our current social row over the Contrat première embauche (First job contract) to a mainly non-native readership. As it happens, the BBC has already done a quite decent Q&A on the topic. So go read it to get the basics. And then come back here if you want my long and -I hope- not too muddled thoughts on what it all means.
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Not A Happy Week In Iraq

This seems to be the big-picture story in Iraq:

Sunni Arab politicians, meanwhile, expressed anger over remarks by Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician suggesting that the new constitution, approved in October, would not be amended….

A key Sunni demand is weaker federalism and a stronger central government. The constitution now gives most power — including control over oil profits — to provincial governments. The Shiites in the south and the Kurds in the north control nearly all of Iraq’s oil.

To win their support, Sunni Arabs were promised they could propose amendments to the constitution in the first four months of the new parliament.

“We, the Iraqi Accordance Front and other lists will not bow to any kind of blackmail from any party and we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend Iraq,” al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press.

Another prominent Sunni Arab politician, Saleh al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Front, agreed.

“If they do not accept key amendments to the country’s new constitution, including the regions issue, then let them work alone and divide the country, as for us we do not accept this,” al-Mutlaq told the AP by phone from Amman, Jordan.

Picking Cherries or Dead As A Duck?

There are opinions to suit all taste this week. According to EurActiv:

EU leaders have almost all declined a proposal by French President Jacques Chirac to save the EU Constitution by splitting it up into single chapters and integrating those into the existing EU framework.

The EU observer puts it more bluntly – The Hague says constitution is ‘dead’:

The Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot has said the EU constitution is “dead” for the Netherlands, rejecting EU leaders’ recent pleas for a resuscitation of the charter.

So it seems, at the end of the day, there will be no low-lying fruit, like cherries, just there for the pickin. Time to start building some ladders I think.

Words Said In More Than Jest

This news is surely not as grave as it seems, but the placing under house arrest of the commander of the Spanish Land Forces is hardly to be taken as a trifle. In a move which is reminiscent of the environment surrounding the military coup of 1981., the decision of Defence Minister José Bono to place Lt. Gen. Jose Mena Aguado under house arrest and relieve him of his duties may seem to be a strong one (Aguado was to have resigned in only a few months), as there is really surely no imminent danger of a military coup. It does however reveal just how sensitive the issue is in a country which has seen both civil war and attempted Coup d’Etat. The military is definitely not a welcome participant in the political process here.

What exactly did Aguado do? Well essentially he chose the opportunity of an occassion which is something like army day’ to cite in a speech a clause in the Spanish constitution that calls on the armed forces to intervene if needed to guarantee the unity, independence and sovereignty of Spain, using the example of the proposed reform to the Catalan Statute of Autonomy as an explicit case in point. He did not specify how he thought the armed forces should intervene.

So the rapid response of Bono is both welcome, and unsurprising, what is more surprising – or given recent events, perhaps it isn’t – is the reaction of the opposition Partido Popular:

Only the right wing Popular Party, the most vociferous opponent of the Catalan charter, pulled back from condemning the officer, saying his comments were the logical result of the uncertainty triggered by the charter debate.

So those who claim to be the staunchest defenders of the Spanish constitution turn out to be the most blasé when someone rattles some sabres which might actually threaten its integrity.

Then and now

Billmon, in a very eloquent post, says nothing. All he does is put up a series of quotations. Yet his message couldn’t be clearer; or more correct.

Lest visiting American wingnuts misunderstand me: I do not assert that Billmon is correct in inviting us to infer that Donald Rumsfeld is guilty of war crimes. That question would be decided by a court, in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Rumsfeld ends up before one.

No, what Billmon gets undeniably right is the far bigger and broader and more fundamental idea that (to use the words of Telford Taylor with which Billmon’s post comes to a close) ‘law is not a one-way street’. Whether a government is good or bad is decided by what it does and refrains from doing; not by who its members are or by the justifications they offer for their acts and omissions. That goes for the current government of the USA, and it goes equally for every other government entrusted with the running of a state.
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So – What Did Happen to Iraq?

A few weeks ago, if you can cast your mind back that far, the big story was apparently something to do with a country called Iraq that was trying to agree among itself on its future constitution. After multiple deadlines were breached, two of the factions in the country decided to impose the constitution on the other by their majority. But then, they hesitated. The text was amended, but not by the drafting committee..

And then there was a hurricane. Not that it was one anywhere near Iraq, where they don’t have hurricanes, but it still knocked the whole thing off the agenda. And the Iraqis had a particularly horrible disaster of their own. So – what did happen to that constitution?

Well, it seems nothing happened to it. They have done absolutely nothing about it since then – it still hasn’t gone before Parliament, and even its opponents haven’t held the meeting to draft a counter-constitution they promised. What has been going on is that the killing has kept up at a rate of about thirty a day. August saw the deaths of 85 US servicemen. And, worryingly, there are signs that after a period of quiet, what I call the New-Old Iraqi Army has entered the lists again.
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