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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An alternative exit strategy for Jacques Chirac

Who knew Chirac was so personally popular in the Lebanon? More popular than he is in France?

Marc Lynch carries the results of a poll of Lebanese public opinion with some fascinating results. Apparently, a majority of Lebanese admire El Presidente, although not a majority of Shia. They rather like Hugo Chavez! In fact, they admire Chavez more than Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, although they would rather have Ahmedinejad in charge than him.

Nobody has confidence in the United States. Neither does anyone believe in “spreading democracy”. The biggest level of support for an Islamic state, among the Sunnis, didn’t break 5 per cent. (Is that the famous Jihad Chill?) Everyone said they were Lebanese first. Only the Christians put their religion second. (Everyone else put Arabness second.) 71 per cent overall said an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 green line would improve their opinion of the US. Over 50 per cent of Shia (i.e. Hezbollah’s base) supported a two state solution.

When asked which nation should be a superpower for preference, France came out marginally ahead overall, with Russia in second place, then China, then the US. Germany drew 10 per cent of the Shia vote but no votes from anyone else. Britain wasn’t an option. Interestingly, the Shia were the only group not to pick France, with Russia no.1, then China, then Germany. Everyone except the Druze picked France as a candidate for emigration by a large majority. The Druze were the only group to go for the US, but only by a bare plurality. Asked where they would rather send a family member to study, France was the first choice of all groups but the Druze, who plumped for Germany. (Curiously, no two groups agreed whether Germany or Britain was more democratic, but everyone thought France was more democratic than the US, Germany, or Britain.)
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Of Population Pyramids and Value Chains

It is by now well known that the main hope for developed societies subject to rapid population ageing who wish to maintain their relative standard of living lies in increasing their collective productivity more rapidly than they increase their dependency ratio via-a-vis the older age groups. Now in the comments thread on the recent ‘Reform is a Dirty Word‘ post I ventured to say that I found it obvious that at some stage we would reach a point where the rate of population ageing was going to outstrip the rate of productivity increase (in which case relative income per capita would inevitaby start to fall). David, unsurprisingly, asked me why I thought this to be the case. I was not happy with the response I offered (which was essentially some ‘rigmarole’ about the biology of ageing which is coming in a separate post), and since that time I have been scratching my head trying to find a simple way to get this point across. Perhaps I now have one.

All you need to get to grips with what follows is a basic understanding of geometry and a vague interest in football.
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Berlusgone

Well, this is a little late, but we ought to put on record that the fun-lovin’ minicaudillo’s fingers were eventually pried from the Italian prime ministership. As predicted, he went out with a considerable degree of low comedy, as the Italian senate struggled to elect a speaker largely because the Berlusconi side insisted on making a fuss about whether ballots cast for the eventual winner read “Franco” or “Francesco” Marini. Eventually, though, it was done.

The Senate speakership had been the last real opportunity to cling on, as the Left has a working majority in the lower house and therefore appointed its man without trouble. The deeper play of the Senate vote, by the way, was an effort to cause trouble in the Unione’s ranks – Romano Prodi chose to put forward a Refounded Communist, Faustino Bertinotti, as speaker of the lower house, thus getting the far Left on side, and therefore needed to balance the ticket by putting someone from the ex-Christian Democrat wing of his coalition in the Senate. This being achieved, Berlusconi had no longer any excuse to hang on.

The next problem will be to elect a President. In Italy, the presidency is a nonexecutive position more like that of Germany than that of France, but the president does choose who is asked to form a government, so without a prez there can be no prime minister. Now, the simplest option would just have been to re-elect Ciampi, but he says he’s too old. This is where it gets complicated, because a super-majority is needed to elect a president.

Recalling that the Refounded Communists got the speakership of the lower house, and the ex-democristiani the speakership of the upper house (and in all probability the prime ministership). Which major faction on the left is empty-handed? That’s right, the non-refounded communists, who in fact really did refound themselves to become the Democratic Left, unlike their former comrades in the Refoundation who didn’t refound themselves and remained communist. Their leader, former PM Massimo D’Alema, was therefore put forward as a candidate for the presidency even though the chance of Berlusconi’s side supporting him was exactly nil.

In fact, the Right is threatening a campaign of mass demonstrations in the event of his election, and suggesting that Marini be the President. This, your keen and agile minds will soon perceive, is a transparent device to reopen the speakership issue and thus destabilise the Left. Alternatively, the Right proposes, the secretary of the Presidency, Gianni Letta, might be a candidate.
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Kosovo, Kosovo, Kosovo…

Just ran across this article at Radio Free Europe. Short version: Russia has decided that independence for Kosovo is probably inevitable, and has decided to milk it for maximum benefit to Russia. Putin’s saying, fine, independence for Kosovo — but then apply “universal principles”, and give independence to the Russian-supported breakaway republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and TransDnistria.

Once you get past the initial reaction (“Wow, what a jerk”), this bears a little thinking about.
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Killer Identities

Sorting through some old books yesterday, I came across one from Amin Maaloof that I hadn’t looked at in years. So I dusted it off, and started thinking about this post.

The English title of the book is “In the Name of Identity“, but the French title “Les Identit?s meurtrieres” (Lethal Identities?) or the Catalan one ‘Indentitats que Maten’ (Killer Identities) are much more expressive and to the point.
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Schr?der: early elections in Autumn.

I suppose German politics aren’t entirely predictable anymore. A few minutes ago, German Chancellor Schroeder confirmed earlier statements by Franz Muentefering, the SPD’s chairman, that the current red-green coalition will seek a – constitutionally problematic – vote of no-confidence to allow the early dissolution of the Bundestag and hold federal elections in autumn this year.
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French Referendum Poll Update

Just a quick follow up on the state of play with opinion poll outcomes in France. Le Monde today reports that of four polls published yesterday two gave a majority for the ‘yes’ vote, whilst the other two suggested a significant decline in ‘no’ support (details in fold). Since the shift is partly among socialist voters, is this a ‘Jospin effect’? (The former PS Prime Minister went public on prime tv late last week with his support for the ‘yes’ campaign)

Whilst I’m posting, this article in the FT about tensions between Barroso and Chirac makes interesting reading. In particular since it suggests that the fairly modest celebrations of the enlargement anniversary I noted yesterday may be linked to a deliberate policy of not rocking the boat at a sensitive time.

Curious detail: the FT reports “Mr Chirac believes Mr Barroso has an infuriating ability to sound like a liberal when addressing a business audience, while peddling a more French-friendly vision of a ‘social Europe’ to trade unionists.”

Wouldn’t this be yet another case of people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

NB following a point in the comments section, can anyone bring us up to date with some info about the evolution of and background to the vote in the Netherlands?
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How Spain voted

Both Chris Brooke and Matthew Turner have raised the suggestion that the Socialist victory in Spain may not have been caused by an actual swing in the electorate from the Popular Party (PP) to the Socialists (PSOE) after Thursday, but rather by the attacks in Madrid inspiring more people to go out and vote. With the majority of these new voters trending towards the left and the PSOE, the argument goes, this meant that they can attribute their victory to these new voters, rather than voters who switched from the PP to the PSOE.

Curious about whether or not this is true, I took a look at the actual election results and there is evidence there to support this view. However, any conclusions from this evidence are necessarily tentative and speculative, as the evidence could be interpreted many ways.
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The drafting of the constitution

For some reason, I stopped covering the constitution when I started AFOE. Since Cosmocrat has been on hiatus for two months, and Henry Farrell after joining CT generally restricts himself to subjects the US bloggers care about, there’s barely been any informed discussion of these things in the blogosphere, that I know of. That’s a shame. I will try to fill the gap, to the best of my ability:

This Economist article from a while ago is a good starting point.

“But the draft constitution has ambitious and arguably more important plans for the extension of EU powers in such areas as justice, foreign policy, defence, taxation, the budget and energy, all of which are now under attack. The most dramatic proposal is that EU policy on serious cross-border crime, immigration and asylum should be decided by majority vote. Several countries are now having second thoughts about this. The Irish dislike the idea that their system of criminal law could move towards the continental European model. Britain, Portugal, Slovakia and Austria are against the notion of harmonising criminal-law procedures. And if these articles on home affairs are reopened, the Germans, for all their determination to stick by the convention text, may be tempted to abandon their support of majority voting on immigration.

Britain, Ireland, Poland and Sweden also dislike the idea of calling the EU’s foreign-policy supremo a ?foreign minister?, since this smacks too much of a superstate. Provisions to allow a core group of countries to forge a closer defence union, from which they might exclude others, are also meeting opposition from Finland, the central Europeans and the British. Britain and Ireland, meanwhile, are leading the battle against any hint of tax harmonisation. And the British, after heavy lobbying by the big oil companies, are belatedly trying to insist on changes to proposals to create a common EU energy policy. A bevy of finance ministers are also keen to limit the European Parliament’s planned powers over the EU budget.

If many of these changes are made, defenders of the convention text will cry foul and start saying that the whole thing has been gutted. That would be melodramatic. Most of the details of the draft constitution are all but agreed: a big extension of majority voting, a binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, a president of the European Council, a ?legal personality? for the Union and the first explicit statement of the supremacy of EU law over national statutes. These are not small matters.”

Indeed, these aren’t small matters. What has been proposed is a fairly substantial transfer of sovereignty, as well as some other far-reaching proposals. The lack of attention paid to of these matters is bizarre and disconcerting.

The situation is particulary bad in Sweden and Great Britain, which are the two countries where I follow the debate. My impression is that while the there has been significantly more public discussion in some of the other countries, it has still been confined to an small segment of the population, and has nowhere gotten the attention it deserves. I’d love to hear that I’m wrong on that count.

The media bears a lot of responsibility for this. Are people even aware of what’s being proposed?

In coutries where there’ll be referendums, that should remedy the situation. Of course referendums have sometimes proved a flawed way of making these decisions, but representative democracy’s record is in this particualr regard tragically clearly worse.

In Sweden and Britain, the pro-integration parties have no interest in discussing these matters. The anti-integration parties meanwhile (Tories in the UK, the semi-commies and greens in Sweden) have repeated the same tired rant and silly hyperbole over any EU matter for fifteen years, they are the boy who cried wolf, and not interested in constructive criticism anyway. The commentariat seems strangely uninterested, along with everyone else. Bizarrely, despite having the most eurosceptic electorates, our governments have negotiated largely free from public pressure. (As opposed to interest group pressure.)

They are (again) changing our entire political systemsbehind people’s backs, aided by media indifference and voter apathy. It’s a scandal.

Now, as to the merits of the Convention’s proposals; I’m largely negative. I’m not anti-integration in the long term, but I believe we need deal with the democratic deficit before we go about transferring any more authority to Brussels.

The Charter includes various ludicrous things as rights and will invite lots of jusdicial activism, which is no good at all.

Having a president of the council with poorly defined will only create overlapping authorities, institutional warfare, make the decision process more cumbersome and even harder for the avarage citizen to understand.

It’s not all bad. I like that the Parliament gets more power. I like how it was done, the Convention. I like various other serious but minor stuff. And it’s not nearly as bad (or as radical) as the europhobes say. But I think the non-debate of the constitution itself demonstrates how dysfunctinal democracy is on the EU level, and therefore why this isn’t the time for closer union.