Municipal and provincial elections in Belgium

A very quick and summary update on the municipal and provincial elections in Belgium, which get more and more complicated what with all the “cartels”. The general idea is one of power consolidation for the ruling parties, with the Christian Democrats and Flemish nationalists the big winners in Flanders and the Socialist Party getting away nicely in the Walloon provinces.
Continue reading

Do what again now?

I’ve been hoping Emmanuel or someone would step forward and explain what happened yesterday in the French Parliament.

Here’s the New York Times version:

When François Hollande, the Socialist Party leader, berated the French government for its handling of the crisis at Europe’s leading aerospace company, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin lost control.

In an outburst that was both highly personal and filled with rage, Mr. de Villepin shouted: “I denounce, Mr. Hollande, the superficiality, and I would even say, looking at you, cowardice! Cowardice! There is in your attitude, I say it again, cowardice!”

Socialist members of the Assembly tried to drown out Mr. de Villepin with cries of “Resign! Resign!” Some deputies moved forward, toward the prime minister, before storming out of the chamber.

Henri Emmanuelli, a Socialist deputy and a former president of the National Assembly, shouted, “He’s mad!”

The session — the regularly scheduled Tuesday hearing with Mr. de Villepin and other ministers — came to an abrupt end.

Do what?
Continue reading

Battle Royal

A long time ago, in a year already far away, some commenters were mentionning a recent poll showing that Ségolène Royal was now leading the race to become the socialist party nominee for the 2007 French presidential election. One salient finding of the poll was that she was supported by a plurality of both French voters (36%) and socialist sympathizers (48%).

At this point, even casual observers of the French political scene would to tempted to ask : just who the hell is this Ségolène Royal I have never heard of? Well, I’m glad you asked and I was preparing to bore you with a clumsily written and long-winded summary about the race for the Socialist party nomination and Ms Royal’s short but happy political carreer. But I’ve just found that Doug Ireland has already done it, albeit in a clear way, complete with color pictures, snarky criticism of the French press and the inevitable comparison to Hillary Clinton. So go read him and come back if you really want to know my opinion about Segolène Royal’s chances.
Continue reading

And speaking of Eurovision

Just a quick update on Croatia’s EU candidacy.

Eight countries have signed a letter to British PM Tony Blair supporting Croatia’s membership. The letter was presented to Blair — who currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, and will until January 1 — in the recent confence at Newport, in Wales.

The signing countries were Austria, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Continue reading

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?
Continue reading

Fair and Balanced?

Two versions of the Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero story, Fox and Bloomberg, choose for yourselves.

BTW: anyone out there help me: what is the Blair/Labour Government official position right now on the UN and troop withdrawal? Just to put this in some sort of perspective.
Continue reading

Eta And The Spanish Elections

As someone who lives and works in Barcelona (capital of Catalonia, and formal definition in the eyes of the local nationalists of being Catalan), it is really rather frustrating to find that about the only time we make it to the European headlines (apart, of course, from when Bar?a wants to buy some world famous footballer like Beckham) is when one of the players in the greater-Spanish political arena – in this case Eta – wants to exploit some situation or other here to its own advantage. Outside of this context (and with, of course, the honourable exception of George Orwell) Catalonia is little heard of, and even less understood.
Continue reading

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