An unintended consequence

Recently I was sent a lavish document celebrating 50 years of mobile telephony, by a large Swedish company – well, obviously, Ericsson. 50 years? you say. Well, AT&T offered a primitive service in 1946, in which quite simply you called an operator and they would ask on a common radio frequency for the subscriber desired, then, should they answer, patch you into the radio circuit. It was crude, insecure (everyone could hear), clumsy (you had to know where the called party was), relied on manual operation, but it was mobile telephony of a sort.

The theoretical principles of cellular radio were discovered in 1948 at Bell Labs, but would have to wait 30 years for electronics to progress far enough to make them practical. So how did Swedish public housing help to make it happen?
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More Sweden, less tidbits

Well, I just lost a long post about the so-called Swedish model due to my own stupid carelessness the combined malevolence of Windows XP and MS Word.

Anyway, the main point was to say that the article on the subject (free for non-subscribers) in last week’s issue of The Economist was really a dishonest hack job. And my critique went roughly like this :
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Austria Would Prefer Not To

Earlier this year, Eurobarometer started asking members what they thought about future EU expansion. The results (which can be found here, as a pdf) were pretty interesting.

52% of Europeans support membership for Croatia, while only 34% oppose it. (War criminals? What war criminals?) And 50% support membership for Bulgaria. But only 45% support Romania coming in. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that the EU has already firmly committed to Romanian membership, even if it might be delayed for a year.

Still, the Romanians can take comfort; they’re well ahead of Serbia (40%), Albania (36%) and Turkey (dead last, with 35% of Europeans supporting Turkish membership and 52% against).

Where this gets interesting — in a Eurovision-y sort of way — is when you start to break it down by country.
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Sweden Acts On Interest Rates

Well Sweden has just put the cat among the pigeons. Taking advantage of its ability to apply an independent monetary policy, the Riksbank has decided to cut its base lending rate from 2.0% to 1.5%. The reason why is not hard to discern, apart from the reduced growth forecast for this year, the inflation rate is falling dangerously low, at just 0.2% year on year in May, dropping from a 0.4% y-oy in April and 0.5% y-o-y in March. Obviously Sweden is on deflation alert, and in fact a greater reduction (say 1%) might have been justified.

This is bound to spark all sorts of additional debate about the euro, and its advisability. Finland would be the best point of comparison here. The Finnish inflation rate was 0.6% y-o-y in May, but it has been hovering precariously near the zero level for the last month, anything which gave a sudden push to the disinflation process, like a sudden bust in commodity prices, would certainly clearly knock Finland over the line.
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It’s expensive, but we’re rich!

Remember this debate about the relative living standards of Sweden and Alabama? One little commented result of the euro, krona and pound?s rise against the US dollar over the last two years is that measured in current exchange rates European countries? income per head now compares rather more favourably against the United States.
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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.

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.
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Germans Win First World Cup

As told by the Associated Press:

CARSON, Calif. — Germany won the Women’s World Cup 2-1 over Sweden on Nia Kuenzer’s header in the eighth minute of overtime Sunday.

A substitute who came on 10 minutes earlier, Kuenzer soared high to deflect Renate Lingor’s long free kick over the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Caroline Joensson, who was brilliant all day.

The German players mobbed her and rolled together on the ground, while Sweden’s beaten players were motionless and stunned. Much of the crowd, which was decidedly pro-Sweden, cheered the Swedes even as the entire German team stood on a podium, jumping up and down as they received their championship medals.

Germany’s first women’s world title came in the same fashion as it beat Sweden in the 2001 European Championship final – on an overtime goal. …
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Some thoughts

Scott said in comments to the Anna Lindh post: “They also claim that Sweden has a fairly high murder rate by European standards. Considering how often reports on this murder have evoked how safe Sweden is, and how politicians hardly need bodyguards, I found this claim very surprising.”

It turns out we’re at the EU average, but his comment did spawn these thoughts of mine:

Perhaps it wouldn’t be that surprising. The difference between crime frequency between the US and Sweden surely is huge, but I suspect the difference in how safe people feel is even greater. I know that crime was a much bigger election issue in for example France and other countries than in Sweden last year. It’s possible we have somewhat more crime than a some other countries, but feel a lot more safe and unconcerened than them.

An interesting thing I read is that residents of the poor immigrant suburbs of Stockholm felt much, much more unsafe than residents of neighbouring middle class neighbourhoods, to the point where it was seriously detrimental to their quality of life, even though the incidence of violent crimes was rougly similar.

People’s perceptions are (in this regard) more influenced by the media, by prejudice, and by the mood of the culture, than they are by actual facts.

As to not using bodyguards; we already had the Palme murder, and still it’s only the prime minister that always uses bodyguards. From what everyone tells me, most countries are different, I would guess that includes even ones without comparable experiences. It’s a cultural issue.

Partly it’s a question of our self-image and what I discussed above, but I believe it’s also because in some ways the political elites aren’t as far apart from the electorate as they are in many other countries. And what’s worth noting is that I’m not talking about the electorate’s attitude, but that of the politicians. To stop shopping in department stores and taking the train, etcetera, to stop living more or less like an ordinary middle class person, is an intolerable sacrifice for many Swedish politicians on the highest level. I’m only speculating here, but is that really as true of say French politicians?

This isn’t a minor thing, but a great strenghth of Swedish democracy, and that’s one reason why this is so horrible. On the other hand, again looking at the Palme case, maybe things will mostly stay the same after all.