Archive for the 'European Politics' Category

EU presidency: the quiet candidates

9 March 2008

Thomas Lefebvre of Le croche-pied has a good list of possible candidates for the future EU presidency (and other posts), with their pros and cons. Others (1, 2, 3) have, of course, also discussed this and there is even an internet petition going on against one of the candidates.

The names mentioned most often for the post that is newly created by the Lisbon Treaty are those of Tony Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker and Anders Fogh-Rasmussen. Which raises the question whether any of these three will ever hold the post. After all, experience often shows that names mentioned early in the selection process for a high-profile political position get so much time to be subjected to debate and criticism, that the nomination in the end goes to a less controversial (i.e. less debated) candidate.

So then, who are the quiet candidates who are more likely to become EU president than any of the top three? There are a few selection criteria (preferentially an experienced and well-regarded statesman/-women from a small country that is in the eurozone but neither too atlantic nor too federalist) which are impossible to fulfill all at the same time. With this in mind, and in no particular order, here are a number of suggestions:

  • José Luis Zapatero. That is, if he loses the elections today, but even if he does not there is always a chance he accepts. A socialist, but not too badly. From southern Europe, but well-regarded in the north. From a large country, but not from one of the big three (Germany, France, UK). Won a referendum on the defunct constitution.
  • Jean-Luc Dehaene. Belgium’s folksy and pragmatic former PM and one of Europe’s elder statesmen. One of the vice-presidents of the Convention that wrote the EU Constitution, but (unlike Guy Verhofstadt) too smart to become one of its figureheads and champions. Since then professional mediator in political conflicts in Europe and at home. Life motto: “Problems should be solved only when they arise”. The fact that he is a christian-democrat could work in his advantage.
  • Wim Kok. Former PM of the Netherlands and another of Europe’s elder statesmen. A pragmatic social-democrat, very Third Way though not as blatantly as Tony Blair. Chaired the High-Level Group in 2004 that more or less revived the Lisbon Strategy. Escaped the 2005 referendum disaster in the Netherlands by losing the elections in 2002.
  • Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga. Latvia’s former president. Popular on the world stage, as proved by her serious candidacy at the time for the succession of Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General. A balanced political profile as a moderate conservative who spoke out in favour of gay rights (no small thing in Latvia). Fluent in French as well as English, which would certainly help her getting support from France. Pretty atlanticist to the extent that she spoke out in favour of the Iraq war. This could work against her, as well as the fact that she is not (yet) from a eurozone country.
  • Martti Ahtisaari. Former Finnish president. His Kosovo plan did not quite hold out as planned but this does not seem to have damaged his image as Mr Fixit on the international stage. From a small country, eurozone, no controversial views known. Seems a perfect candidate.
  • Carl Bildt. Currently Sweden’s foreign minister and another heavy-weight from the north. Like Ahtisaari with extensive Balkan experience, which may also help him get the post of Europe’s High Representative if he does not become President and if Solana does not succeed himself. A moderate conservative. Author of highly readable blogs in both English and Swedish.

    Any other suggestions?

And yet another one…

18 February 2008

Flag of KosovoThe parliament of Kosovo declared independence today. A reason to celebrate? Not in my view.

The argument is basically the same as in 2006 when Montenegro declared its independence: Like Montenegro, Kosovo is neither politically nor economically a viable state. And Montenegro at least had good relations with Serbia before it split off, as is (is my impression) still the case. Proponents may see Kosovo’s much more troubled relation with Serbia as a reason for its independence, but I disagree. Not because I expect that Kosovar independence will trigger another full-out Balkan war as happened in the 1990s, but because the underlying problems that catalysed the politics leading to the 1990s wars have not been solved.

After all, not much-derided Serbia, but UNMIK (aided by KFOR) has governed Kosovo since the end of the war in 1999. And where they have not been sufficiently effective in providing people with a better life, this was because of corruption, inter-ethnic violence (now often directed against the few Serbs that remain in the province) and inter-Albanian infighting between the dodgy political offsprings of the even dodgier KLA. None of this is going to improve, let alone be solved, by independence.

It is wrong to see the outcome of a political process (like today’s independence) as the only legitimate expression of “what the people wants”. With the same people but different politics, different but equally legitimate outcomes are often possible. In today’s world, “independence” is an outdated illusion anyway, even for large European states – let alone for a tiny blob on the map of the Balkans. So what is the alternative? The popularity of independence movements stems from a desire to be seen and recognised as a culture or people. Especially in a globalising world, the increased application of identity politics is a good thing in principle. But its objectives may be achieved more easily with more flexible concepts of independence and statehood (interdependence of smaller state units forming larger networks and alliances, which form larger networks and alliances, etc.) than with nineteenth century illusions.

With more creativity, more goodwill from the Russians and Serbs, and less eagerness from a number of Western states for pre-emptive recognition, an intermediate solution could have been found that would have put Kosovars on an equal footing with their neighbours locally, while preserving regional ties on a larger scale. After all, Kosovo is not, and does not need to be the equal of Germany, the UK or Russia on the world scene.

Une nation francophone, existe-t-elle en Belgique?

19 November 2007

Jean Quatremer, le correspondent du journal français Libération en Belgique et l’auteur du blogue Coulisses de Bruxelles, pense qu‘il n’y a pas de “nation francophone” en Belgique, de la même façon qu’il y a une nation flamande:

Cette journée démontre encore une fois que la crise politique actuelle n’est pas vécue de la même façon au nord et au sud du pays. S’il existe une véritable nation flamande qui envisage avec sérénité l’avènement d’un confédéralisme mou, il n’en va pas de même chez les francophones qui ne voient leur salut que dans la Belgique unie. On peut le comprendre, car la « nation » francophone n’existe pas : la division reste la règle entre Bruxellois et Wallons et entre Wallons eux-mêmes (un Liégeois ne se sent guère d’affinité avec un habitant de Charleroi).

Mais c’est pareil au côté flamand, où les gens se sentent gantois ou anversois d’abord, puis flamand, puis belge, puis européen! La différence à mon avis entre francophones et flamands, la raison pourquoi les francophones manquent de ce sentiment “national” en tant que francophones, c’est que le projet national francophone a toujours été la Belgique elle-même.

Au début déjà en 1830, la Belgique était le projet d’émancipation d’une bourgeoisie libérale qui, souvent, devait sa richesse à l’industrie développante de la Wallonie. Ça, et, dans les années précédentes, une politique linguistique des autorités napoléoniennes qui encourageait l’usage du français, a eu comme résultat que cette bourgeoisie était francophone. C’est grace à elle que la nouvelle état belge s’est doté de la constitution la plus moderne de l’Europe de cette époque. Mais c’est grace à elle aussi que la langue officielle de cet état était le français, et que l’élite administratif, économique et politique de cet état était francophone et l’est resté jusque récemment (et encore…).

Si l’émancipation flamande a abouti plus tard à l’acceptation du néerlandais à coté du français et à un pays officiellement bilingue, la côté francophone de la Belgique ne semble jamais avoir accepté qu’entre le fort et le faible, c’était la liberté linguistique du bilingualisme qui opprimait et la loi de la frontière linguistique qui, finalement, a réalisé l’égalité réelle du néerlandais et du français en Belgique.

Et c’est un peu ironique, car il ne faut que regarder le Québec pour voir un exemple où le français se trouve à l’autre côté de cette ligne.

Remembrance Day

11 November 2007

verdun-fr.jpg oosterbeek-us.jpg
fricourt-de.jpg tyne-cot-passchendale-uk.jpg

From left to right, top to bottom:
French war graves, Verdun
American war graves, Oosterbeek (near Arnhem)
German war graves, Fricourt (Somme)
British Tyne Cot cemetery, Passchendale

This year is the Rome Treaty’s 50th anniversary – still wondering why it was a good idea?

Belgian politicians doubleplusgood at blackwhite groupthink

8 November 2007

Politics is the art of the possible. Good politics, in doing so, has a plan of the desirable. Belgian politics, it seems these days, is the art of painting yourself in a corner by planning the undesirable and desiring the impossible.

(more…)

Belgium proof that the EU will never work?

18 October 2007

Déviation - wegomleggingAlthough progress is now being made on the less controversial dossiers (discussions on constitutional change and social security should start later this week), the political crisis in Belgium is not entirely over yet, as foreign media will be delighted to hear. But do cultural and language differences really make the country fall apart?

Some analysts think it is, and some even put Belgium on a par with Yugoslavia as proof that rising nationalism will tear the EU apart. In this view, both Belgium and the EU are elitist projects doomed to fail due to lack of support from ordinary people:

If Belgium does go down it will provide only the latest and starkest reminder of the endurance of ethnic nationalism in modern Europe and the corresponding failure of elitist supra-nationalists to forge larger identities holding any real meaning for ordinary people. (FT)

But this is way too easy. First of all, I am not at all convinced that the differences within Belgium are too big for Belgium to continue as a country. And secondly, I very much doubt that the rise of ethnic nationalism in Belgium is a bottom-up process (it was not in Yugoslavia either, by the way). (more…)

Lies, statistics and preconceptions

10 October 2006

Poll gain for Belgium’s far right“, headlines the BBC website after the municipal and provincial elections in Belgium last Sunday.

Most of its readers will have heard of the far right Vlaams Belang (VB, former Vlaams Blok) party and of the cordon sanitaire with which traditional parties try keeping it outside local council government. Despite – or as a result of – the cordon however, VB has been gaining votes in every election for years. Flanders, and VB stronghold Antwerp in particular, have become synonymous with the failure of traditional politicians everywhere in Europe to deal with their voters’ concerns on immigration and integration issues.

In other words, another spectacular poll gain for the Vlaams Belang fits into the picture we know. But is it correct? Well, no.

First of all, VB’s “sweeping gains” of seats in local councils are less the result of increasing support in the Flemish countryside, than of the fact that it actually put up any candidates in those places. In most places where VB candidates stood for election, people did not vote for them in larger numbers than they did on previous occasions when they could vote for VB candidates.

Second, compared to the last elections in 2004, VB lost votes – for the first time in history. In the 2004 regional elections, VB had 24.15% of the votes in the Flanders region. This year, in the provincial elections which use exactly the same constituencies as the regional ones, VB gained only 20.6% of the votes cast in Flanders. VB lost in all provinces, including its powerbase Antwerp where it gained 28.4% (province) and 33.51% (city) of the votes, compared to 30.07% (province) and 34.88 (city) in 2004.

So, indeed, VB still has good scores. But the good news of these elections is that, for the first time, its rise seems to have been stopped. At least for the moment…

Update: More on the Belgian elections in Guy’s post at AFOE.