No to Non-Euro NATO Bureau

For some reason, there is hardly ever any NATO coverage on this blog, despite the fact it’s the other pan-European institution. The Euro-Atlantic alliance is having a summit next month, to be held in Riga. Now, one of the main topics for this gathering is the long-running one of adapting NATO to challenges other than that of defending the North German plain from the Red Army. Role-of-the-week is, of course, fighting terrorism. A wider view might point out that the so-called “emerging security threats” predate the War On Terrorism, and that many of the capabilities required for “fighting terrorism” abroad are equally applicable to regional peacekeeping or even expeditionary warfighting.

Anyway, it’s long been thought in some circles that NATO’s radius of action ought to be increased. During the Cold War, NATO was quite intimately connected with other Western allies outside the North Atlantic, both via the Americans and also other multilateral mechanisms. The overlap between NATO, the EU, and other security communities and economic areas has often, then and now, been seen as a sort of “community of democracies” or (as Raymond Aron put it) “world of order”. On the other hand, E.P. Thompson savaged what he saw as a sick complacency in the face of nuclear dread and capitalist exploitation on the part of the “Natopolitans” in an article entitled Inside the Whale, and today’s rabid right wants to have a “Democratic Union” made up of NATO and EU states, Japan, India and Australia – but not France, naturally. NATO, meanwhile, has expanded in Europe and taken on a mission to Afghanistan, which is well out-of-area in NATOspeak.

The latest proposal was supported by the US and UK, and foresaw regular bilateral meetings between NATO and allied states outside Europe, with a shortlist of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. In a sense, it would have brought a sort of “secret NATO” or “virtual NATO” into the tent – the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have separate alliances among themselves and with the US, including the UKUSA, CAZAB and Echelon intelligence cooperation agreements, ANZUK and ANZUS.

So what happened?
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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?
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Why France MUST Reform – MUST, I Tell You!

Since the withdrawal of the CPE and the resulting collateral damage to Dominique de Villepin, not to mention Nicolas Sarkozy’s unexpected appearance as a unity figure at the height of the crisis, it’s rapidly being promulgated as conventional wisdom that France “is ungovernable”/refuses to “reform”/cannot be “reformed”. There is only one problem with this discourse, very popular in anglophone leader columns and the like, which is that it’s nonsense.

It’s quite often been raised here on AFOE that the French economy isn’t actually in trouble. Growth, although not great, is ticking along, inflation is controlled, unemployment is higher than the UK but lower than Italy or Germany, and the demographics (as Edward Hugh will no doubt point out) look a lot better than many other countries. Certainly, there’s more youth unemployment than one might like, but almost all the figures for this are wildly misleading. The percentage rate of unemployment in the 15-24 years age group looks scary high, but is actually a very small percentage of that group–because most of them are in education or vocational training of some form and hence not part of the labour force. Unemployment as a percentage of the age group is rather lower than the national rate and not much different from that elsewhere in Europe. (Le Monde ran a useful little chart of this in a supplement yesterday that doesn’t seem to be on the web.) Much – indeed most – of the difference in employment growth between France and the UK in recent years has been accounted for by the UK government going on a hiring binge.

So why the crisis atmosphere? More, as ever, below the fold..
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A Coalition Of The Willing?

Thursday’s edition of the International Herald Tribune features an interesting article concerning the recent European rows about state interference in favour of so-called national champions.

Quoting Elie Cohen, the Tribune’s authors – Katrin Bennhold and Graham Bowley – suggest that both the French government’s allegedly new/refound role as M&A consultant in the Suez and Gaz de France deal (to avoid a bid from Italy’s ENEL) as well as the Spanish government’s attempt to thwart a takeover of Endesa, a Spanish utilty by E.ON, the German power corporation, are indicative of a resurgence “nation state” as a political concept in the Europe of the 21st century.
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Suspicion and divided loyalties

Perhaps the most damaging effect of 9/11 and all that has followed will be its role in making divided loyalties one of the most dangerous things a person can have. From the beginning, while the ruins of the World Trade Center were still burning, any effort to hold non-trivial positions about terrorism and Islam were attacked. People opposed to the war in Iraq were branded as terrorist supporters, people unimpressed by a programme of reform in the Middle East imposed at the end of a gun were castigated, people who asked questions about whether there was more to things than “they hate us for our freedom” were branded as traitors.

Tariq Ramadan wrote a piece in Wednesday’s New York Times which must be read in this light. The key paragraph – the statement of where he stands – appears at the end:

I believe Western Muslims can make a critical difference in the Muslim majority world. To do this, we must become full, independent Western citizens, working with others to address social, economic and political problems. However, we can succeed only if Westerners do not cast doubt on our loyalty every time we criticize Western governments. Not only do our independent voices enrich Western societies, they are the only way for Western Muslims to be credible in Arab and Islamic countries so that we can help bring about freedom and democracy. That is the message I advocate. I do not understand how it can be judged as a threat to America.

But it is not that hard to see the threat in it. To encourage western Muslims to at once see themselves as having a place in the West and a role in the Islamic world is tantamount to asking them to divide their loyalties. To all too many people right now, divided loyalties are a synonym for treason. The charge of divided loyalties is an old one, and a very damaging one. It was once the most mainstream charge that people made against Jews. To see it revived today – against Muslims in Europe, against Mexicans in the US by the likes of Samuel Huntington, and yes, against Jews in many countries – is very, very troubling.
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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)
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