Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Re-setting Europe without “bonapartisme”

Published in Hürriyet Daily News, Turkey.
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It has to be handed to the Swedish Presidency; it’s putting up a brave fight against France’s pressure to set the law.

EU-Turkey relations are just one of those battlefields of influence. During a recent meeting between the presidents of both countries (July 3rd), President Sarkozy reiterated, presumably in case the Swedes “hadn’t got it”, that the opening of new chapters would be allowed so that “Turkey would become an associate member of Europe and not a fully-fledged one". From his outburst to the legitimate comments made by President Obama in support of Turkish EU membership, to boycotting a meeting in Stockholm with Foreign Minister Carl Bilt, or the barely disguised contempt for the “Turkish Season” now starting in France, there appears to be no let up.

Indeed it is plain for those who want to see that this is no longer about making the French government’s views “known” to other member states but rather about imposing its position on enlargement as the “only” way forward. France’s Right is now “united” by a common culture of “turcophobie” with the all-powerful administration “purged” of any pro-Turkey accession advocates. This “obsession” is now being deliberately exported on the European stage with chairmanships “bullied” into abiding to the limits set by Paris. This trend does not abode well for the future under the Lisbon treaty or barely revisited EU Constitution whose chief architect was former President Giscard d’Estaing, a proponent of the “non à la Turquie”, and guardian of the centralizing and “dirigiste” tradition.

It is worrying that this “bonapartisme” is not solely confined to enlargement. It is much in evidence in economics too. Sweden warns against the “over-zealous” regulation of hedge funds. Yet the French centralizing and regulating tradition appears to be winning this battle too against the weakened Labour government of PM Brown with the City standing to lose the most. French officials with the blessing of the “G8+?” - one loses count - have launched an all-out war on so-called tax heavens and low taxation jurisdictions, essentially seeking to end tax competition on French terms - Read higher taxes (Dan Mitchell on tax competition as a liberalising force in world economy). It’s ironic that it took the intervention of communist China at the London Summit to prevent Hong Kong from being blacklisted (ranking first in the Heritage Foundation economic freedom list, France 64th).

The economist Jacques Garello (Institut de Recherches Economiques et Fiscales) talks about the “fiscal tsunami” triggered by the “green” political wave now sweeping across Europe in the aftermaths of the elections. Europe-Ecologie led by “Danny-le-Rouge” Kohn Bendit came third (16%) just behind the socialists. 400€ billion are needed for the “croissance verte” (green growth or révolution) promised by the political class during the campaign. With public finances in the red, money will have to be found somewhere. That means more borrowing (grand emprunt national), a fossil fuel tax (taxe carbone) to be borne by enterprises, and if “zealots” have their way, a European “cap-and-trade” regulation. In other words, less economic freedom and more protectionism in the guise of “virtuous” green goals. Beware the “bonapartisme écologique”!

Decisions taken on the basis of these kinds of political antics make a mockery of the idea that the EU abides to principles of law, that it stands for universal values as opposed to the rules of a “Christians only” club, and finally that it defends free trade. Reasoned discussions and consensual decision-making on sensitive issues have being replaced by the rule of the “stronger”, more dedicated member state. The “weaker” or less interested ones simply fall in, too busy with their own priorities. Unfortunately, Sweden’s voice has no echo. The silence of other member states is deafening, and perhaps a sign of surrender. It’s high time for dissenting views to be heard, or “bonapartisme” will have its way after all, and in its 21st century political expression, will dominate Europe…

In the offing lies the final battle of the Lisbon treaty ratification (German constitutional debate, second Irish referendum on October 2, pending signature into law by the Czech President). It is widely acknowledged that given a democratic chance, Euro-voters would have rejected the construction of a French-inspired highly centralized super-state. In fact they did with 3 no-votes in referenda in France, Holland and Ireland. In the end, the Irish government has obtained its opt-out “deal” (taxation and neutrality notably) so this time round, the balance may just tilt to a yes-vote. That is not good news because Europe needs resetting. Far from being the “doomsday scenario” voters are led to believe, it is a very necessary and healthy step.

For now, finding solace in history will have to do. In October 1805, Napoleon’s military power-grabbing was ended by a British hero at the Battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish city of Cadiz. Admiral Nelson’s victory thus prevented the planned invasion of the British Isles and French rule over most of Europe. French and Spanish sailors fought valiantly but they were not on the side of freedom. In the current economic storm and battle for influence, the EU leadership under French “command” has the weather gauge (advantage) to impose its vision of Europe. Czech President Klaus may be up against a vastly superior fleet of politicians and bureaucrats but he could well turn the tide. And become the European peoples’gallant hero.
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In the olden days, French Embassies used to invite all residing “citoyens” for the traditional celebration of the “fête nationale”. No more. Must be politicians fullfilling their promises to bring public finance under control, or an extraordinary measure in times of deep recession.... Right.

- 2009 budget for the Elysée (présidence de la République): increase of 11.45% from 2008 (more here).
- Cost of the speech in Versailles Palace of the Président before the Parlement (Sénat-Assemblée Nationale) further to the constitutional amendment: 450,000€ (more here)

Last February, Russian President Medvedev announced that in the light of the crisis, state expenditures at all levels should be reviewed, adding that this exercise “should start with oneself ". So if the Kremlin can cut costs, why not the Elysée?

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Allez, champagne quand même! A la santé de notre Liberté chérie....

1 comment:

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