Archive for the ‘News from Abroad’ Category

Hungary and article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty

September 4, 2015 2 comments

One strange consequence of ‘the refugee crisis’ [1] now in full flow in Europe has been the spotlight put on the nature of the Hungarian regime, and the views of Prime Minister Orban on what Europe’s about:

Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims. This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity…..Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?

This, I suspect, isn’t a vision of Europe shared by many readers.   Nor is it one reflected at Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, which Hungary was the first of the 27 states to ratify. Article 2 says:

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.
Nice rhetoric, but utterly unenforceable, it might be argued.  Except that this is what  Article 7 says about making sure states abide by the values of Article 2.
1. On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the European Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2. Before making such a determination, the Council shall hear the Member State in question and may address recommendations to it, acting in accordance with the same procedure. The Council shall regularly verify that the grounds on which such a determination was made continue to apply.

2. The European Council, acting by unanimity on a proposal by one third of the Member States or by the European Commission and after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, may determine the existence of a serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2 after inviting the Member State in question to submit its observations.

3. Where a determination under paragraph 2 has been made, the Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide to suspend certain of the rights deriving from the application of the Treaties to the Member State in question, including the voting rights of the representative of the government of that Member State in the Council. In doing so, the Council shall take into account the possible consequences of such a suspension on the rights and obligations of natural and legal persons.

The obligations of the Member State in question under the Treaties shall in any case continue to be binding on that State.

4. The Council, acting by a qualified majority, may decide subsequently to vary or revoke measures taken under paragraph 3 in response to changes in the situation which led to their being imposed.

5. The voting arrangements applying to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council for the purposes of this Article are laid down in Article 354 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

For myself, I cannot think of a more appropriate time for members of the European Parliament to stand up for the founding values of the Union, and seek to invoke the parliamentary and treaty procedures set down for just this kind of development.  It’s what the parliament’s supposed to do.

It might therefore be something readers want to submit to their MEP for consideration, especially with a view to a resolution going first through the S&D grouping [2]. I wouldn’t bother with the UKIP ones, mind.


[1] Not actually THE refugee crisis, but one of them.  Rohingya refugess fleeing by boat from the pre-genocidal actions of the Burmese military regime also constitute a refugee crisis, as do the 660,000 Eritrean refugees who have fled over the border into Ethiopia (a small percentage of whom have sought to get to Europe via Sudan and Libya)

[2] That’s not to say the S&D don’t have issues to resolve in their own ranks. Try SMER in Slovakia.

That complaint to the BBC

A quick follow up on this post on a BBC presenter apparently suggesting you can’t be an American and a Muslim, and my complaint.

The BBC have now replied as follows:

Thank you for getting in touch about the US media coverage of the Chapel Hill shootings, from the Phil Williams programme on 12 February 2015. Please accept our apologies for the delay replying whilst we looked into the matter for you.

We have discussed your concerns personally with the programme’s Editor who explains in response that Phil was trying to get to the heart of the social media controversy around the reporting of the event, which maintained that US media coverage would have been greater if this had been a shooting carried out by an American Muslim on white Americans. But in the pressure of the live broadcasting environment, the Editor accepts that Phil inadvertently used phrases that were not as clear as they should have been.

As you rightly point out, the victims were US citizens too, and it was not the intention to give any other impression.

Thank you for pointing this out.

Kind regards

About as close to an apology as I’m going to get, I think.  Anyway, civic duty done.

The Paris march and the garbage can model

January 12, 2015 3 comments

Readers will have seen, I think, that 17 people were shot dead last week in Paris, by gunmen associating themselves with Daech and Al Qaeida Yemen, who were also killed.

These were brutal murders. Within a few hours, though, even before four people were killed at a supermarket, the actions were being seen less as murder, and more as terrorist attacks on freedom of expression.  This was because some of the people killed were journalists at a satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The twitter hashtag #jesuischarlie, expressive of solidarity with the aims or ethos of the magazine, which takes some pride in its no-holds barred depiction of religion and religious figures, quickly became established, and remained at the top of twitter’s hashtag rankings until after enormous marches in France at the weekend.  These marches also became gestures in support of freedom of expression.   They were not primarily gestures against people being murdered.

This, I think, is a good example of the Garbage Can Model, as conceived by Cohen, March & Olsen, in action.  According to the model, actors rummage around “in the garbage” for a solution which may or may not fit with the problem.  In this case, the core problem – people murdered in cold blood and the possibility of more  – is met with a ‘solution’ which not entirely coincidentally coincides with a media elite.  As Fligstein and McAdam  show, the courses of action that do get chosen are not chosen at random.  They are chosen because those with material and institutional power are able to ensure that they are in the right place at the right time, unless others with less power coalesce and share resources with sufficient skill (or luck).

This reminds me a little of the debate on these pages several years ago about a thing called the Convention on Modern Liberty, in which I and my erstwhile colleague Dave took issue with purportedly radical resources being directed towards of a conference, featuring the great and the good, about the need to defend civil liberties:

For me and Dave, the liberal, metropolitan elite which soaks up human and financial resources in the name of civil liberties and ‘reform’ are, in part, responsible for the fact that since the second world war there have been no further major material advances for labour, and why over the last 30 years capital has got away with rolling back many of the concessions that labour had extracted.

Why, Dave and I would question, is it appropriate to join coalitionary force with them when they insist on seeking to undertake actions which history has proven provide for lesser material gain for labour than working class militancy?

But it also reminds me more directly of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, in which those with sufficient influence imposed a narrative quite out of keeping with the findings of the Jay report, and insisted that the ways to stop children being sexually abused is to stop being ‘politically correct’ and start shouting at social workers.  As I pointed out, in the real world what might help stop abuse is for a) social workers to be empowered to get on with their work with families, to ensure that young people feel safe at home; b) police to focus, in both their investigative and preventative roles, in a ‘race blind’ manner on what circumstances create opportunities for predators to prey on young people (takeaways, poorly regulated taxi firms, and young people who feel unsafe at home.

This, I suggested, would be a socialist response, in that it understands the dialectic of structure and agency, as well as the Overton window.  It seeks to stop people being harmful agents, but it also seeks to change the structure so that being a harmful agent comes to be less and less a rational choice.

So too, a socialist response to the Paris attacks is little to do with marching for a solution to a non-problem* – does anyone really think that the two terrorists who killed journalists were motivated by insult to the prophet, rather than a desire for a dramatic display of new-found power?  The real response is to look at the conditions that made these two men, angry failures, into brutal killers.  The real response for socialists is to argue for the resources needed to improve the lives of all in the Parisian banlieue, so that the prospect of a good job and (male) self-respect starts to shove violent crime beyond what can be seen through the Overton window.  This isn’t to deny their agency – they did what they did, while millions of French men in similar situations did not – but it is to address a problem with a solution that fits the problem.


* This is not to say the 3 million people were wrong to march, even in a march quickly co-opted by their states’ leaders for their own purpose.  The march behind the leaders was one of genuine solidarity, but it is only a start, and it will be for naught if Europe’s leaders now return to type.



What happens if SYRIZA wins?

January 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Greece is back centre stage, with a general election on January 25th and the now quite real propect of a SYRIZA government coming to power.  Tim Worstall paints an interesting scenario of what may happen next, something along these lines:

a) Greece defaults;

b) Greece is forced out of the euro;

c) Greece, in going back to the Drachma and thereby devalues and become instantly more competitive;

d) After a “pretty hairy” twelve months, Greece’s economy grows at 50-10% per year for some years;

e) Other weaker Eurozone countries – Italy, France, Belgium see this is a shortcut to prosperity, and leave the eurozone voluntarily;

f) The Eurzone effectively breaks up.

It’s an interesting scenario, but one which almost certainly won’t be played out.  It won’t be played out because, while for Tim euro exit may create a “pretty hairy ” twelve months of change but be a transition well worth going through – for ordinary Greeks it will be utterly savage

This, for example, is what the National Bank of Greece (according to Bloomberg) set out back in 2012 when exit was last considered a possibility.

Per-capita income would drop by at least 55 percent in euro terms as a new currency would depreciate by about 65 percent, according to the report, emailed from the bank today. The recession would deepen by about 22 percent at stable prices, adding to the 14 percent recorded in the 2009 to 2011 period, National said, while unemployment would jump to 34 percent and inflation rise to above 30 percent, pushed up by the higher cost of imported goods.

Nor would the effects of exit simply be short-term pain for long-term gain.  Exit would also massively increase inequalities.  As I said in 2012:

While it’s impossible to say exactly how leaving the Eurozone might pan out, these will be among the consequences*:

  1. Within a day of the creation and flotation of the New Drachma….. its value will crash against ‘hard’ currencies, and the purchasing power of Greeks for anything imported will be slashed.  It’s impossible to know by how much, but a cut of 75% purchasing power is certainly not out of the question [I wrote this two weeks before the National Bank predicted 55%];
  2. In an internationalized economy like Greece, there is no such thing as ‘out of the euro’. Most rich Greeks able to do so will already have stored their wealth elsewhere and the capital flight will continue to happen.  The idea of proper capital controls is frankly fanciful.  As holders of still-valid euros, or other ‘hard’ currencies, they will then be in position to purchase both the assets and labour of the mass majority of increasingly desperate Greeks at rock-bottom rates.
  3. A dual economy will swiftly emerge, as in pretty well all countries without their own hard currencies.  This will further deepen inequalities in daily life, potentially even with usual services and products only available to those with access to hard currency, as will the emergence of black market currency trading, where the New Drachma is even less valuable than at the official exchange rate.

Greeks know this, and so does SYRIZA. That is why, while 74.2% of Greeks surveyed believe that Greece should remain in the euro “at all costs”, they also give a 3.1% poll lead to SYRIZA.   They knowthat, even if Germany were in a position to push Greece out if it defaulted (and that is doubtful), SYRZIA would be committing political suicide by allowing an exit – whether on purpose or through over-bullish endgame negotiation forcing the Troika into a political face save at the expense of economic sense.

Euro exit is simply not an option for SYRIZA (it has never said that it is), and there is no conundrum (whatever Olaf thinks) for Greek voters over whether to vote against austerity and for exit or for austerity and against it; SYRIZA offers a much better chance of getting the best of both worlds than it did in 2012, and that’s why they stand a better chance of winning this time.

Yes, SYRIZA will bargain hard from a position of strong democratic mandate, but they will bargain, as will the Troika, and a compromise will be reached (possibly including direct fiscal transfer via Structural Funds in return for higher debt payments as facesaver for the Troika).

And even if the worst did come to pass, and disastrous negotiation tactics/styles from both sides did lead to an exit, the economic and social carnage on the streets of Greece would soon put Italy off from following the same path.

So while according to Tim’s classical theory the comparative advantages of real devaluation over internal devaluation may make some sense on paper (if you ignore equality issues), don’t expect to see the theory tested any time soon. Macro often doesn’t meet real life.


Why do Israelis do what they do?

July 22, 2014 3 comments

The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.

Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?

Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious.  Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.

But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.

The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it.  After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10).  Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.

Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.

It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.

Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year.  But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.



How Labour should outflank Cameron on the Juncker question

It is starting to look like Cameron will fail in his quest for someone other than Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the European Commission.  John Major being wheeled out to argue that the whole anti-Juncker thing is a gambit to ensure greater UK influence by another route certainly suggests the Tories know the game is up.

It’s good that Cameron will have egg all over his face, and it is to be hoped that, as Juncker takes up his position (assuming a yes vote in the European parliament) at least some of the press will start to ask questions like:

Why did Cameron take the Tories out of the EPP political grouping, leading it to have no say in the Spitzenkandidat process which was completed in March?

Why didn’t Cameron speak up about the Spitzenkandidat process back in 2012 when it was first worked up by the two main European parliament groupings?  Why is it only now that he thinks the process is an insult to democracy?  Did he simply not understand what was going on across Europe?

Even if these questions are asked though, and Cameron’s absurd EU-illiteracy is exposed for it is, the news cycle is such that it’ll be old news come the Autumn – unless, that is, Labour keep it there.  Fortunately, Labour can do just that,  and in  a way which not only keeps the heat on Cameron through the winter, but which -more importantly – is good for the citizens of the EU as well.  It goes like this:

1) Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allow for a motion of censure of the Commission President, which if passed by a two thirds majority, forces the resignation of the President and his commissioners (whom he will have appointed).

2) Labour MEPs, operating in collaboration with their SPD colleagues should make a specific set of social-democratic demands on Juncker early in his presidency (e.g. that Juncker should organize the repealing of the anti-Keynesian six-pack pushed through by the right in 2011, in favour an agreement focused on social and economic stability, or that Juncker should bring forward Lisbon-consistent ways of balancing richer nation states’ desire for temporary restrict freedom of movement of people with the interests of poor countries in restricting some freedom of movement of goods and services).

3) If Juncker and his Commission complies, then it’s a win for the left.  If not, they should go about campaigning for his censure, across the political groups.  Tory MEPs, in their new political grouping, would be embarrassed at the very least if they had to vote for a continuation of a Juncker presidency, and UKIP’s votes, abstentions or strategic absence would also be spotlighted.

4) Overall, this would be cast as Labour taking socialist action through its validly elected representatives, set against the Cameron ego-trip.

At the moment, the Labour strategy is wrong.  Glenys Kinnock and Miliband have been foolishly advised, and committed MEPs to a vote against Juncker on the first occasion, when he up for election following the European Council’s nomination (in accordance with 17(7) of the Treaty of the European Union.   This may seem an attractive anti-Juncker position, but it is very short-term, destined to failure because the rest of the SPD and the EPP is committed to maintaining the legitimacy of the Spitzenkandidat process, and is therefore an insult to SPD colleagues across Europe, who are disappointed in the first place that UK Labour did not embrace Martin Schulz as the SPD candidate.

There is still time for Labour to change course, and both reintegrate itself with the SPD following its Schulz mistake and be seen as a leading mover for proper reform within the EU.  But that time is short.


Law breaking for legitimacy: the thin end of the euro-wedge

It’s beginning to look like Jean-Claude Juncker will not become President of the European Commission after all.  Paul Mason from the left seems pleased, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the sane wing of conservatism will not, I think, be shedding any tears.

But Jurgen Habermas has a different view, worth listening to.  He thinks that leaders of member states coming together to block Juncker’s election as Commission President by the European Parliament is very bad news indeed.

On the whole, I agree.

This is not because I think Juncker will be a good President – on this I agree with Mason and Evans-Pritchard that he is a  member of a self-serving elite devoted to a massively counterproductive continuation of austerity.

It’s because I don’t like the idea of state leaders thinking they can ignore the rule of law as a means of bolstering their political fortunes.

Let’s be clear what’s going on here.

If a Juncker Presidency is not recommended to the European Parliament by the heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, then these heads of state will have deliberately and knowingly breached article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union [1], which requires that the European Council takes into account the results of the European elections.  They may be able to talk their way round it if Junker decides, as seems likely, to withdraw his candidature before the European Council as a way to save face, but this will only be a technicality.

The Spitzenkandidat process – whereby the main European parliamentary grouping have selected their preferred candidates (Juncker for the EPP, Schulz for the SPD) as their part of the implementation of the treay – has been very clear for many months now, and it is only at this very late stage that national governments have started to suggest that “taking account” of the election results, in which the EPP gained the upper hand, might involve simply discounting them in favour of ‘candidates’ who have been nowhere near the process to date.

Moreover, there is a legal mechanism within the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (article 234) for the European Parliament to make the President and his Commission resign should they lose the confidence of the Parliament,  meaning that national governments could work with others in their political groupings to put an end to a Juncker presidency if he turned out to be the disaster they’ve suddenly worked out he might be.  Indeed, They could even persuade enough MEPs to vote against Juncker after the European Council itself has proposed him – a bit odd-looking, but perfectly legal.

But that route has been ignored in favour of a bigger states vs. European Parliament powerplay, which prefers simply to ignore the rule of law in this case. (In Cameron’s detail-lite case, he possibly simply doesn’t know, just as he probably didn’t know that by taking the Tories out of the EPP, he removed himself from any influence on which Spitzenkandidat the EPP went for at its Dublin meeting in March).

What this likely breach of law is really all about is the panic of members states at the rise of the populist anti-EU right in the recent EU parliamentary elections.   Cameron, and now it seems Merkel (I reserve judgment on Renzi) are desperate to show that they are on the side of ‘their’ peoples, and thereby bolster their own legitimacy as democratic representatives.  But breaking the law is not a good way to do that.

Of course law shouldn’t be set in stone, and Habermas is very clear [3] that there needs to be a healthy tension between legality and legitimacy, with a space for forms of civil disobedience in cases where the law loses legitimacy, in a way which creates a process for the renewal and relegitimation of law . But this is the preserve of civil society, not the existing elite.  If demonstrations erupt against a Juncker presidency, linked to a wider movement against austerity, then the European Council might have a legitimate part to play in meeting the expressed will of the people, and reforming the treaties as appropriate (though as  noted, the scope for the Council to dismiss the Commission creates a legal route to meet that will anyway).*   For national elites to seek their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people by ignoring international law  is the thin end of a very big wedge.

If the anti-Juncker plan is carried through by Merkel, Cameron and others, I do hope the European Parliament will stand its ground and vote against their recommendation for President, wohever that may be, as an act of principle.  Sadly, I can’t see it happening.

Shame the Labour party stopped me being an MEP.  I’d have stood with Jurgen for a socialist AND democratic Europe.


[1] Article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union reads:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

[2] Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads:

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


[3] Its interesting to see Habermas, in his interview with the Allgemeine Zeitung, positively welcome the rise of the populist vote in the European elections as a shock to the governing elite:

Der Rechtspopulismus erzwingt die Umstellung vom bisherigen Elitemodus auf die Beteiligung der Bürger.  Das kann dem europäischen Parlament und seinem Einfluss auf die europäische Gesetzgebung nur guttun

[Rightwing populism requires the adjustment of hitherto elite modes of governance toward citizen participation.  That can only be a good thing for rhe Europen Parliament and its influence on European lawmaking]


For further reading, see Bruce Miller’s useful post, including some useful translation of Habermas and others, and more generally Matthew G Specter’s Habermas: An intellectual biography, kindly sent my way by Chris Brooke.



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