Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.
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Serbia: Elections at last

So Serbia has finally called for elections.

I admit that I was wrong about this government’s tenacity. I predicted back in July that the government would collapse in October. Not so. It has staggered on, month after month… gasping, retching, coughing blood, but somehow refusing to die. It bought a few weeks by holding a referendum on a new Constitution, which was pretty useless but got voted in anyway. Then G17 — the liberal technocrat Europhile party, the smallest member of the ruling coalition — gave the government a few weeks more by the Kafkaesque maneuver of having all its ministers resign, but not actually leave office until the government accepted their resignations. Which took nearly two months.

But anyway, elections are coming, and a date has been set: January 21, 2007.

So what does it all mean?
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No to Non-Euro NATO Bureau

For some reason, there is hardly ever any NATO coverage on this blog, despite the fact it’s the other pan-European institution. The Euro-Atlantic alliance is having a summit next month, to be held in Riga. Now, one of the main topics for this gathering is the long-running one of adapting NATO to challenges other than that of defending the North German plain from the Red Army. Role-of-the-week is, of course, fighting terrorism. A wider view might point out that the so-called “emerging security threats” predate the War On Terrorism, and that many of the capabilities required for “fighting terrorism” abroad are equally applicable to regional peacekeeping or even expeditionary warfighting.

Anyway, it’s long been thought in some circles that NATO’s radius of action ought to be increased. During the Cold War, NATO was quite intimately connected with other Western allies outside the North Atlantic, both via the Americans and also other multilateral mechanisms. The overlap between NATO, the EU, and other security communities and economic areas has often, then and now, been seen as a sort of “community of democracies” or (as Raymond Aron put it) “world of order”. On the other hand, E.P. Thompson savaged what he saw as a sick complacency in the face of nuclear dread and capitalist exploitation on the part of the “Natopolitans” in an article entitled Inside the Whale, and today’s rabid right wants to have a “Democratic Union” made up of NATO and EU states, Japan, India and Australia – but not France, naturally. NATO, meanwhile, has expanded in Europe and taken on a mission to Afghanistan, which is well out-of-area in NATOspeak.

The latest proposal was supported by the US and UK, and foresaw regular bilateral meetings between NATO and allied states outside Europe, with a shortlist of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. In a sense, it would have brought a sort of “secret NATO” or “virtual NATO” into the tent – the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have separate alliances among themselves and with the US, including the UKUSA, CAZAB and Echelon intelligence cooperation agreements, ANZUK and ANZUS.

So what happened?
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Moscow’s Respect for Strasbourg

Peter Finn writes in the Washington Post that despite the Russian government’s problematic relationship with the rule of law, it has actually been quite good at complying with rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, aka Strasbourg. Of course, it would have to: Since 2002, the court has issued 362 judgements concerning Russia; 352 of them have gone against the Russian government.

Finn starts with the Salvation Army’s seven-year struggle with the city government in Moscow. The city had maintained with a straight face that the Salvation Army was a foreign paramilitary organization and suggested that it might involve itself in the violent overthrow of the state. Strasbourg was not amused.

Russians now file more complaints with the court than any other member nation. They account for more than 10,000 of the 45,000 petitions Strasbourg receives annually. The vast majority are never heard.

In another case:

For Alexei Mikheyev, redress came even before the court ruled. In 1998, he was subjected to nine days of torture, including electric shock, in a local police station after being picked up as a suspect in the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl in the central Russian city of Nizhniy Novgorod.

Mikheyev confessed to raping and killing the girl but retracted his statement after he was taken to the prosecutor’s office. Returned to the police station and facing more torture, he threw himself out of a third-story window and was left partially paralyzed. The girl he had confessed to killing returned home the next day.

Prosecutors opened and then dropped 23 preliminary investigations into the police force’s treatment of Mikheyev, in what human rights activists call an effort to stymie any trial. After the European Court agreed to hear Mikheyev’s case in 2004, prosecutors reopened the case and finally secured the conviction of two police officers, who were given four-year sentences for abuse of power. In January, Mikheyev was awarded approximately $300,000 in compensation.

(As if another datapoint were necessary to show torture’s ineffectiveness.)

Still, while the Russian government takes its obligations seriously enough to pay fines, Strasbourg does not have enough leverage to force systematic reforms. Still, it is an effective lever, one that deserves to be more widely known outside judicial and activist circles.

Italy 2007 Budget Storm

Italian Finance Minister Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa is going to be a man of his word (and not follow in the path of that other European political leader who was lying about his budget in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night). He assures us of this:

Mr Padoa-Schioppa was adamant any adjustments to the budget, which MPs must approve, would not affect its goal of cutting Italy’s budget deficit to 2.8 per cent.

This is an important re-affirmation, since this time yesterday this little detail wasn’t clear at all, as there was a small matter of 5 billion euro of cuts which were in the budget but which effectively didn’t exist. (All of this is explained in a post on the Italian Economy Watch blog, and the follow up here, as well as by Claus Vistesen on his blog).

As the Economist said:

This is not the sort of thing you expect of a former board member of the European Central Bank. But it shows how far Mr Padoa-Schioppa has had to bend to placate demands by left-wing parties within the government.

The uproar produced within the small business community – who would have seen this mony simply transferred from their coffers to those of the state – has meant that Prodi has now had to publicly vow that the budget will be changed, always of course sticking to the three principles which underlie the budget policy of the current Italian government, namely:

“It’s clear that we will make technical corrections and adjustments, but we absolutely won’t renounce the three objectives of fairness, restoring the health of the public finances and development,”

So, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, even though this isn’t exactly the sort of thing that you expect from an ex-director of the ECB, we will assume that this time you are serious, and that you will try to comply with the spirit of what your government has agreed with the European Commission, even if, realistically, it may be a very difficult objective to achieve in the global economic environment we may all face in 2007.

Italy’s Supply Constraint

The OECD estimates the current potential capacity growth rate of the Italian economy at 1.25% a year. Actually I suspect even this very low number is over-optimistic. Growth since 2002 has been as follows: 2003 – 0.1%: 2004 – 0.9%: 2005 – 0.1%. To be sure forecast growth for this year is somewhat higher, at 1.4%, and optimists are expecting this to be more or less repeated next year. But I suspect this outcome is unlikely simply because the global economy now seems to be slowing (and in particular the ever important US economy),so the strongly advantageous situation of 2006 is unlikely to be repeated, while next year the Italian government has promised to introduce an important package of spending reductions which are bound to negatively affect growth, at least in the short term..

But why is potential growth capacity in Italy so low?
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A Face That Launched A Thousand Ships

An unlikely Helen, Spain’s deputy prime minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, that’s for sure. Yet outside a few thousand years difference in timing the two seem to have been cut out for one and the same the same historical role: urging the boats to go back. Indeed the only thing which really separates them might be the magnitude of the problem to hand, since Coalición Canaria president Paulino Rivero suggested this weekend that what might be involved were not a mere 1,000 ships, but anything between 10,000 and 15,000 currently being built along the Mauritanian and Senegalese coastlines.

Joking aside this post is about tragedy, a human tragedy. According to the NGOs who are involved some 3,000 people have already died in attempting to make the hazardous crossing, a crossing which was actually completed over this weekend by a record 1,200 people in 36 hours.

As well as tragedy the post is also about folly, the folly of those economists who think low fertility isn’t an important economic issue. This opinion was recently expressed by respected US economist Greg Mankiw, (on his blog) who described the very idea that it might be as ‘wrong headed’ and, to boot, suggested that a poll of the world’s top ten economists would draw a blank on names who thought that low fertility was among Europe’s major economic problems. I am sure Mankiw is right about the poll, and this is why I use the expression ‘folly’. So what do I mean?
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1..2..3..And They’re Off – The Left

On the other side of French politics, as I promised, the internal conflicts are if anything stronger. To start with the most important ones, the Socialist Party is about to do something quite rare in its history – have a contested primary election. The only other was that of 1995, when Lionel Jospin beat Henri Emmanuelli to succeed Francois Mitterand. Before that, the candidacy normally went to the party’s first secretary, who was usually Mitterand anyway. (Before 1971, when Mitterand set up the modern PS, the various splinter-groups from the old SFIO that made it up of course had their own arrangements.)

Since the disaster of 2002, though, this looks like it’s going to change, chiefly because there’s a strong external candidate. Ségoléne Royal, the head of the Poitou-Charentes regional government, has been campaigning vigorously all year with some success. The success can be measured, in fact, by the frequency with which she is being accused of “Blairism” by the rest of the possible candidates. This looks like being the content-free insult of the campaign, in fact, as could be seen with the PS official quoted by Libération who remarked that he didn’t want Royal to “come back from London and abolish the social security” – after all, everyone knows that the UK provides no social security whatsoever, right?

It would be more accurate to place Royal on the soft-left. (If anyone’s Blairite in this game, it’s Nicolas Sarkozy – this speech is a classic of early Blairite rhetoric circa 1997.) She is no more “neoliberal” than Lionel Jospin was in government, for example, or for that matter Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and is closer to the Greens than some. She is given to vaguely conservative speaking, but it’s harder to discern where a concern for civisme, secularity and Republican values (in the French sense) stops and where a rather stern law-and-order politics begins in a French context.

However, it looks more and more as if the rest of the party is gearing up for an “anti-Blairism”, stop-Sego campaign. And policy doesn’t matter very much in this sense.
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Just one more gelato

Two entries in three weeks? It’s surprising we’ve even managed that much. Come on. It’s August. We’re in Europe. We’re all away from the computer and you should be too, enjoying the final hot, sweaty gasps of summer.

But if you just can’t tear yourself away, here are a few tid-bits from my corner of things.
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Serbia: tick, tick, tick

That’s the clock ticking down the last months of the current Serbian government.

The ruling coalition, never stable, is visibly crumbling. The Socialists — Milosevic’s old party — were supporting it, but they’re split down the middle now, and may bolt over the appointment of a new foreign minister.
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