Book Review: “European Integration 1950-2003: Superstate or New Market Economy?”

Once upon a time, there was a large, intellectually hegemonic, somewhat totalising ideology rooted in a heterodox school of economics. Its advocates proposed to make massive changes to the structure of society and claimed that only such a revolutionary realignment could alleviate the contradictions and failures of the existing order and save the world from stagnation and misery. They claimed that their programme would produce immediate results, and that the only reason it wasn’t immediately implemented was because entrenched interests were manipulating the public against them.

Ultimately, advocates of these principles did gain power in many places and were able to implement elements of their programme. Some came to power through revolutions of various kinds that granted them the near-dictatorial powers they needed to make the changes they believed necessary. Others were able to convince electorates and even elites that theirs was the way of the future. They turned public dissatisfaction to their advantage, especially during economic downturns when people were willing to turn to new solutions and elites feared that the masses would turn against them.

And, they had some arguable successes, but no unambiguous ones. In some places, particularly those where effectively unlimited power had shifted to them, they often maintained highly inequitable regimes which grew harder and harder to justify, faced ever growing public disaffection, and turned to more oppressive and manipulative means to sustain control. This undermined their movement, but despite the best efforts of their enemies was not quite able to kill it off.

In states where more democratic methods had been used, the need to compromise with established interests and to sustain public consent forced them to accept measures often contrary to their initial programme. Their ideological identity tended to shift over time as winning elections grew more important than ideological purity and as the drawbacks of real power became apparent. Actually being held responsible for results forced many members of this tradition to accept their enemies’ interests as at least partially legitimate, and compelled them to less radical legislative programmes.

In some of those nations, these radical parties became increasingly manipulative and difficult to distinguish from their former enemies. But, in a few places, the necessary dilution of their programme brought about an ideological synthesis that appeared successful, and this success in turn showed that the radical programmes they had once advocated were perhaps unnecessary. In the end, ideology had no real hold on them, and the models and methods that seemed to work became the political and economic programme that they were identified with. Their former allies who operated more dictatorial regimes were easily repudiated.

But others were unable to accept that option. They included dissidents who had been burned by the growing authoritarianism of their own failed revolutions, or who were simply unable to accept that their early ideological purity had become superfluous. They were isolated and powerless, only able to function in the states where their former allies had become moderates, leaving them without meaningful public support. They fumed at the world’s unwillingness to go the way they wanted, and increasingly recast the history of the world in terms of their own ideological predispositions. The past became, in their minds, an unending conflict between an ideologically pure vanguard and scheming established interests, a story of their courageous champions betrayed by back-sliding traitors. Ultimately, the world moved on and these radicals virtually disappeared outside of intellectually protected milieux like privately-funded think tanks and universities.

Of course, by the now the astute reader will have recognised that I am talking about the history of neoliberalism.
Continue reading

Living in Denial

No this is not (yet) the title of one of my new pages (although we were looking into living in sin, but unfortunately it’s already taken). No the denial I am referring to is much nearer home for most of us, since it is up there in Brussels. “European Union nations are dragging their heels in their ambitious drive to become the world’s most competitive economy by the end of the decade” or so we are lead to believe from the EU annual survey published by the Commission on Wednesday.

This foolish piece of what the Spanish would call ‘chuleria’ (no easy translation but I suppose you could try vain self-important show-off bragging) – the pledge to overtake the US by 2010 – was adopted at the Lisbon 2000 summit. It was madness in its moment, now it looks just plain ridiculous.
Continue reading

Parmalat: Just Another Scandal?

On a day which sees the Parmalat heat being turned up to full blast, with a looming ‘cara a cara’ between former Chief Financial Officer Fausto Tonna and Parmalat chief legal counsel Gian Paolo Zini, and while in the United States a class action law firm has named investment bank Citigroup Inc and auditing firm Deloitte & Touche Tohmatsu among defendants in a lawsuit against the food group – a lawsuit incidentally filed on behalf of a U.S. pension fund (oh when, oh when will we get class action lawsuits here in Europe) – on such a day it might well be worth asking ourselves one simple question: is this just another one-off scandal?
Continue reading

The headscarf: Radical Islam’s greatest secret weapon

When I first came to Belgium, one of the things that genuinely surprised me is how people seem to think Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is a children’s programme. Admittedly, the title doesn’t exactly say “socially relevant drama”, but I doubt that the show’s success on American TV would have been possible without the age 24-55 market. Eventually, I started asking people what it was about the programme that made them come to that conclusion.

In most cases, people never really got past the name. Fantasy on the continent seems to be a very different animal than in the US. For example, when I suggested that Buffy is no more fantasy than Le Fabuleux destin d’Am?lie Poulain, I was greeted with shock. No, no – I was told – Am?lie is magical. The Paris it is set in – the clean one, without the graffitti and street crime – is fictional, of course, and the plot is certainly not realist, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in the same category as vampires.

In a lot of cases, the real problem was linguistic. Buffy in French sounds very childish, spouting verlan and action movie clichés. The wit and prose skill of the original writers is completely lost, and even if you watch it in English on Flemish TV or the Beeb, I guess non-native speakers just don’t get it.

But I had one answer that surprised me. One person thought it belonged in the same category of American TV as Beverly Hills 90210. Why? Because of the clothes Buffy wears. No school would ever let a girl dress like that to class. I had to explain that in California, Buffy’s clothes aren’t even close to excessive.

The Belgian school system places some demands on students that American schools don’t. Personally, I don’t have a real problem with the imposition of a reasonable dress code in school. It is, if anything, one of life’s most minor injustices. Besides, I remember what it felt like to wear clothes from K-mart at a school where designer jeans were de rigueur.

However, I have some problems with this:

Deux s?nateurs veulent interdire le voile ? l’?cole

BRUXELLES Deux s?nateurs de la majorit?, Anne-Marie Lizin (PS) et Alain Destexhe (MR), ont d?pos? une proposition de r?solution qui invite les autorit?s f?d?rales et f?d?r?es du pays ? adopter des textes l?gislatifs portant sur l’interdiction ? l’?cole, et pour les agents de la fonction publique, de signes manifestant une appartenance religieuse.

Anne-Marie Lizin esp?re que le bureau du S?nat mettra sur pied une commission ad hoc qui pourra se pencher sur cette question d?licate, avec comme fil rouge le texte de la proposition de r?solution.

Pour Alain Destexhe, qui s’appuie sur la position de la Communaut? fran?aise, sur l’avis du Centre pour l’?galit? des chances, sur les diff?rentes d?clarations politiques et sur divers arr?ts, rapports ou recommandations tant belges qu’?trangers, le d?bat est clos, il est temps d’agir. Pour le s?nateur MR, il faut se demander ce qu’implique de vivre ensemble en Belgique au 21?me si?cle.

Il s’agit de d?fendre la libert? de conscience et la compatibilit? des libert?s dans l’espace public, ce qui implique un certain nombre de r?serves au sein de l’administration et ? l’?cole. L’?cole doit ?tre le lieu de l’apprentissage d’une conscience critique et de la promotion de valeurs universelles, ajoute-t-il.

Pour Anne-Marie Lizin, ?le voile, c’est la pression sur l’individu au nom d’une religion ?. La s?natrice de Huy estime qu’il est urgent de l?gif?rer au nom de l’?galit? homme-femme et pour soutenir le combat des femmes musulmanes dans chaque pays o? elles disent ?non? ? l’inf?riorit?.

L’initiative des deux parlementaires se fait en toute autonomie. Tant au PS qu’au MR, on ne se prononce pas pour l’interdiction du port du voile ? l’?cole. Le pr?sident du PS Elio Di Rupo a m?me estim? qu’il n’?tait pas opportun de d?battre de cette question en p?riode pr??lectorale. Mais pour Alain Destexhe, ?ne pas en discuter en p?riode ?lectorale revient justement ? alimenter le poujadisme et le vote d’extr?me droite?.

(Read on for the English translation)
Continue reading

Resurgent Anti-Semitism In Europe: Myth or Reality?

David is right. Islamist terrorism has now finally reached Europe for real.


Not just because the tragic terrorist attacks against the Neve-Shalom and Beth-Israel Synagogues took place in the undisputedly European part of Istanbul. Not just because the fear of a rising tide of al-Qaida triggered fundamentalist terrorism could once again lead to a round of attempts to legalise previously unimaginable governmental infringements of civil liberties. And not just because such attacks could actually happen around the corner of our very own house, church, or temple.


Yesterday, Europe – or the European public, published and otherwise – has been accused by a number of Israeli politicians of having watered the seed of Islamist terrorism by continuous criticism of Israel and its military with respect to the handling of the second Intifada: In a joint statement with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said the Istanbul bombings had to be seen “in the context of … recent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks heard in certain European cities in recent months”.


Even discounting the fact that these statements were made under the immediate impression of the attacks, they are certainly remarkable. Not only because they are suggesting that – in the words of Mr Shalom – “verbal terrorism” is being perpetrated against Israel or Jews in Europe these days but also that it should be seen as promoting the kind of abhorrent deadly terror we witnessed yesterday.


I suppose it is hardly deniable that criticism of Israel has recently been more pronounced in Europe than, notably, in the United States. Earlier this year, Timothy Garton Ash remarked, that this criticism could even be the origin of the transatlantic communicative difficulties, because of it’s alleged link to anti-Semitism – a link once again made yesterday, a link that certainly requires some analysis. In the words of Mr Garton Ash –


“The Middle East is both a source and a catalyst of what threatens to become a downward spiral of burgeoning European anti-Americanism and nascent American anti-Europeanism, each reinforcing the other. Anti-Semitism in Europe, and its alleged connection to European criticism of the Sharon government, has been the subject of the most acid anti-European commentaries from conservative American columnists and politicians. Some of these critics are themselves not just strongly pro-Israel but also “natural Likudites,” one liberal Jewish commentator explained to me. In a recent article Stanley Hoffmann writes that they seem to believe in an “identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States.” Pro-Palestinian Europeans, infuriated by the way criticism of Sharon is labelled anti-Semitism, talk about the power of a “Jewish lobby” in the US, which then confirms American Likudites’ worst suspicions of European anti-Semitism, and so it goes on, and on.[A problem] difficult for a non-Jewish European to write about without contributing to the malaise one is trying to analyze…”


Maybe. Maybe I am contributing to the malaise by trying to analyse it. But then again, the unqualified allegation against Europe and its people of giving at least negligent if not malevolent ideological support to terrorism is too serious to be simply brushed aside as an expression of anger and despair even in the light of yesterday’s attacks. It is too serious to be brushed aside even if, as the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports today in a story that was likely written before the attacks, more and more Jews in many parts of the world are personally feeling more and more uneasy because, as they see it, criticism against Israel is always likely to be at be least partly directed against themselves.


This is a valid fear. One that can also not be brushed aside. All over Europe many Synagogues are now being protected by police – for a reason. As a German, I may be particularly sensitive about this, but it has never been a good sign for any society when its Jews started to feel uneasy. And there are certainly people around who “hide” their anti-Semitism behind “legitimate” criticism of Israel. From said Haaretz article –


“Those who worry about the low point Israel has reached in global public opinion are sharply divided over the reasons for it. Is opposition to Israel rooted in its military policy toward the Palestinians, or has anti-Semitism awoken after a long hibernation? As time passes and the negative attitude toward Israel intensifies, many Jews are beginning to feel that these sentiments are more anti-Semitic than anti-Israeli. Prof. Shmuel Trigano of the University of Paris X, a prominent French Jewish intellectual, believes that the clash between the Jews and the non-Jewish world started out as anti-Israeli, in the wake of the intifada, but has spilled over into anti-Semitism. In France, he says, people are no longer embarrassed to express views about the Jews that were taboo until just a little while ago.”


But does this mean that all non-Jewish criticism of the Israeli government’s and military’s policies – often harshly critized by Israeli citizens and soldiers alike – or even anti-Zionism, is simply old-style anti-Semitism that comes in new bottles? Hardly.


Yet there are people who seem to claim just that. About a year ago, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman published an article on CommonDreams.org about A Day At The American Enterprise Institute, home to many of the “natural Likudites” mentioned in the Garton Ash piece cited above. In the morning of that day they listened to a panel discussion titled “Europe: Anti-Semitism Resurgent?” that


“… was supposed to be a debate between two right-wingers, Ruth Wisse of Harvard University and John O’Sullivan, of United Press International. But there was little debate. Everyone agreed that the issue wasn’t anti-semitism, as traditionally defined, but anti-Israel views. In fact, Wisse and O’Sullivan had now effectively redefined the term anti-semitism to mean anti-Israel. We had suspected this, but didn’t get a confirmation until a questioner in the audience asked Wisse about Billy Graham’s 1972 conversation with Richard Nixon, memorialized on the White House tapes, and made public earlier this year by the National Archives.

In the conversation, Graham says to Nixon that “a lot of Jews are great friends of mine. They swarm around me and are friendly to me, … Because they know I am friendly to Israel and so forth. They don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country.” And how does he feel? Graham tells Nixon that the Jews have a “stranglehold” on the country, and “this stranglehold has got to be broken or the country’s going down the drain.” “You believe that?” Nixon says. “Yes, sir,” Graham replies. “Oh boy,” Nixon says. “So do I. I can’t ever say that but I believe it.”

So, the questioner wanted to know whether Professor Wisse considered these sentiments, as expressed by Graham, and widely publicized earlier this year, to be anti-semitic. No, they are not anti-semitic, Professor Wisse says. Not anti-semitic? No, anti-semitism exists today in the form of “political organization” against Israel.”


Anti-Semitism is a camelion – what was once purely religious suddenly turned “racial” in the 1880s when religion lost much of its function as social glue in the heyday of industrialization. So could Professor Wisse’s assertion that the camelion has once again changed its colour be correct? Wikipedia.org defines the term as

“… either of the following: (1) hostility to Jews as a group which results from no legitimate cause or greatly exceeds any reasonable, ethical response to genuine provocation; or (2) a pejorative perception of Jewish physical or moral traits which is either utterly groundless or a result of irrational generalization and exaggeration”


This might be a good starting point. But there is no straight forward way to define anti-Semitism – well, maybe in a Habermasian ideal speech situation. But in the real world? Guess what – the Wikipedia definition’s “neutrality” is disputed, just as pretty much every article in their database that is conceptually remotely related.


Yet it must be possible to find a way to discern truly legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from the kind that is merely a vehicle for anti-Semitism in order to be able to usefully discuss and if possible refute general accusations against “Europe” and be able to point to those who are really guilty as charged.


How? I don’t know yet, but it seems the discussion has just been declared open.


PS.: Done. Now my left hand is really happy that I have a physio-therapy session in a few hours…

Privatisation and Market Imperfection

Today I’m posting a link to my Singapore friend and colleague, Eddie Lee. The story behind this link is a strange one – almost surreal – and more or less directly related to my ‘friendster’ post last Saturday. I met Eddie back in February while I was Googling the net looking for some material to blog. I was looking for something on the Italian economy, and I found a link to an article in Singapore’s Straits Times, which, apart from touching on Italy, seemed also to talk about my favourite topic – ageing – to boot. Now I have the unfortunate habit of scan-reading a lot of material quickly, and as I scanned I found an argument I really liked. I’m going to post this I thought to myself.
Continue reading

The Minister for Weblogs

So the Dutch Finance Minister – Gerrit Zalm – has a weblog. Not understanding too much Dutch it’s hard to make a very thorough assesment, although it does look rather austere. However, unlike Howard Dean and Wes Clark, it does appear that he is posting himself. But it is not for the fact that he has a weblog that Finance Minister Zalm is making headlines at the moment. Rather it is for some of his statements on the French government and the stability pact. According to Frans he announced last week “that he gave up trying to get the European Commission to act against France’s repeated breaching of the rules”. Now Frans understandably is scratching his head trying to determine what this might mean.
Continue reading

Comment allez-vous?

From John Vinocur in the commentary pages of the Hairy Trib:

“At its most hurtful and remarkable, and yet perhaps its most honest, there is the start of acceptance by segments of the French intellectual community that French leadership, as it is constituted now, is not something Europe wants – or France merits.” …

“Of all the [current self-critical] books, the current No. 2 on the bestseller list of L’Express, ‘La France Qui Tombe,’ by Nicolas Baverez, has been the focus of unusual attention.

“Baverez, a practicing attorney and economist who has a strong place in the Paris establishment, argues that France’s leadership hates change. Rather, it ‘cultivates the status quo and rigidity’ because it is run through the connivance of politicians, civil servants and union officials, bringing together both the left- and right-wing elites. They are described as mainly concerned with preserving the failed statist system that protects their jobs and status.

“Although he has little patience with the American role in the world (it is branded unilateral, imperial and unpredictable, yet flexible and open to change) Baverez charges that the failure of French policy on Iraq and Europe – resisting the United States with nothing to offer in exchange, and attempting to force the rest of Europe to follow its lead – ‘crowns the process of the nation’s decline’ and leaves France in growing diplomatic isolation everywhere.

“Over the past year, said Bavarez, ‘French diplomacy has undertaken to broaden the fracture within the West, and duplicate American unilateralism on the European scale by its arrogant dressing down of Europe’s new democracies. It has sustained a systematically critical attitude that flees concrete propositions in favor of theoretical slogans exalting a multipolar world or multilateralism.’

“As for Europe, Bavarez maintains that France has been discredited by its reticence to transfer any kind of meaningful sovereignty to the central organization, its resistance to giving up its advantages in the area of agricultural policy and its disregard for the directives and rules of the European Union executive commission.

“He does not stop there. Of a united Europe, Bavarez said, France has ‘ruined what might have remained of a common foreign and security policy, deeply dividing the community and placing France in the minority.’ His country was at the edge of marginalization in Europe and the world, he claimed, because of its ‘verbal pretense of having real power’ that is ‘completely cut off from its capacity for influence or action.'” …

Ouch.

“Now, in response to the Bavarez book, there is public rage from the Chirac camp, which the Bavarez book charges with having neither the courage nor the competence to confront the basic problems.

“But the density of Bavarez’s factual argumentation, bolstered by the presence of the other books, all treating France’s pride-of-rank and French conceits with brutal disrespect, have given the notion of French decline a legitimacy, reality and currency that it lacked before in public debate.” …

“Daniel Vernet, a former senior editor of [Le Monde], wrote, ‘We often irritate our partners because too frequently we have the tendency to want to impose our views, or only to consider as truly European those positions that conform to a French vision, however much in the EU minority it may be.'” …

“The sum of the messages of the books, in French to the French, is that this vision of the country’s current circumstances is not a French-bashing invention from afar, but a home truth.

“For Bavarez, France is threatened with becoming a museum diplomatically and a transit center economically. To do anything about it, it must revive itself internally first, getting away from what he calls its ‘social statist model.’ To advance, it must end the dominant role of a ‘public sector placed outside of any constraint requiring productivity or competitiveness.’

“The reform of the rest of French policy, based on genuine integration into Europe, should follow, he argues.”

Pens?es?

[Complete text of IHT article]

They’re Selling Postcards of……the Fiesta

It’s party time in Barcelona. There’s no circus in town, but there is just about everything else. In fact many of you may be surprised to learn that today is a public holiday here, and indeed it may surprise you even more to discover that the holiday is only Barcelona. This situation is strange for many outside Spain, and draws attention to the fact that decisions about public holidays (and of course, many other matters) are taken at three levels: national, autonomous community, and municipal. (Oh how well I remember the days of travelling round Europe, and needing to change money on just the day………that everything was unexpectedly closed). It also draws attention to the prevalence and social importance of public holidays and festivals here. Of note too is the way these holidays draw attention to that unique combination of the traditional and the modern which characterises contemporary Spain. (Actually, to be really pc here I should say ‘the modern Spanish State’ since this is the terminology adopted by those of its citizens who do not especially consider themselves to be Spanish, there is no equivalent of the British/Welsh/Scottish/English classification here, and Catalan, Basque, and Galician football teams are definitely not encouraged in the new ‘multicultural’ Spain).
Continue reading