French Candidates: What is this EU thing anyway?

Why do the leading candidates in the French presidential election seem to have utterly strange European policies?

Take Nicolas Sarkozy. He supposedly believes in “rupture” with old ways and a dash for a new free-market, hard-nosed, toughness cult future. And Euroscepticism is at the heart of this. But at the same time, he has promised to restore le productivisme – that is to say, the maximisation of volume – as the guiding principle of the Common Agricultural Policy.

That’s not free-market, tough, eurosceptic, hard-nosed, liberal, or anything else, except for pure clientele politics. Better yet, it’s the kind of clientele politics that uses other people’s money. Yawn. Not that the peasants’ representatives believes in it – one of them recently said that “there are no cloned Chiracs available”.

Fascinatingly, he’s also now blaming the European Central Bank for its exchange rate policy – as is Ségoléne Royal. Sarko thinks the trouble at Airbus is all down to the bank’s “policy of over-valuation against the dollar.” Sego apparently asked for Angela Merkel to help change the ECB’s charter so that “its sole objective would not be the exchange rate.”

One problem – the exchange rate is not the objective of the ECB. The ECB does not target the exchange rate. This is, of course, all part of the game with the straining “Bretton Woods II” arrangement between the US and China pushing the adjustment burden our way. But – the ECB does not stock and does not sell exchange rate targets.

Futility

The European Commission still can’t tell participation from a horse’s arse. Neither, sadly, can the advocates of closer European integration. At least the ones who the Commission (and all the other institutions) thinks will help them win friends and influence people.

Example the first. Three organisations – the European Movement, plus something called “Notre Europe”, and something else called “Europanova” – are going to hold a gathering in Lille on the 17th of March. Now, the European Movement is familiar enough – rather worthy, painfully Commission-ish. Who the hell are the others? Notre Europe is run – indeed, going by the bylines on its website, is – two superannuated bureaucrats and Jacques Delors. Europanova has the first devilish sign of Euro-dullness on its home page, a reference to “jeunes leaders”.

They turn out to be a French academic who, surprise surprise, works at the European College in Bruges, and a German CSU MEP, a von to boot, who boasts that he invented the concept of “privileged partnership” for Turkey. I wouldn’t boast of that if it were me. It’s run by somebody who headed the European Youth Parliament, and then ran the news magazines Euro92 and A’l Heure de’l Europe.

Look, if anyone’s got a copy of either, I’ll vote for you in the Pyjamas. Can’t say fairer than that. It was 1992 – couldn’t he have been out dancing? The rest of them all seem to work for the Robert Schuman foundation, and one of them for the French national assembly’s European secretariat.

They are a congregation of vapours, but hardly foul or pestilent. Not enough there for that. Honestly, you want to grab them all by the neck and shake them until they do something interesting.
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A Crisis is Born in Italy

Well as almost everyone must surely know by now, Romano Prodi’s government resigned earlier in the week. The present situation is still far from clear, with President Giorgio Napolitano holding urgent consultations with the various interested parties even as I write. Since my interest in Italy is largely an economic one (see accompanying post to follow this) and since I do not consider myself to be any sort of expert on the Italian political process, I asked Manuel Alvarez Rivera (who runs the Election Resources on the Internet site) and who is a political scientist with detailed knowledge of Italian politics for an opinion. Below the fold you can find what he sent me.

At the same time anyone inside or outside of Italy with a different take or perspective please feel free to add something in the comments section.
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Five Easy Questions

Before the war in Iraq, Europe did not have a coherent policy for dealing with that country. Given that the current large-scale American presence there will not last forever, some questions arise for European governments:

Should Europe as a whole have a common policy for dealing with Iraq?
If so, what should it be?
Who will implement it?
Who will pay for it?
What needs to be done now to get a policy in place by the time the US Army starts winding things down?

Eurodemocracy and E-democracy

Nosemonkey suggests that the cross-European effort to make data on the CAP’s beneficiaries available might be an example of how a European demos could function. There’s more detail at Martin Stabe’s, and the searchable database is at Farmsubsidy.org.

I’m quite keen on this. Not so much because I’m sympathetic to the whole “lacking a European demos” debate – personally, I think it’s over-schematic and essentially useless – but because it’s an opening for a different kind of debate. Look at national demoses (I invite any classicists on board to correct this backformation) – do you really want another, bigger one? Even at the European national level, it’s a scene of highly formalised, big-media dominated, fact-light jousting. Look at the nearest ones in scale to a putative Euro-democracy: the US, with its sterile two-party dynamic and addiction to campaign funding, China and Russia (nuff said), India, with epic fractionalisation, corruption, and sporadic violence. Urgh.

But something like this, or for that matter MySociety’s various projects in the UK, offers the possibility of a more fact-driven debate, a reduced reliance on political parties, and greater oversight of the grey zone where the EU institutions and nonofficial bodies like the various cross-European business and labour groups and standardisation conferences intersect.

After all, why should (as Andrew Grice of the Independent suggested yesterday) the Liberal Democrats complain that other parties are stealing their ideas and putting them – gasp! – into practice. Only if you insist on the party as a tribe and a vehicle for self-advancement should this matter. A highly anti-liberal view, in my opinion.

Fine Brussels-based blog Kosmopolit is heading in the same direction, with a critique of Ségoléne Royal and referendums.

Brio and Open-Source Hardware

Intellectual property rights in technology. Great, aren’t they? Consider Brio, the middle-class fave range of wooden toys, whose manufacturers have neatly locked out competitors who want to make toys that will go with theirs by using couplings and fasteners that are proprietary and non-standard.

Elsewhere, on the NANOG (North American Network Operators’ Group) list, they discussed the thorny problem of cooling increasingly powerful servers and routers, and arrived at some consensus around using much more water cooling. Paul Vixie argued that in the future, rackmount equipment would have standard connectors for cool water in and warm water out, as it already has standard power connectors, USB ports, and RJ-45 Ethernet ports.

Cool idea! Naturally, there are already racks with water connectors, but inevitably they are proprietary and incompatible. Amusingly, someone pointed out that standard connectors and flexible pipes exist in the beer trade, which is a start. But what does intellectual property actually bring society? I know the standard arguments about the necessity of rewarding invention, but it’s very noticeable that a lot of innovation happens in the open-source world and in what you might call the non-patent space, among academic researchers and the like.

When Bell Labs invented the transistor, they didn’t try to enforce patents on it. Instead they published all their results in peer-reviewed journals and organised technical conferences to spread the knowledge. Perhaps the optimal solution isn’t to look for a total solution, but just to start pushing back the limits of the IP-sphere and see what happens, tolerating any anomalies? Again, seeing that the EU’s misbegotten software patents directive is now dead, this is something we could get started..

Glowing Georgians and Radioactive Russians

No, this is not a Litvinenko post…or at least not primarily. Recently, the Georgian ex-KGB said it had caught a Russian smuggling highly-enriched uranium into Georgia, who was nailed in a sting operation where Georgian agents posed as representatives of an Islamist terrorist group that wanted to buy fissile material. He handed over a sample, claiming to have several kilos back at home in Vladikavkaz, and they put the handcuffs on him. Good work, fellas, you might say, and you’d be right – both the US National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Atomic Energy Authority analysed the stuff, and it turned out to be 90 per cent enriched.

On the downside, it turns out that this happened in November, 2005, and he’s been sentenced to eight years in a secret trial. One wonders what kind of a trial, and also why the Georgians took so long to mention it. Being a small state next to Russia with ambitions of NATO and EU membership, and an existing counter-terrorist alliance with the US, you’d think they’d trumpet it from the rooftops. They claim it was in order not to compromise continuing inquiries, which may be true or may not.

Siberian Andy asks, in the light of this, if Russia has lost control of its nuclear weapons. He thinks it’s plausible. I disagree, slightly. Russia is clearly far more stable than it was in the Yeltsin years, what with the restoration of the FSB security state, and nuclear custodianship, command, and control is obviously a priority. Perhaps more importantly, surging oil and commodity prices have made a big difference to the state budget – Putin is in a position to hold a dramatically bigger share of the market for corruption than Yeltsin ever could, and it would make sense to direct it at the academic/industrial nuclear community and the roketchiki who actually look after the things.

But there’s obviously a problem.
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Kosovo: Divided We Stand, United We Fall?

This is the title of a post from Seb Bytyci on his South East Europe Online blog. I reproduce the entire post below the fold.

So the UN seems set to adopt a plan which would allow Kosovo to make a giant step on the road to independence. This is hardly surprising, and frankly I see no other realistic way forward. But obviously not everyone is happy. And some of those who seem not to be happy have considerable ability to make mischief, and not the least among these, the Putin regime in Moscow.

Doug Muir and I have been blogging this week about the Serbian elections (here and here) and perhaps the biggest issue which arises from those elections is just which way Kostunica will fall. A lot depends on this decision, and this UN proposal, coming at precisely this time, may well serve to give him a sharp push in the wrong direction. Call it the law of the inopportune moment. Offering a share of power to the Radicals would constitute a major problem for Serbia, and in the medium term for the whole EU. But rising nationalist feelings, especially when they come on the back of desperation, are often hard to contain.

I would say that the biggest strategic danger is that the Serbs allow themselves to become a proxy for the ambitions, and mischief-making abilities, of Russian nationalism in the region.

This week a lot of people are gathered in Davos, and on the agenda somewhere is the topic of demography. Amongst those participating is demographer Nicholas Eberstadt who has repeatedly drawn our attention to the real and present danger constituted by a Russia which, on the back of low birth rates and reduced life expectancy, faces imminent demographic meltdown.

Only this week the Eastern Europe correspondent at The Economist Edward Lucas had this to say (in the Economist latest Europe.View column.

‘Forget, for a moment, the headline stories from central and eastern Europe―the pipeline politics, the corruption scandals, the treasonous tycoons. The big story in the ex-communist world is people. Too few are being born. Too many are dying. And tens of millions have changed country.’

This is the new reality of Eastern Europe, and it is one we would do well not to lose from sight, for if we do we may find ourselves getting bogged down in the detail of things whilst missing the big picture which is unfolding before our very eyes. (Claus Vistesen has an in-depth review of the world bank report to which Edward Lucas refers here).

Seb is reasonably optimistic, and understandably so given all that the Kosovars have gone through, but we should never forget the darker side of things, which lies out there in wait of us, if it can catch us unawares. In the context of what is happening right now in Russia and Serbia I would say that vigilance was the watchword.
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Hoisted from Comments: Not Happening

Remarking on Edward’s post, one commenter writes, “Unlike Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia etc, Croatia is well on its way to the EU.”

Unfortunately for Zagreb, the EU is not on its way to Croatia. At least not with any great speed. I had pegged Croatia to be in by the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. That is not going to happen.
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Serbia: That Incredible Shrinking Country

This weekend’s election results in Serbia, and in particular the gridlock state of the political process and the resilience of the vote for the nationalist Serbian Radical Party (as ably explained by Doug in the previous post), pose new, and arguably reasonably urgent questions for all those who are concerned about the future of those European countries who currently find themselves locked outside the frontiers of the European Union. What follows below the fold is a cross-post of an entry I put up earlier this afternoon on the new global economy blog: Global Economy Matters. I don’t normally like cross-posting, since I would prefer to put up original Afoe content, but my time is a bit pressed at the moment, and I feel the issues raised are important enough to merit a separate airing on this site.
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