Sarko’s In, But Where are the Votes?

Nicolas Sarkozy has been “elected” as the UMP’s presidential candidate. Why the scarequotes? Well, “elected” usually implies a contest between more than one candidate. And Sarkozy was faced with only one contestant-the Apathy ticket.

Over Christmas, he successfully neutralised most of the possible internecine threats, bringing essentially all the serious rightwing politicians on board. The key to this was his recruitment of former Prime Minister (and convicted criminal) Alain Juppé, who was parachuted into a parliamentary seat back into Bordeaux town hall in the autumn, possibly in the hope he would run against Sarkozy.

But Juppé has signed up with Sarko, almost certainly in exchange for a promise that he will return to the prime minister’s office if the Right wins the election. Defence Minister Michéle Alliot-Marie, meanwhile, saw her campaign fail to get off the ground in a meaningful fashion. That left only Sarko to face an uncontested election. You might have expected a North Korean majority of 90+ per cent, but it didn’t happen. Only 69 per cent of those eligible to vote picked Sarkozy over the apathy ticket.

Before that, though, there had already been some other interesting developments..
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Dutch elections: preliminary round-up/impressions

The 2006 parliamentary elections in The Netherlands have produced some interesting results. Another centre-right coalition of CDA, VVD and D66 (before the latter blew up that very same coalition, see comments) seems to be off the table and the formation of a new coalition will prove to be very difficult what with the votes spread out more evenly over the main parties. There are now four major contenders instead of three. Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende, who will probably continue to be Prime Minister, will now have to consider forming either a left-leaning coalition or risk an unworkable monster coalition. From The Guardian:

The Netherlands is facing political deadlock after the governing Christian Democrats scraped an unconvincing win in yesterday’s election and parties on the hard left and right performed well enough to impede their ability to form a government. As political leaders braced themselves for weeks of horse-trading to form a coalition, the outgoing finance minister delivered a blunt assessment of the result.

“It’s chaos,” Gerrit Zalm, a member of the Liberal (VVD) party was quoted by Reuters as saying. “The real winner is the only party that actually did not participate, which is the party of the anarchists.”

A summary round-up of the results can be found below the fold.
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Sarkozy to the rescue?

The prospect of Sarkozy replacing Villepin as French Prime Minister has apparently been given a significant boost today, with a close aide of Sarkozy saying his boss could accept such an offer, provided he is allowed to carry out his (and not Chirac’s) political agenda.

Now, maybe this won’t come to pass (and I’ll argue below that it probably won’t). But it is worth recalling some recent history to show how extraordinary such a move would be.

It is not just that Chirac had considered Sarkozy a traitor since he chose to support the presidential bid of (then Prime minister) Edouard Balladur in the presidential elections of 1995. It is also that Chirac has done everything in his power to impede Sarkozy’s rise to power since 2002. In 2004, Chirac battled behind the scenes to try to foil the takeover of his own UMP party by Sarkozy, then the popular Minister of the Interior. When that didn’t work, he ordered him to leave the government, on the theory that having the head of the main party of the parliamentary majority in the cabinet would sap the authority of the Prime Minister (conveniently forgetting that Alain Juppé, a long-time Chirac protégé, was at the same time president of the RPR and Foreign Minister from November 1994 to May 1995).

That theory did last less than a year, since Sarko was back in the government after the failed referendum on the EU constitution in late May 2005. But Chirac ignored the calls of his parliamentary majority to name Sarko Prime Minister and went for Villepin instead, with the hope of making the latter a rival to the former for the next presidential elections. Asking now Sarko to replace Villepin would then be tantamount to a declaration of surrender on Chirac’s part.
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“Black Wednesday” once again

For those of you who aren’t closely following British news (or are being distracted by your own national scandals), it looks like the Blair cabinet is an wee bit of trouble, after being hit by what the media called either “triple whammy” or “black Wednesday” :

Labour’s authority as a government was severely shaken [Wednesday] when two of the prime minister’s closest allies faced calls for their resignation, and the deputy prime minister, John Prescott, went to ground after admitting an affair with his diary secretary.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats demanded that the home secretary, Charles Clarke, should quit over the chaotic release from prison of 1,000 foreign criminals. And Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, was repeatedly booed, barracked and slow-handclapped during her address to the Royal College of Nursing in which delegates shouted for her to go too. In the end, she was forced to abandon her televised speech because of repeated disruptions from the floor.

Tony Blair swiftly switched to full damage control mode, refusing to sack any of the three ministers and accusing the media of exagerating the crisis. To no avail. Today, The Economists talks (subscription required) ominously about a “Black April” threatening to engulf the reputation for sound management of the Blair cabinet (Blair haters : I know), in much the same way as the original Back Wednesday of 1992 had ruined that of the Conservatives for economic competence (Thatcher haters : I know).

Regardless of the impact of this week’s events on Blair’s future as Prime Minister (it’s all about economic models anyway), the whole stuff makes for fun political theater. Notably, it appears the “triple whammy” should really have been a mere double but for the attempt of John Prescott to use the media coverage of Charles Clarke’s blunders to try to bury the news, Jo Moore-style, of his extramarital adventure.

Seems like it didn’t quite succeed. At least John “Two Jags” Prescott has promptly earned a new nickname. Makes you love the British press.

Liberation Day

It’s a national holiday in Italy today, the anniversary of Liberation. So there was a suitably grand state ceremony at the Quirinal palace – the President’s residence – and, as tradition demands, a big demo for the Left to march through the streets, sing “Bella Ciao” until they get hoarse (well, hoarser, given how most people sing on demonstrations).. Only one man was missing.

It will come as no surprise to know that it was Silvio Berlusconi, who still won’t go away. Despite the highest court in the land ruling that the election results are valid, and unfavourable to him, he’s still clinging to the trappings of office. Yesterday, he produced yet another drama-queen eruption, entertaining a gathering of supporters in Trieste with a song of his own composition, threatening to paralyse the legislature, and promising that he would turn up for work at the prime minister’s office as usual on Friday.

Much as it is tempting to think he was getting back in practice for a possible return to his old career as cheesetastic hotel lounge crooner, it seems he meant it. As Existing Phil translates from La Repubblica, his remarks since the election, especially towards the President, have been alarming – according to him, there ought to be a recount because the centre-left won’t govern in the interests of the country.

It seems quite clear that he won’t go without some final indulgence in low comedy. Will he be refused access to the prime minister’s office by cops, appeal to force in some way, or perhaps flee the country? Will he sing on television? Perhaps they will use the same approach favoured by British newspaper proprietors with editors who fall out of favour, involving a black bin liner and 30 minutes to clear your desk before security guards throw you out in the street.

Kurdish TV in Denmark

One of the many reasons I continue to support the Turkish EU accession process is because I think it will be good for human rights and democracy in Turkey, and good for the Kurds. This latest spat between Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Danish hosts, is simply another good example of this at work. The pressure is constantly on Turkey.

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint press conference with the Danish leader in protest at the presence of a Kurdish TV station on Tuesday (15 November), highlighting European values on free speech.

“There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression,” the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the press conference his Turkish counterpart avoided.

The Turkish prime minister was visiting the Danish capital Copenhagen as the first stop in a tour around EU capitals to discuss the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership. Mr Erdogan stayed away from the press conference in protest at the presence of a journalist from the Danish-based TV channel Roj TV.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Denmark to close the channel, which sends news, entertainment, debate and children’s’ programs to Kurds in Denmark, arguing it is financed by the Kurdish rebel party, the PKK, which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations. Danish police are investigating the station, but have not found evidence of links to forbidden organisations so far.

Source: EU Observer

A modest proposal for CAP reform

I’ve been in Canada for the last month, getting in my last family visit before settling in to the serious business of either going back to school or collecting unemployment checks. My family is large – Great-Grandpa had 25 children, and Grandpa had 9 – so it takes a while if you go to see my family. Ours is a large, disorganised, occasionally frightening clan who, depending on pure whim, identifies itself as either German-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Russian-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian. Our tribal language is an obscure dialect of Low Saxon (Platt for the actual Germans out there) spoken primarily in Paraguay, Mexico, Central America and Saskatchewan, and whose most famous speaker is, arguably, Homer Simpson. It’s a long story, don’t ask. It not being much of a literary language, we all just say our ancestors spoke German – the liturgical language of my clan’s particular sect.

In contrast to Europe and the US, Canadians are a lot less disturbed about asking people about their ethnic identities or expressing some loyalty to them. I guess the main reason is that Canada has never really pretended to be a nation built atop an identity, but rather a place where an identity of sorts has slowly built up from the existence of a nation. There is no Canadian myth of the melting pot, and as our soon-to-be new Governor General has demonstrated, no serious demand for nativism in public office. Michaëlle Jean, who is slated to be the powerless and unelected Canadian head-of-state when the Queen is out of the country – e.g., practically always – when she is sworn in on the 27th, is no doubt the most attractive candidate we’ve ever had for the office. And, like her predecessor, she is a former CBC/SRC reporter and talking head.

Ms Jean and I share an endemically Canadian charateristic: We both can and do identify ourselves shamelessly as several different kinds of hyphenated Canadians. She is French Canadian, but that’s hardly strange. She is also Franco-Canadian – Ms Jean has dual citizenship with France, making her the first EU citizen to be Governor General of Canada and the first French citizen to be acting head of state of Canada since 1763. But more unprecedentedly, she is Haitian-Canadian and – as logically follows – African-Canadian.

Yes, Ms Jean is black, and furthermore in an interracial marriage. Well, that’s Canada for you. America puts black folk in squalid emergency shelters, we put ours in Rideau Hall.
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A curious trend in the Balkans

2000-2004: Under the rule of the Social Democrat Party (PSD) and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Romania enjoys four consecutive years of rapid economic growth. Romania’s GDP increases by an average of nearly 6% per year; for the first time since the end of Communism, the country has four years without a recession. Meanwhile, Romania joins NATO and is accepted for EU accession in 2007.

December 2004: voters reject Nastase and PSD, voting in the opposition in a weak coalition government.

2001-2005: Under the rule of the National Movement Simeon II (NDST) and Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburgotski, Bulgaria enjoys four consecutive years of rapid economic growth. Bulgaria’s GDP increases by an average of around 5% per year; for the first time since the end of Communism, the country has four years without a recession. Meanwhile, Bulgaria joins NATO and is accepted for EU accession in 2007.

June 2005: Voters reject Saxecoburgotski and NDST, voting in the opposition, which now appears likely to form a weak coalition government.

2001-2005: Under the rule of the Socialist Party and Prime Minister Fatos Nano, Albania enjoys four consecutive years of rapid economic growth. Albania’s GDP increases by an average of about 6% per year; for the first time since the end of Communism, the country has four years without a recession. Meanwhile, Albania is accepted into the Partnership for Peace and moves from being an impoverished semi-pariah to a serious candidate for EU accession sometime in the next decade.

July 2005: Voters reject Nano and the Socialists, returning to former President Sali Berisha, out of office since 1997. Berisha will form a coalition government with several minor parties.

What’s going on here?
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Elections in Albania (II)

A few weeks back, I blogged a little about the upcoming elections in Albania. Here’s a bit more.

The elections are expected to be close, because the ruling Socialist Party is split. The larger faction supports the current Prime Minister, Fatos Nano. But a breakaway group, under an ex-weightlifter named Ilir Meta, has organized itself into the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI). The SMI is running a strong third in the polls and might well hold the balance of power between the two larger parties.

Meta used to be Prime Minister himself. To make a long and really complicated story short, Nano engineered his downfall back in 2001; both men were Socialists, but Nano wanted to be Prime Minister himself. Meta didn’t take it well.

The two major candidates — Nano and Democrat Sali Berisha — held a televised debate, Albania’s first ever, next week. (Meta was excluded, much to his irritation.) Although Berisha and Nano loathe each other, the debate went off without a hitch.
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Denmark, Sweden and Finland to Continue With Ratification

For now, at any rate, the Nordic countries are to continue with the ratification process. We will see how this eveolves as the days pass.

We naturally respect the decision of the French people but it is crucial that Danes be allowed make their own decision in the autumn,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark’s prime minister said.

There would be no change of plans should Dutch voters also reject the treaty on Wednesday, he added

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Goran Persson, Sweden’s prime minister, described the French result as “a severe setback for the treaty” but pledged to continue the Swedish ratification process.

Matti Vanhanen, the Finnish prime minister, said he would proceed with the ratification process and expressed hope that other EU states would do likewise.