Department of Unexpected Consequences (Balkan Division)

I don’t usually cite whole articles, but this recent piece over at birn.eu is too good to miss.

After years of vigorously opposing the eastwards expansion of the European Union, extreme-right-wing parties in the European Parliament, EP, ironically stand to benefit hugely from the Romanian and Bulgarian accession…

[A]agreement with nationalist parties from the two newcomers has opened the way for the first parliamentary group representing the hard right to be formed in the EP.

The new caucus… brings together about 20 members of the parliament, known as MEPs, from seven countries. Five will come from Romania, from the ultra-nationalistic and xenophobic Greater Romania Party. And one from Bulgaria’s Ataka party, which mainly campaigns against Bulgaria’s Roma and Turkish minorities.

Why is this happening now? Because the EU Parliament has a rule that a caucus, to be officially recognized, must have at least 19 members from five different countries. Until recently, the far right could only muster 14 members. But the new MEPS will push them over the line.

The other MEPs? Oh, you know. France’s National Front, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Italy’s National Alliance. Allesandra Mussolini will be in it. The leader will be France’s Bruno Gollnisch, who is currently serving a suspended sentence for Holocaust denial. British readers may recognize Ashley Mote, the noted cricket writer, who was tossed out of UKIP a while back after being indicted for fraud. (Did anything ever come of that?)

The group already has a name: “Identity, Tradition, Sovereignty”. Well, who could possibly disagree with that?
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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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Getting Hotter in Hungary

As we have noted on Afoe in recent weeks Hungarian society seems badly divided and faces daunting economic adjustments (and here). This weekend’s municipal elections seem to have resolved nothing, with both sides seeming effectively able to claim some sort of victory:

Preliminary results released by the election office, with some nearly all the votes counted, showed Fidesz winning the mayorships in 15 of Hungary’s 23 largest cities, as well majorities in 18 of 19 county councils.

The Socialists retained power in most of Budapest’s 23 districts and Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky — supported by the two-party governing coalition — won his fifth consecutive term since the 1990 return to democracy.

Not surprisingly under the circumstances the temperature is rising fairly rapidly. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany yesterday asked the Hungarian parliament to hold a vote of confidence in his government (and this will now take place on Friday). On Sunday night Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom called on Gyurcsany to step down.

With the outcome of Friday’s vote seeming to lean in Gyurcsany’s favour the opposition Fidesz party are getting frustrated and restless. Opposition leader Viktor Orban is already crying ‘foul’:

Opposition leader Viktor Orban of the Fidesz party said the confidence vote was a “deceitful and worthless trick.” He called instead for a constructive vote of no-confidence in parliament, in which the coalition would be forced to name a new prime ministerial candidate.

While Lajos Kosa, a Fidesz vice president, is being downright provocative:

The budget will come and further austerity measures worth 1,000 billion forints ($4.6 billion) will come too and then in the spring all of us will be chased out (from parliament), all of us, because a general uprising may break out in the country

Indeed the party is currently threatening to boycott the vote:

We will not be there… we won’t take part in this comedy,” Fidesz parliament faction leader Tibor Navracsics told a news conference.

Which all takes us back to that early guest post by P O’Neill where he perceptively warned:

But an older concern is working its way back onto the agenda: how to handle an economic crisis in a member country……However, the risk of the latter type of crisis in a member country is now quite high.”

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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Italian Elections

Well it’s not official yet, but the first exit poll has Berlusconi trailing:

An exit poll Monday showed conservative Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi trailing center-left challenger Romano Prodi in parliamentary elections. The Nexus poll indicated that Prodi’s coalition received between 50 and 54 percent of the vote in both the upper and lower chambers of parliament, while Berlusconi’s coalition received 45-49 percent.

Obviously this is the ‘early days’ stage, and we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. I will be updating as the day (or night) wears on.

Update I: It’s looking firmer for Prodi. More exit polls are coming up with similar results. For example the Piepoli Institute’s exit polls for Sky TG24 have given the Prodi coalition 52 percent to 47 percent for Berlusconi’s centre-right and for both houses.

Update II. Tobias has now posted more extensively. First thing Tuesday morning the outcome is still in doubt, and those who were sceptical about the early exit polls were right to be so. Prodi is now claiming victory, but this is being challenged vigorously by the Berlusconi camp. The margin is wafer thin for the lower house (the Chamber of Deputies, or ‘Camera’), with Prodi’s having 49.80 per cent of the vote as compared to 49.73 per cent for Berlusconi’s House of Freedoms (a difference of a mere 25,000 votes). Naturally calls for a recount abound. The position of the Senate is still in doubt. There is currently a one seat difference between the camps (in favour of Berlusconi) but six more seats based on overseas votes are still to be allocated.

Wikipedia have a substantial entry on the elections themselves, and another on the Italian parliament, which may prove useful in understanding things if the final out come is ultimately a ‘hung’ parliament.

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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Parliament Live on Blogs

One of our lurkers turns out to be from the Media section of the European Parliament. Today and tomorrow the EP is webcasting a conference on technology and democracy, with a prominent role for blogs.

Mystery in European Parliament…!
just like you, the European Parliament is well aware of the increasing power and importance of blogging, which hasn’t only started to blur the lines between the private and the public, between journalism and opinion, between citizen and politician, but has also opened up new questions in the field of democracy and democratic control. As part of the activities that will accompany the launch of its new website, the European Parliament has decided to hold several debates dealing with the fast-moving developments in digital society on the 12th and 13th of September, the first of which is entitled Web logs: competition, challenge or chance? Who’s afraid to open Pandora’s Blogs? Participants in the debate will include several well-known journalists, bloggers and experts in the field, who will no doubt ensure a lively debate that should be of special interest to bloggers, as well as anyone interested in the relationship between digital technology and democracy. We would therefore like to invite you to join us on the Europarl website (http://www.europarl.eu.int/eplive/public/default_en.htm), where the event will be broadcast live on the 12th of September starting at 3PM via web streaming.

Wishing you all the best in your blogging endeavours,
Yours Sincerely,
José Manuel Nunes LIBERATO
Directeur, DIRECTION A – MEDIA

If you go to the site, click on “Round Tables on the Information Society” and then scroll down to “watch”. As I read the schedule, there’s only half an hour left today, but several hours tomorrow.

Lithuania To Take Decision on Euro Referendum

The Lituanian parliament is to debate a motion which proposes holding a referendum on euro membership. Lithuania is scheduled to join the euro in 2007. The Prague Daily Monitor also has an article which draws attention to the growing ‘euro’ scepticism in the Czech republic.

The Lithuanian parliament will vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on the introduction of the single currency to the country, according to news agency AFP.

The Lithuanian opposition Liberal Democrat party has gathered the necessary 36 signatures required for the parliament to vote on the matter. It has now to do so within a month, as under Lithuanian law, lawmakers have to vote within one month after a proposal is introduced, says the press agency. After the EU Constitution was rejected by France and the Netherlands, the euro has found itself at the centre of debates.”

EU Budget Reform Having Problems

Despite all the hard work that is being put in by EU President Jean-Claude Junker, progress on the forthcoming EU budget seems like it might be agonizingly slow. In the first place Blair is in fighting mood:

“The UK rebate will remain. We will not negotiate it away. Period,”

In london the treasury seems equally determined:

“We would use the veto to preserve the rebate whenever necessary,” a Treasury spokesman told AFP. “Our rebate remains fully justified and it is not up for negotiation.”

Meanwhile, over at the European parliament:

MEPs have taken a stand on the future of EU spending as national capitals war over Brussels spending ahead of a June 16 summit of European leaders. The European Parliament has set out budget plans from 2007 to 2013 that are lower than original projections from the EU executive but higher than cost-cutting governments. The parliament backed a blueprint blueprint drawn up by German MEP Reimer B?ge by 426 votes to 140 against, with 122 abstentions. Brussels chief Jos? Manuel Barroso has welcomed the move which is ?150 billion more generous than maximum spends sought by some penny pinching national treasuries. ?The European Parliament has shown leadership and good sense by putting the policy needs of the EU first,? he said.