From the category archives:

European Politics

I’ve been thinking about this Gideon Rachman piece over the last 24 hours:

despite her cautious phrasing, Ms Merkel has also behaved irresponsibly — making a statement that threatens to widen a dangerous rift in the Atlantic alliance into a permanent breach. … it is a mistake to allow four months of the Trump presidency to throw into doubt a Transatlantic alliance that has kept the peace in Europe for 70 years …Ms Merkel was unwise and unfair to bracket the UK with Trump’s America. In the climate change discussions, Britain sided with the EU — not the US. … if Ms Merkel’s government pursues the Brexit negotiations in the current confrontational spirit — demanding that the UK commit to vast upfront payments, before even discussing a trade deal — she risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lasting antagonism between Britain and the EU. It is hard to see how the UK can be expected to see the same countries as adversaries in the Brexit negotiations and allies in the Nato context. So a really hard Brexit could indeed raise questions about Britain’s commitment to Nato — particularly if the US is also pulling back from the western alliance.

Not so much the broader argument (which I disagree with, but in obvious ways) than what the specifics say about the current state of Financial Times liberalism. [click to continue…]

Jane Jacobs, the tyranny of experts and Brexit

by Chris Bertram on May 16, 2017

Last night I watched Citizen Jane, a recent biopic about Jane Jacobs and her long fight against Robert Moses’s plans for New York. Of course, Jacobs was largely correct: Moses’s grand utopian schemes wrecked the ecologies of street and community and eventually produced neighbourhoods worse than the ones they replaced, whilst failing to solve even the problems, like traffic congestion, they seemed best suited to. But being already familiar with the substance of the dispute, and with Jacobs’s great work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, what struck me most forcefully was the rhetoric. On the one hand, there were the self-proclaimed “experts”, on the other, ordinary people with their lived experience, sceptical about whether the “experts” had their best interests at heart (or if they did, whether they shared the same conception of their interests). A great irony of the Jacobs case is that though she was right about Moses and his plans, the net result of her activism has not been, in the end, to preserve those neighbourhoods for the kinds of people who lived there then, but rather to give them an afterlife to be enjoyed by the people who can now afford to live in them.

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Adults In The Room

by John Holbo on May 5, 2017

Yanis Varoufakis’ new memoir sounds pretty damn interesting.

He’s in Washington for a meeting with Larry Summers, the former US treasury secretary and Obama confidant. Summers asks him point blank: do you want to be on the inside or the outside? “Outsiders prioritise their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions,” Summers warns.

Elected politicians have little power; Wall Street and a network of hedge funds, billionaires and media owners have the real power, and the art of being in politics is to recognise this as a fact of life and achieve what you can without disrupting the system. That was the offer. Varoufakis not only rejected it – by describing it in frank detail now, he is arming us against the stupidity of the left’s occasional fantasies that the system built by neoliberalism can somehow bend or compromise to our desire for social justice.

And:

The first revelation is that not only was Greece bankrupt in 2010 when the EU bailed it out, and that the bailout was designed to save the French and German banks, but that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy knew this; and they knew it would be a disaster.

This charge is not new – it was levelled at the financial elite at the time by leftwing activists and rightwing economists. But Varoufakis substantiates it with quotes – some gleaned from the tapes of conversations and phone calls he was, unbeknown to the participants, making at the time.

I enjoyed his interview with Doug Henwood back in March. He seems to think moderately well of Macron, which makes me feel a bit better.

Macron leads!

by Chris Bertram on April 24, 2017

Macron has won the first round of the French Presidential election, and I for one am very pleased at the outcome. In the first place, I’m pleased because Marine Le Pen and the Front National have not done better despite circumstances, such as the Nice and Bataclan attacks, that might have been expected to give them a further boost. This suggests that, at least in France, right-wing populism has hit a limit, for the time being. Second I’m pleased because I think Macron probably has more about him than the Blair and Clinton comparisons and the childish chanting of the mantras of “neoliberal”, “austerity”, “banker” and “elite” by the Mélenchon claque suggests. He’s someone both committed to the EU and committed to changing it, whereas Mélenchon was all about making demands and walking away, in the vague direction of Lexit, as soon as the other member-states turned him down. Unlike Clinton and Blair he has done what he has done without a massive party machine behind him, he’s exhibited a lot of political courage and his bet has paid off. Now that we face the second-round, we see Mélenchon refusing to back Macron against Le Pen, which to my mind indicates that Mélenchon is an unserious poseur, but then his enthusiasms for Hugo Chavez and his apologetics for Assad ought to have been a clue to that.

Deal or No Deal

by John Quiggin on March 17, 2017

I was planning a post, looking at the Brexit negotiations in terms of game theory (more precisely, bargaining theory), but Frances Coppola has saved me the trouble. One reason for my hesitation was concerns similar to those expressed by Ariel Rubinstein, in a 2013 piece that seems to be having a bit of a revival lately. Still, whether or not game theory helps, I think Coppola has it about right.

Austrian presidential elections: why not a recount?

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 2, 2016

Yesterday, Austria’s constitutional court annulled the presidential elections that were held on May 22nd. These elections led – with a mere 0,6% difference – to a victory for the Green Party-backed independent candidate Alexander van der Bellen over the populist right-wing candidate Norbert Hofer. If Hofer had won, it would have been the first time that a populist right-wing politician would become the President of Austria, which many (including me) see as a worrying sign of the way European politics has been developing (and this was all pre-Brexit!).

I’ve been dealing with an inner-ear infection and haven’t had the energy to read very widely on the web, but am struggling with a question to which I couldn’t find the answer. So let me ask that question here, since our readers who are knowledgable about Austrian politics may be able to enlighten me. [click to continue…]

The Schengen option ?

by John Quiggin on June 28, 2016

Like most people outside Britain (and, it seems, like most British people, politicans and pundits as well as voters) I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the detailed implications of a Leave vote until it actually happened. Now that it has happened, the details matter. In particular, it seems that Boris Johnson and other leaders of the Leave campaign (though presumably not UKIP) are hoping to promote either the “Switzerland” or “Norway” options. I thought I’d check on the implications of these options for migration policy and AFAICT, both Norway and Switzerland are Schengen visa countries. So, on the face of it, those Leavers who supported continued market access on the Norway/Switerland model have voted for removal of existing controls on migration rather than the imposition of new ones.

I assume that Johnson and others have in mind a negotiation in which Britain (or England) gets the market access bits of the Norway/Switzerland options, while maintaining the existing opt-outs negotiated as an EU member. But why should the EU offer this? In particular, if Scotland becomes independent and joins the EU, the Scots will presumably want to maintain free access to England, while the rest of the EU would be unlikely to allow Scotland to remain under English border controls. In any case, the whole logic of the EU position is that Britain should not be able to pick and choose.

On the basis of an admittedly perfunctory search, I haven’t been able to find more than passing discussion of this question. Can anyone point me to more comprehensive analysis?

Brexit: the bloodbath

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2016

Went to bed feeling optimistic, believing the late polls and the bookies, and turned the radio on at 4.20 to hear Nigel Farage gloating. A coalition of English and Welsh voters, advanced in years, low in education, and xenophobic in attitude, have enabled the worst and most reactionary people in British society, made it extremely likely that Scotland will secede, undermined the peace settlement on the island of Ireland, and destroyed the UK’s access to the single market. They have made it likely that their children and grandchildren will be deprived of the right of free movement within the EU. The pound is tanking and the stock market too. Imports will be more expensive, inflation will rise, house prices will fall but interest rate rises will keep the cost of being housed high. Immigration will probably fall, but not because “we” regained “control of our borders” but because immigrants come for jobs and there will be way fewer of those. Already we have the farce of areas of the country, like Cornwall, that voted for Brexit demanding that central government guarantee that the EU subsidies they get will be replaced. And then the horrible lying politics of the whole campaign, with Leave claiming that money saved on the EU would be diverted to the NHS (a commitment Farage repudiated within hours of the result). Little England with Wales is a poorer, narrower, stingier place. Cameron, the most incompetent Prime Minister in British history and the architect of this disaster is walking away, to be replaced by a hard right Tory administration under the leadership of Gove, May or the Trumpesque clown Johnson. People, we are well and truly fucked.

From the same stable as some of Harry’s recommendations, the song that I had always meant to post in this eventuality:

At the moment, I’m reading my way through David Miller’s new Strangers in our Midst and also getting very exercised about the UK’s Brexit referendum (to the point where I’m waking at night and worrying about it). My siblings and I have all benefited from the EU’s free movement rights, my children both have non-British EU partners, we think of ourselves as Europeans. So for me, the threat of Brexit is a threat of lost identity, of something that has been there all my adult life just disappearing overnight. And so I’m feeling pretty resentful towards my fellow citizens who might vote to cut that tie and thereby endanger the security and family life of millions of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens elsewhere in the EU.

One of Miller’s arguments is a familiar one about social trust, about how welfare states depend for their stability on such trust and that the increasing diversity that immigration brings tends to undermine support for redistributive programmes. This lack of trust gets expressed in anger about stories that immigrants are ahead in the queue for social housing, that they are a drain on health and education services, that they are getting “something for nothing”, and so forth. Needless to say, most of such stories are false. Nevertheless, there may be elements in the design of the UK’s welfare state and its relatively non-contributory character that fuel such anxieties.

Here’s the thing. Those voting for Brexit out of resentment against immigration are disproportionately the elderly poor whites who don’t pay much in but who benefit from those public services. A predictable consequence of them getting what they want is that the fiscal base for those services will be eroded and that either they will have to be cut or taxes will have to be increased. This is because those EU immigrants are, in fact, paying more in taxes than they are taking in services. (Actually, the UK is free-riding in a big way, as it never paid for the cost of educating and training those workers.)

When I take those political affiliation surveys, I always say I’m willing to pay higher taxes. But now the devil on my shoulder is saying “why should you pay higher taxes to replace the taxes that were paid by EU migrants? Those idiots have brought it on themselves, let them now suffer the consequences”. An ugly thought, but I’m guessing that if I’m having it then I’m not alone. The UK’s EU referendum has eroded social trust more than immigration per se ever did. It poses the question of what citizens owe to one another in pretty stark terms. If people could mitigate the need for higher taxes by accepting immigrants and they choose not to do so, why should their wealthier fellow citizens bear the cost of their choices?

2016 presidential elections in Austria

by Ingrid Robeyns on May 23, 2016

The Austrians just elected Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green politician, as their new President – with 50,3% of the votes. The other half of those holding the right to vote preferred Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the populist right-wing (or, as some have it, neo-fascist) party FPÖ. I haven’t followed Austrian politics close enough to know whether that qualification is justified. It’s a difficult debate about which qualifications are justified for the various European radical right-wing parties, but either way it seems that their becoming more mainstream has not made them less radical (Dutch political scientists who have studied various radical right-wing European political parties claim that they do not moderate their principles and ambitions when they gain power – they only moderate their tone).

Either way, those of us who see the European radical right-wing parties as dangerous for values such as toleration, solidarity and international cooperation, have an uphill battle to fight. Van der Bellen may have won last night – but we should not forget that half of the Austrians prefer a radical right-wing president. Too much of this reminds us of the toxic political climate we had in Europe in the past. And I find it increasingly hard not too worry that there are too many signs of some of that returning.

Lefty poseurs and Brexit

by Chris Bertram on May 20, 2016

I’ve felt myself getting almost irrationally angry over the past few days with a certain sort of person. The kind of person who advocates Brexit from a “left-wing”, “classical republican” or “democratic” perspective. It is bad enough when such people live in the UK or Europe, but at least those people will have to live with the consequences. But it is particularly galling to hear these lectures from across the Atlantic, from people whose sole take on the subject is that the EU is undemocratic, a “bosses club”, enforces a neoliberal agenda, and would be an obstacle the plans of some future hypothetical fantasy Jeremy Corbyn government. (I suspect that Corbyn is imagined in this scenario as the analogue of Bernie Sanders.) Nearly all of the things such people say about the EU are actually true. But before drawing the Brexit conclusion, you at least have to demonstrate that leaving would not make things even worse. You have to ask, “where we are now?”, and consider what the real-world possibilities actually are. And make no mistake, If we vote for Brexit the economic consequences will be pretty awful, many people will lose their jobs, living standards will be hit hard, non-British workers will be in fear of being kicked out, many of our rights will be curtailed, and many of the environmental protections we now have will be ditched. Brexit will energise the most reactionary and xenophobic elements in British society at a moment when the left and its institutions are pretty weak. Even now the right-wing part of the “Leave” are licking their lips at the prospect of people being subjected to a Darwinian sink-or-swim future. Perhaps the “left-wing” advocates of Brexit hope that a renewed workers’ movement will be magically conjured into in such an outcome? That’s about as likely as a similar left-wing renaissance under President Trump (who also backs Brexit, by the way). Here’s a pretty good piece by Alan Thornett about why the left should back Remain.

EU to criminalize those who rescue drowning refugees?

by Chris Bertram on February 3, 2016

There is disturbing news via Statewatch that the EU is drawing up plans to criminalize the many independent volunteers who have been working in Greece to assist refugees making their way from Turkish to Greek territory. The plans involve a deliberate conflation of “people smuggling” and “trafficking” and a requirement that all volunteers be registered and placed under the control and direction of state organizations at designated hotspots. Those who stay outside of these structures and go to the beaches where people are actually arriving and assist them by, for example, towing their boats, will be prosecuted. In fact, this is already happening in the case of some Spanish lifeguards on the Greek island of Lesvos. There is a petition, which I’ve signed, though internet petitions are not a particularly effective means of resistance.

(co-written with Sarah Fine, Lecturer in Philosophy at King’s College London)

Only two months ago Europeans were shocked by the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee lying dead on a Turkish beach. Then, there was a profound sense that more should be done to help people fleeing Syria’s civil war. Now, in the immediate aftermath of the ISIS murders in Paris and with unconfirmed reports that at least one perpetrator may have travelled through Europe disguised as a Syrian refugee, there are loud calls to close our doors. For some of Europe’s politicians, such as UKIP’s Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen of France’s Front National, and the new right-wing Polish government, enough is enough: refugees trying to get to Europe should be stopped and nobody should be resettled here. There are demands for Schengen to be abandoned, together with current rules about freedom of movement within the European Union. In the United States, a similar debate is playing out, as a number of Republican governors, Presidential candidates and members of Congress push back against President Obama’s plans to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees. With so many in Europe and across the world outraged at the atrocities in Paris, these voices will be seductive, but if heeded they will lead us towards policies that would be profoundly mistaken and counterproductive.

Clamping down on refugees fleeing the region will not prevent acts of terror. In the European case, if ISIS and similar organisations wish to engage in further attacks, they do not need to bring anyone in from Syria to do so. The perpetrators who have been positively identified turn out to have been lawful residents of France and Belgium.
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The Stuff Nietzsche Said

by John Holbo on November 18, 2015

My last Nietzsche post got some folks hot and bothered. [click to continue…]

Frazetta Auction – and French Academic Art

by John Holbo on November 16, 2015

Doc Dave Winiewicz is auctioning off his famous Frazetta collection. Here’s his blog. Please note that you can download a high quality 200+ page PDF of the catalog from the auction house, so click that link. You won’t see some of that stuff elsewhere. (Well, I say it’s great. So make fun of me if you like.) Looking through, I noticed something rather odd.
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