Archive for the 'European Politics' Category

Yet another Balkan statelet, but…

21 May 2006

Flag of MontenegroMontenegro. If the polls are right, 55.3% of the votes in the referendum today were for independence. With 85% turnout this would mean that both of the EU requirements for a “valid” outcome (50% turnout, 55% majority) are met.

But independence? Let’s say it was a vote on identity and legitimacy, rather than independence.
The country has 600,000 inhabitants. Opponents of independence argue that, economically or politically, there is no way in which it will function independently. This is of course true, although it is equally true for almost any much larger country – so this argument does not necessarily hold.

Many proponents of independence seem to think that an independent Montenegro will more easily be accepted as an EU member than the current union with Serbia. This argument only holds if the prospect of Montenegro splitting off does not lead to civic unrest or worse, after all about a third of the inhabitants identify themselves as “Serb” rather than “Montenegrin”. A violent outcome is however not expected by most observers, thanks not least to the fall of the Milosevic regime in Belgrade and the normalisation that has taken place there since.

In this sense, a non-violent outcome sort of defeats the pro-independence argument that an early EU membership is more likely without Serbia than with it. The EU has also become less keen on taking in new members, and will certainly hesitate to accept Montenegro as a member without at the same time agreeing on a long-term settlement for Serbia. Most likely, any agreement on Montenegrin accession to the EU would come with an agreement on Serbian accession a few years later – or not at all.

Still, it may be wrong to conclude that this whole independence episode is all about becoming an EU member a few years earlier. Identity and legitimacy have become determining factors in elections all over Europe, as voters feel increasingly uncomfortable with the speed at which the world around them is perceived to be changing. As a result they rally against any outside influence that symbolises this change: globalisation in France, immigration in the Netherlands, Denmark and (perhaps now) Britain, the EU in (again) France and the Netherlands, gays and foreign investors in Poland.

With this in mind, regionalists could argue that rallying around local independence movements is not the worst way in which electorates can deal with globalisation fears, especially if seperation from the larger state is accompanied with an opening up to the rest of the world. The result in this case is a government that is more legitimate because people identify with it more easily, and which is, as a result, more effective when it comes to tackling the problems posed by globalisation on their behalf.

This could be the positive outcome of today’s vote in Montenegro.

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Go for it, Belarus!

21 March 2006

Demonstrators in Minsk

Will Belarus, Europe’s last remaining dictatorship, go the same way as Georgia and Ukraine? One can only hope so. Although this time, I have a feeling that the regime’s propaganda-based support is too strong, and that the demonstrators are too few. Sadness and anxiety prevail when I see their courage and optimism.

Still, for those who want to stay informed on recent events, here are a few links:

What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence

15 February 2006

It is true that Wittgenstein’s proposition (see title) means something else altogether, but taken very literally one can still read it as a lesson politicians and commentators should take at heart more often – be it in words or even in actions.

Take the ‘freedom of speech’ row, which was started by Jyllands-Posten, allegedly, in order to defend free speech (and the potential illustrators of a children’s book on Muhammad) against attacks by fanatic muslims. Did Jyllands-Posten achieve what it wanted? I think not. Be it in the eyes of fanatic or of moderate muslims, if the publication and what followed has set a lasting example this is not as convincing proof of the benefits of free speech, but of its drawbacks.


Ceci n’est pas Mahomet

5 February 2006

Persian or central Asian illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching

Sickos. That is the overwhelming feeling I have while watching the pictures of furious muslims besieging Scandinavian embassies and consulates in Syria and Lebanon because of a few cartoons. It is not the first time we see pictures of furious muslim masses rioting against something “the West” did to them. But the disturbing thing is that most of those previous times I could understand at least some of their anger by picturing myself in their situation. This time I just feel completely alienated from a major part of the world population.

That is not to say that they don’t have a case at all. The cartoons are not funny and are, considering their context, perhaps rightly understood as racist. But by turning onto everything and everyone Danish or Norwegian instead of just the newspapers concerned, so is the response.

VoltaireAnd no, ridiculing the holocaust as the symbol that is as holy to the West as Muhammad is to the East is not the equivalent thing. First of all, it was not Muhammad but the extremists pretending to follow him who were ridiculed in the Danish cartoons. Secondly, it is not forbidden to picture the holocaust in the west, only ridiculing it is (at least in most countries). Thirdly and most importantly, there is a huge difference in terms of good taste and moral righteousness between ridiculing mass murder and ridiculing those who commit it.

Had the Danish cartoons ridiculed muslim victims of western violence, the protesters would have found most of western public opinion on their side. Now, despite having a point on western racism and discrimination, they are just bad PR for their case.

New year predictions

4 January 2006

David Weman over at A Fistful of Euros keeps sort of a Fistful tradition alive: making predictions for the new year – a somewhat hazardous endeavour if you ask me. Still, reading past predictions (2005, 2004) is fun and I am looking forward to being confronted with my own in a year’s time. I repeat and add to them below.


16 December 2005

Tony Blair is an able politician. His fellow government leaders are slightly less, but still quite, able politicians. In the coming days, the 25 of them will try to come to a unanimous agreement on the EU’s long term budget, the Financial Perspectives 2007-2013 (see Finances in perspective for the previous episode). Judging from the latest text proposed by the UK presidency, and taking account of the unexpected optimism I hear around me (although today the tone seemed to be different), our dear leaders will agree on an EU budget that is a shameless, provincialist sham of a common enterprise.

Of course this is what can be expected with the decision-making system we have. When each and every of 25 able politicians who are only answerable to their own constituencies can veto an agreement any time they like, and when the whole thing has to be brokered by another able politician who is only answerable to his own constituency and has a giant stake in the outcome, the result is bound to be riddled with the effects of pork barreling. However, after the defeat of the European Constitution last summer and subsequent grandstanding on “reform” and “leadership” and “reconnecting Europe to the people”, this is much, much worse than what could be expected, even within the constraints posed by reality. (more…)

Reformed CAP even less irregularity proof

7 December 2005

Further on the topic of a previous post, it seems that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being reformed in exactly the wrong way. At least if you agree (as any sensible person would do) with the EU’s Court of Auditors that public money should only be spent according to criteria that can be checked. But there could be an alternative: giving local voters a direct say on agricultural policy. (more…)