European Politics Update

by Henry Farrell on November 20, 2009

So as “Ingrid notes”:, EU member states have chosen Von Rompuy as the new President of the European Council. To use the terms that Euro-politicians have themselves been using (which were nicked, presumably by Brian Cowen, from the title of a political science text on Irish Taoisigh), they have decided to go for a chairman – someone with a low international profile who is good at conciliating warring factions – rather than a chief. I have no doubt that Von Rompuy will do very good work, but he surely will not be a colossus bestriding the world stage, banging the heads of Sarkozy, Merkel and Brown together to force them to agree common European policy and so on. This means, I think, that the interesting stuff will be happening at the level of the foreign policy representative, Baroness Ashton. This too is unlikely to be a high profile post in the short term – but unlike Von Rompuy, Ashton will have a very substantial set of bureaucratic resources to draw upon, with links both to the Council and Commission, as well as her own European External Action Service, which will have an independent budget line. This could add up to something pretty interesting in a few years time. (Update: via Matt Y. “Annie Lowrey”: makes more or less the same point).

Turning to _real_ European politics, “the”: “crisis”: “continues”: but looks set to come to no good outcome. FIFA shows no interest in scheduling a rematch, despite Thierry Henry’s statement that a rematch would be the fairest option. Those involved seem determined to do a _reductio ad absurdum_ on Richard Posner’s “arguments about responsibility”: French footballers (and – judging from Trappatoni’s discreet circumlocutions – perhaps Irish footballers too) clearly feel that it is their obligation to push the rules as far as they can go and further – and if the referee doesn’t spot the odd match-and-qualifying-round-determining handball here or there; well, the culprit has no obligation to seek anything but his own advantage, and anyway, it all balances out in the end, doesn’t it? “Incompetent”: “regulators”: shrug their shoulders and refuse to take any responsibility for the mess. And Irish and French politicians deplore the outcome – but declare themselves powerless to do anything about it. Whether this spells out a possible case for world government to prevent such atrocities occurring in the future, I leave to the theorists. However, I don’t think anyone can deny that the end result is manifestly contrary to even the most minimal principles of justice, fairness and efficiency, completely exploding Posner’s arguments in the eyes of all fairminded individuals.



Neil 11.21.09 at 12:15 am

I don’t know about the fairest result, but as a consequentialist I don’t want a replay: leaving the injustice uncorrected increases pressure for video replays.


John Quiggin 11.21.09 at 1:43 am

Slightly off-topic, but the European experience of the GFC has been striking in its non-strikingness. On the one hand, neither the ECB nor the attempt at co-ordinating fiscal policy has been gloriously successful. On the other hand, there has been virtually no suggestion of abandoning the euro (on the contrary, Iceland wants in) as optimal currency area theorists might have predicted (and mostly did). And Lisbon squeaked through in the typical fashion of EU agreements, with the UK Tories reduced to incoherent noises off.


Ingrid Robeyns 11.21.09 at 6:36 am

It’s Van Rompuy, not Von Rompuy. And as you know, some Belgians can be real dogmatics when it concerns spelling in their native languages.

Luckily on football I won’t comment, since in the world of football I do not exist. Or was it the other way around?


Chris Dornan 11.21.09 at 9:23 am

I am just amazed at the brouhaha. How emotionally unstable we have become. Compare Henry’s and Maradona’s recations, and the FA and FIA reactions, and the wider public ractions. Which is more healthy? I am undecided as to whether FIFA are doing the Right Thing or not, whether they are demonstrating how out of touch they are with the highly-strung Zeitgeist or sensibly protecting us from ourselves.

On CT hermeneutics, I am not sure at what level of irony to step off Henry’s post, whether I am adding anything to the above or contradicting it.


ogmb 11.21.09 at 11:20 am

whether they are demonstrating how out of touch they are with the highly-strung Zeitgeist or sensibly protecting us from ourselves

… like the Holy See, you mean?


Ciarán 11.21.09 at 11:21 am

Chris. The two incidents don’t compare. Maradonna’s handball was against the English and was thus a universal good. Henry was against the Irish and thus bad.

Henry, if you’d read on in the Irish Times, you’d have come across the definitive refutation of the use of fairness as a measure in any circumstance whatsoever. It seems that people have different opinions about what fairness might mean so we really shouldn’t bother with it. Instead we should listen to economists more and get on with cutting pensions and the dole and ignore all that fuzzy ‘ethical’ flim-flam. On which not, I’m sure the FAI would settle for a cut of the French FA’s revenue from South Africa.


yabonn 11.21.09 at 11:30 am

But cheating is part of football. It’s what they do. Seems to me there’s no real difference between a dive and this, except it was more efficient, and with a good camera angle.


JoB 11.21.09 at 11:42 am

Nope, we don’t like to be treated as covert Germans and why have yet another team to be non-competitive to win the title in South-Africa. Henry deserves making history, as a defining player for modern soccer. Vampiric Ireland that still bans abortion & helped Europe deeper into this economic crisis by going ‘little US’ on us deserves to be beaten by a continental genius.


JoB 11.21.09 at 11:43 am

‘Van’, not ‘von’, I mean, damned.

& doesn’t Keane normally play for England?


ejh 11.21.09 at 1:11 pm

But cheating is part of football. It’s what they do. Seems to me there’s no real difference between a dive and this, except it was more efficient, and with a good camera angle.

Quite. (And I seem to remember making much the same point in an old When Saturday Comes article about Diego Maradona. )

All that happened was that a team won a crucial game with a dodgy late goal. Not good, but not exceptional. Certainly not a moral or international crisis. I’d be much more worried about what the media and public over-reaction says about the society we live in.


P O'Neill 11.21.09 at 1:56 pm

I think that flood recriminations will move along the match recriminations fairly quickly.


Walter Simons 11.21.09 at 11:52 pm

Hard to take someone seriously on European politics if he/she confuses Van- and Von- names. Wars have been fought for less.


Mrs Tilton 11.22.09 at 1:04 am

JoB @8,

Ireland … deserves to be beaten by a continental genius

Oh ’tis true, ’tis true. Pity, then, that Ireland had to make do with being beaten by a continental side so vastly teh suck that they couldn’t qualify for South Africa without first needing a play-off against little vampire minnow Ireland; and even then could beat them only by eschewing the foreign game for a jolly old round of gaa. The irony’s so rich, I’m getting acute pancreatitis even as I type these words.

And no base francophobia here, BTW. I’ve been thrilled by the French XV so far this autumn, and I say that as one of the very few people wearing a Manu Samoa top in the seats at the Stade de France tonight.


JoB 11.22.09 at 10:21 am

13- where’s the irony in the better side outperforming the worse side, when the former are at their worst and the latter on their best. Go see a doctor!

The teams of “Van’s” will kick you out of the next Europeans for soccer – as we did you out of the next worlds at hockey. And now rugby is going Olympic …


Chris Bertram 11.22.09 at 11:19 am

Of course, there’s Roy Keane’s view

bq. “There was one match against Georgia where Ireland got a penalty and it was one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen which changed the whole course of the game. I don’t remember the FAI after the game saying we should give them a replay.”


Chris Bertram 11.22.09 at 11:25 am

btw, do watch the whole video and rather than just reading the text at the above link. Keane is on top form, especially when a journalist’s phone goes off.


Tom Hurka 11.22.09 at 1:49 pm

In baseball the catcher regularly “frames” the pitch, trying to get the umpire to call it a strike when it wasn’t. That’s accepted as part of the game, and TV commentators praise a catcher when he does it particularly well. Similarly, it’s accepted that an outfielder who’s caught a ball just after it hit the ground will jump up and pretend he caught it on the fly — it’s the umpire’s job to decide the case, and if he gets it wrong the outfielder certainly doesn’t correct him. What counts as “cheating” in a sport and what doesn’t is often a delicate matter.

Anyway, didn’t the English and the Australians have a thing about this decades ago in cricket? And didn’t the Australians — who would leave things to the umpire — win, in the sense that everyone now does it their way?


Chris Bertram 11.22.09 at 1:53 pm

_And didn’t the Australians—who would leave things to the umpire—win, in the sense that everyone now does it their way?_

Doesn’t stop the Australians from moaning about “cheats”, as with that Strauss catch (or “catch”) during the last Ashes series.


Eli Rabett 11.22.09 at 4:24 pm

You can’t rebuild a broken egg, however you can prevent others from being broken. The obvious solution is to ban Henry for life which will stop others from doing the Maradona thing.


JoB 11.22.09 at 4:55 pm

Oh come on! – all that banning for life stuff should really be banned.

Not even murderers get life sentences in civilized countries.


Eli Rabett 11.22.09 at 6:55 pm

Sorry JoB, but there has never been a cost to doing what Henry did, and the only way to get the player’s attention is to make them pay drastically. For sure Henry should never be allowed to play again. Maybe in 20 years he can be a manager.


JoB 11.22.09 at 7:01 pm

You do not realize that this person’s talent is playing soccer and that you’re willing – on the basis of your interpretation of his intention – to deny him that for life – on the basis, of what? That soccer players handling the ball with the hand never get caught, that it is not generally known that it was foul play, that all foul play is unfairness …

Luckily emotion & jealousy does not rule Henry’s (to you undoubtedly spoiled) ways.


Eli Rabett 11.23.09 at 2:08 am

Same argument was made about Maradona. Sorry, the choice is come down very hard on this or wait for the next time. Same goes for diving, which has made every play in the box a travesty.


JoB 11.23.09 at 9:02 am

“Come down very hard.”, eat your heart out whilst I prey you’re never in a driving seat.

PS: as long as a billion of people are following a travesty, it’s OK entertainment-wise I’d guess


y81 11.24.09 at 2:09 am

After long thought, I have decided that the American high school and college system of having two referees (and, usually, no assistant referees) is better. There is a much higher probability of detecting fouls, and, given that studies show that the ARs aren’t that accurate on offsides, no real loss. So once again we see that the American way is best. But I don’t expect that the benighted Eurosocialists of FIFA (or Crooked Timber) will get it right any time soon.

In fact, it appears that the much-maligned NHL has it right. First of all, they have two referees (and two linesmen, who are the equivalent of ARs). Forty years ago, they had only one referee, but they changed. Also, they have replay on disputes relating to goal scoring, but not otherwise. So the game isn’t interrupted excessively, like it is in the NFL, but the important calls are reviewed. Of course, a lot of the powers that be in NHL are Canadian, so this undercuts the original political point about the superiority of the American political/economic system. So only the first paragraph of this post has political implications, the second is just about sports.


Eli Rabett 11.25.09 at 3:30 am

Right, Henry skates on this and the message is anything goes. He gets slammed and the divas might think twice before diving.


mollymooly 11.25.09 at 7:26 pm

FIFA is opposed to video evidence, for reasons never clearly expressed, and even though its own fourth-officials are suspected in several instances of sneaking a peek to radio-correct particularly egregious errors. The details of when and how official video reviews can be made will require a good deal of thought and probably some years of tweaking, but the case for some form of video review is unanswerable.

Post-match video review has been used to suspend players for violence undetected at the time, or to fix cases where referees gave a card to the wrong teammate. There’s too much money riding on key decisions, in a low-scoring sport. Part of the reason golden-goal was abandoned was that mistakes became utterly crucial. The increase in both number of games with TV coverage and also number of camera angles per telecast means that most fans now have an increasingly large mental store of obvious injustices to nurse.

The use of extra penalty-area monitors as in the Europa League is also a good idea. FIFA may go with that as an alternative to video review, whereas it should be in addition to it.

Probably the single most urgently needed improvement is some kind of automatic offside detection; officials get this wrong so often that fans barely even bother to complain about it any more. Small-enough sensors in the ball and on the players’ shirts should be feasible at a pretty low cost.

The cheating angle has been overblown. Punishing Henry in any way would be a ridiculous ex-post-facto option. Henry’s handball was not in the Maradona category: it was conscious, but not premeditated. Owning up to a handball is so rare that FIFA has given medals to the few players to have done so. While diving attracts opprobrium, I have never seen anyone comment on the way that both players in a 50-50 tussle will raise their hands for the throw-in or kick-out/corner when the ball goes out of play.

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