Archive for the 'European Politics' Category

After the Irish no – where to now?

14 June 2008

My two cents:

  • As I said yesterday, the current system of institutional reform in the EU is unreasonable and unfair because it makes decision-making impossible. So let’s ditch it.
  • Before attempting to reform the Treaties again, we need to agree on a new procedure to ratify Treaty changes first.
  • My proposal would be to do this by a single, EU-wide referendum. A positive result would require reasonable majorities of the form: at least x% of all voters and at least y% of the voters in at least z% of the Member States should vote in favour, with x,y,z at 50 or more.
  • The percentage of Member States where a Yes-vote is required (z) would be somewhere between 50 and 80% of the total number.
  • In return for the EU-wide referendum, which gives every citizen a direct say, all Member States abolish (the possibility of) constitutional referendums at home for EU Treaty changes.
  • Let’s carry on with the Nice Treaty for the time being, that is: until the new ratification system is in place. As Carl Bildt also pointed out on his blog, Nice does seem to work better than expected.

Oh no, not again…

13 June 2008

A few thoughts after the Irish ‘No’:

  • National politicians and national media still have a major communication problem concerning the EU. European politicians too, of course, but they cannot solve the problem. Only those who already have the voters’ ear can do that.
  • The irony of constitutional safeguards: Current legal constraints on the powers of governments prohibit the creation of legal structures that would offer better legal constraints on the informal powers that governments already have created for themselves.
  • The democratic paradox: The smallest of Member States can veto a Treaty change supported by all other Member States. Isn’t this the dictatorship of the minority?
  • If the issue was costs to tax payers or delivering concrete results, Irish voters would have voted ‘Yes’, massively.
  • Nor can it be that the EU undermines symbols of national identity, like (in Ireland’s case) non-alignment, prohibited abortion, and low corporate taxes, as Ireland has opt-outs on the first two and tax decisions require unanimity in the Council.
  • Perception, then, is everything.
  • Today is Friday the 13th.

Update: First reactions by AFOE, Jon Worth, Nosemonkey.

Link of the day: EU should support Turkish democracy and membership

19 March 2008
True words from the FT’s Tony Barber about the foolishness of EU Member States’ lukewarm (if any) support for Turkish EU membership.

The sputtering Franco-German engine

18 March 2008

Good analysis by FT correspondents Ben Hall and Bertrand Benoit of recent developments in the Franco-German relations. Sarkozy’s original proposal for a Mediterranean Union consisting of only the countries around the Mediterranean Sea was in their view a French attempt at Alleingang: a breach of the Franco-German axis that the Germans interpreted as a return to pre-WWI spheres of influence politics in Europe. It would certainly have jeopardised the French EU presidency and the debate about the future of EU policies for the coming 20 years that has just started.

After the European Council the authors seem optimistic that Europe Minister Jouyet and other French officials have succeeded in bringing the President back on more traditional track. After the municipal elections of last Sunday I am less sure about that, as I wrote yesterday.

Municipal elections in France: Le Président a perdu, vive le Président !

17 March 2008

The second round of the municipal elections in France took place today. As I am writing this, France 3 is the only TV channel still broadcasting live results and discussion. French blogger Versac has been live-blogging about it. It looks like voters gave the party of president Sarkozy a severe beating.

Although we are “only” talking about municipal elections here, make no mistake about their importance: be it for French voters (turn-out figures in the first round were around 66%), for the French government (a number of senior politicians including ministers were candidates in the elections), or even for Europe. The results are widely seen as indicative for the seriousness of President Sarkozy’s slide in popularity, and will, as a result, have a strong influence on the President’s behaviour and stance on national and European issues.

So far, it is clear that the right (mainly consisting of Sarkozy’s UMP party) lost, and that the left (mainly the socialist PS of Ségolène Royal and François Hollande, but there are greens and communists in the game as well) won. An interesting role was played by the centrist MoDem party of François Bayrou, who was also the third candidate in the presidential elections. As a majoritarian election system is used, the expectation after the first round was that MoDem in many cities would end up in a position of “king-maker” (the rather complicated voting system is explained here). However, although it is still a little early to interpret the results, it looks like MoDem’s results are rather disappointing so their king-maker role will probably be limited. Even MoDem front-man Bayrou lost in his home city Pau with a 1% difference to the socialist contender.

In Strasbourg, UMP mayor Fabienne Keller, fierce defender of the European Parliament’s travelling circus, will have to hand her seat to the socialists. Unexpectedly, one must assume, two government ministers lose the local elections: Outspoken Human Rights Minister Rama Yade, third on the list in Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine), is not elected as councillor, whereas Education Minister Xavier Darcos loses his seat as mayor of Périgueux. Their colleague Rachida Dati, the law and order oriented Minister of Justice, however, is elected in Paris’ safe 6th arrondissement. Jean Tibéri, who succeeded Jacques Chirac as mayor of Paris and equally dodgy financially, is also elected in Paris’ 5th arrondissement. The current socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, looks certain to remain in office with a comfortable majority in the city council.

All in all, the French left looks set to claim victory and demand a change of government policy, whereas the government’s stance will be to pretend that nothing really has happened because the elections were only local. Still, analysts expect a substantial “presidentialisation” of the President’s image, as his current bling-bling style clearly irritated voters. Gone therefore will be the Ray-Bans and the large watches, and Carla Sarkozy née Bruni will be pressurised to behave as first-ladylike as she can. The operation is likely to have an effect on Sarkozy’s European performance as well, as meetings with European leaders and foreign policy successes are seen as Très Présidentiel and therefore good for his image.

But whether this means France will take a more cooperative position than usual in European negotations remains to be seen. It is true that Sarkozy compromised on nearly everything last weekend in order to get the European Council to agree with his plan for a Mediterranean Union. But when it comes to issues that really matter to his voters, the President seems more, rather than less, likely to fight for his popularity ratings at home. My predictions: expect more protectionism and less willingness to reform the CAP, but also more environmentalism from France in the near future.

Norway gets gay marriage – Ja, vi elsker dette landet!

16 March 2008

Great news from Norway that seems to have escaped the major news media, including those from Norway itself: yesterday its government introduced a proposal to abolish discrimination against gays in the country’s marriage law. According to the press release, the new paragraph 1 of the law would read: “Two people of the same or opposite sex can get married”. After the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, and South-Africa, this will take the number of countries in the world that allow homosexuals to get married to six.

People who want to get married in Norway will not be required to live in Norway or to have Norwegian citizenship. Such a requirement does not exist in the current law either.

The church law (Norway has a state church) is changed as well so the Norwegian Church gets the right to perform gay marriages without being obliged to do so.

The existing partnership law for gay couples is withdrawn, although existing partnerships will remain valid for those who want to.

Gay couples will also get the right to adoption under the same conditions as straight couples. Lesbian couples will get parenthood automatically over children born from one of them through IVF from a donor, just like this is the case for straight couples. The non-biological mother will then be called “medmor” (co-mother) under the law. If the father is not a donor, the other partner cannot become medmor but only adopt the child as a stepparent. The law does not foresee in parenthood for male couples.

**update** The family and culture committee of Stortinget, the Norwegian parliament, organises a hearing about the new proposal on 21 April 2008. See here for more information on the state of play in Stortinget. The text of the proposal itself can be found here (all in Norwegian).

EU presidency: the quiet candidates (II)

14 March 2008

Philip Stephens of the Financial Times writes in so many words that the new president of the EU (Council) should be Tony Blair after all, instead of one of the lesser known candidates. This is not a time for “faceless competence”, he says, for Europe needs someone who is taken seriously by McCain/Obama/Clinton, Medvedev/Putin and Hu Jintao.

This leaves one wondering when was the last time Tony Blair was taken seriously by the American president – the “Yo, Blair” incident perhaps?

Unbearably Blairite in its arrogance is also the following passage:

[Juncker, Fogh Rasmussen and Ahern] are bright people. Small countries can produce brilliant politicians. Putting aside a personal prejudice against EU institutions being forever run by Luxembourgers, I am not quarrelling with these candidates’ competence. But it is no disrespect to say that none is exactly a household name. Their candidacies seem to speak instead to a deliberate paucity of ambition about Europe’s global role. How seriously would they be taken by John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton? Imagine the reception from Dmitry Medvedev when Mr Juncker turned up in Moscow to protest against his decision to turn off the gas. How much weight would these candidates carry even in Europe?

First of all, being unknown now is not exactly a problem that cannot be overcome: Hands up who (outside Illinois) knew Barack Obama before he decided to run for the US presidency.

Secondly, any future president meeting fellow world leaders will be speaking on behalf of the EU, not his home country. The size of the latter will not make much of a difference at this stage. Maybe it does during the appointment process or while EU countries are trying to forge a common position (which requires unanimity), but the precise point Stephens makes about Luxemburgers indicates that being from a small country may actually be an advantage then.

Of course Europe needs someone with stature, but what Stephens seems to forget is that it has to be the right kind of stature. Blair’s is tarnished not only by his handling of the Iraq war, but – more importantly – by his reputation of being all spin and no results for most except the first few of his ten years as Prime Minister. The British EU presidency in 2005 was, if not a failure (there was an agreement on the Financial Perspectives after all), at least a disappointment.

What matters in the end is that Europe’s future president has the personality, vision and above all the diplomatic skills to make a success of the job. I am afraid Tony Blair has proved to have none of these.