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The existing partnership law for gay couples is withdrawn, although existing partnerships will remain valid for those who want to.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

Link of the day

13 March 2008

I just invented a new posting category which will hopefully help me to post more frequently: the Link of the Day. These postings will be extremely short, basically 1-5 lines of commentary on a website, posting, or newspaper article I just found and thought was interesting – maybe not even more than just the link and title.

Actually something similar existed already here: the Noteworthy News in the right hand corner, but it was not visible enough. Also, because it basically consists of my links on del.icio.us, it did not have enough space to leave commentary. The Link of the Day should solve both problems.

US elections today: Forget red and blue states, the US is a patchwork nation of eleven different types of communities. The site shows this patchwork on the map of the US, and follows how they are (or will be) voting during the coming presidential elections.

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?