Thursday, November 3, 2011
Le battage médiatique a consacré le sommet européen de la semaine dernière, comme beaucoup avant lui, de réunion de la « dernière chance ». Pour sortir de ce vortex de dette souveraine auto-infligée, l'élite européenne imbue de théorie keynésienne, insiste sur le fait que nous devons engager davantage de dette et devons avoir un plan de grande taille. Est-ce la solution? Le mécanisme de sauvetage proposé (FESF) n’est pas seulement antidémocratique, comme les Grecs vont nous le rappeler par référendum après le revirement de Papandréou. Il est fondé sur le soutien financier du Parti communiste chinois. Si c’est cela la route vers l'intégration, nous ferions bien d’occuper Bruxelles dès maintenant!
Le dernier plan a été vendu comme le « triomphe de la politique sur les marchés ». Ajoutant sa voix au concert en faveur de toujours davantage d’intervention publique, l'influent philosophe constructiviste Jürgen Habermas professe que « L'UE ne peut s'affirmer contre la spéculation financière que si elle obtient les compétences politiques de guidage » (Le Monde, 25/10/2011). (1) Eh bien, « guidage » dans le monde réel s’est toujours traduit par la centralisation de la prise de décision et moins de liberté. L'UE réelle envisage maintenant d'entrer dans la centralisation.
Le mécanisme de renflouement à effet de levier va accumuler plus de compétences pour faire face à la dette souveraine et pour faire la « police » derrière les gouvernements dépensiers. En d'autres termes, les technocrates seront habilités à passer les budgets en revue avant leur soumission aux parlements élus des pays de la zone. Comme certains observateurs le soulignent avec justesse, les parlements nationaux ne contrôleront plus les fonctions les plus essentielles du gouvernement : les décisions en matière de fiscalité et de dépenses publiques. (2)
Les tenants de la centralisation (l’intégration) pointent du doigt le mauvais travail des gouvernements des PIGS en matière de finances publiques comme la justification impérieuse d'une action centralisée. On choisit encore une fois le chemin de davantage de pouvoirs supranationaux, malgré les échecs patents du processus d’intégration « toujours plus étroite », afin de promouvoir une croissance soutenue. Au lendemain du sommet certains prédisaient que le mécanisme ne fera pas long feu . Pour le professeur Pascal Salin, tenant de l'école autrichienne d’économie, le FESF n'est pas la solution parce qu'il récompense la mauvaise gestion et le renforcement de l'intervention du gouvernement. Un tel système, soutient-il, ne fait que créer plus d'instabilité et doit être combattu. (3)
Ironie de l'Histoire, l'UE a envoyé son envoyé spécial « ès-sauvetage » à Pékin pour demander (quémander?) à la Chine d’investir dans ses obligations « de stabilité » : une étape hautement symbolique. (4) Jadis, la CEE se tenait fière, indépendante, libre et prospère face au le bloc communiste « non libre ». Aujourd’hui l’expérimentation social-démocrate en perdition a besoin d'aide des mandarins communistes chinois qui ont appris une chose ou deux du « monde libre ». L’investissement ne sera accordé que s’il est sage et profitable, et non au nom de toute notion floue de solidarité redistributive socialiste à l'échelle mondiale.
En 2011, l'UE est sur le point d’effectuer le grand bond en… arrière dans le monde connu de l’antilibéral et de l’antidémocratique. Si le soutien de la Chine se matérialisait, cela serait avec de nombreuses conditions et scellerait de facto l'entrée du Parti communiste dans le système émergent post-démocratique de la gouvernance européenne. L'ironie, mais jusqu’à quel point ?
Mais qui sait ? On nous avait annoncé que nos dirigeants avaient mis fin à la crise, que le monde avait été sauvé par cet accord de la dernière heure. Pourtant, l'intrigue de l'UE se complique avec la possibilité désormais donnée au peuple grec (par le premier Ministre grec) de faire entendre sa voix lors d’un référendum. Espérons que la mort lente de la démocratie européenne sera stoppée là où tout a commencé, à Athènes.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Sunday, September 25, 2011
To fill the silence and provide some comic relief, here is a quiz. Find out how much you can laugh about Europe’s predicament. If this totally predicted mess was not so tragic it would be funny.
Q – If you disagree about the bailouts what can you do?
a) Blame the “Anglo-Saxon in Chief” Cameron for doing nothing.
b) Pray that the disenchanted German electorate will be heard. No-one else is.
c) Get together with many millions of taxpayers to waste time with the citizens’ initiative.
d) Watch Euronews to be reassured that all is well in the “ever-closer, fairer and greener” Europe.
Q- When will the democratic deficit be resolved?
a) Forget it. Euro-apparatchiks enjoy being disconnected from the citizenry.
b) When subsidized pigs fly.
c) “More democratic and transparent” is something Russian politicians must be.
d) Happiness is to be a travelling MEP working for the nomadic European Parliament.
Q- What caused the sovereign debt crisis?
a) Mother earth because capitalism upset her.
b) Irresponsible politicians for sustaining the unsustainable welfare state.
c) Perfidious rating agencies because they exposed the truth.
d) Global warming.
Q- Do you think that Europe is a “force for good” influencing the world with soft power?
a) Possibly. Napoleon invaded Egypt to free its people from autocratic rule.
b) Yes. France and Britain are using air power to bring freedom to the Libyans.
c) Absolutely. According to Euronews.
d) Not really. Its protectionist barriers are hard to penetrate.
Q- When Council President Van Rompuy addressed the UN General Assembly in a historic (first) speech he repeated some key points twice. Why?
a) To increase his charisma after being called a bank clerk without any.
b) He is an unelected unaccountable president who can say what the hell he wants.
c) The peoples of Europe never get it.
d) As the president of the presidents, he should emphasize the state of the dis-union.
Q- Turkey cannot become a member of the EU because:
a) It meets the Maastricht criteria.
b) It has a liberal economy growing at the rate of 10%.
c) Turkish MEPs would outdo others in Brussels' Byzantine corridors of power.
d) Sarkozy wants Communist China to buy Greek debt.
Q- Should the EU have a Robin Hood tax?
a) Yes. Tax everything. Sodas, financial transactions, fat, CO2 emission, love…
b) No. Robin Hood was Anglo-Saxon.
c) Bad idea. Europe’s financial sector will lose out to Asia.
d) Not sure. It looks green on the outside but is probably red inside.
Q- Do you approve of the IMF policies towards Europe.
a) Yes. Somebody needs to teach Greek politicians basic maths.
b) No. The French are turning the institution into a global Ministère des Finances.
c) Bad idea. The institution is located in Anglo-Saxonia.
d) Not sure. Liberalizing its economy could be detrimental to the lobbying sector.
Q- Should the blowing up of party balloons by children be regulated?
a) Yes. A directive on this critical issue is long overdue.
b) No. As long as they blow up balloons with the EU flag.
c) Not sure. Eurocrats may have more important things to do these days.
d) Don’t care.
Q- EU institutions should have more powers because:
a) Europe has more than 400 cheeses.
b) Barroso is a Maoist revolutionary who thinks he is the €uropean Ch€ Gu€vara.
c) Its civil servants have three months of paid holidays.
d) It is an empire. Get over it!
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Faced with a paradigmatic shift in the Arab world, the European Union must now translate its lofty promise of “solidarity to the peoples” into action. A review of its Neighbourhood Policy is currently taking place but the joint declaration on the “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” provides some clues. The new relation is to be based on the principle of “more for more.” The idea is that in return for more democracy and reforms, states receive more money. If the new external aid euro-buzz sounds like conditionality reloaded, it is because it is.
The EU principle of ‘more of the same’.
Momentous times warrant momentous thinking. Unfortunately, whether dealing with internal or external problems, the European leadership is hopelessly stuck in a path dependency of “more of the same.” To most ordinary people it is counterintuitive to address a problem by adding to it. Not to our politicians who cure sovereign debt with more debt, solve failed bailouts with more bailouts.
For the past 50 years, development policies have followed the same pattern. An estimated $500 billion of international aid has been disbursed in Africa to little effect for the prosperity or freedom of its peoples. Budgets for North Africa and the Middle East have consistently increased without the cycle of poverty and oppression being broken. With more money on offer, there is little incentive for local politicians to think beyond the “foreign aid-ism” box. Old development habits die hard.
Alleviating the broke European man burden.
Paraphrasing Professor Easterly, the time may have come for Europe to rid itself of its “white man burden” of “feel good” but mostly ineffective and counterproductive development assistance.
As policy expert Nicu Popescu notes, the ongoing review should prompt a wider debate. The option of less aid should be explored. Why are countries like the BRIC busy shopping for expensive European technology still receiving public money? Does it make sense for bankrupt countries to help others by incurring more debt? The United Kingdom took the radical step to cut its own international development budget to many emerging economies. Development has gone on for the simple reason that aid is not a determinant factor.
The idea of cutting aid is not new. However, it is controversial in equal measure to international bureaucracies and aid-dependent local state apparatus. Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo has been a vocal advocate of no aid at all in “Dead aid: why aid is not working and why there is a better way for Africa” (2009). To European development luminaries, her radical thinking and proven free-market solutions are pure heresy. Oblivious to the failure of their “softer” often opaque and mostly ineffective top-down approach, “more of the same” is what they continue to advise.
Radical libertarian reforms work.
Yet a shock therapy of deregulation, liberalization and rule of law is precisely the medicine the Arab world must urgently take to meet the aspirations of a jobless disgruntled youth. For the economist Guy Sorman, it is imperative for the region to move away from statist economies to free market societies based on property rights, the right to entrepreneurship and competition. Only with this second revolution – not more aid – will the hope of millions to be lifted out of mass poverty will materialize (The City, “Egypt’s unborn revolution,” 18/02/2001).
Looking east, not north could inspire reformist-minded Arab leaders to be bold.
In her first book “Why Georgia has succeeded” (2011), Russian economist Larisa Burakova maps the course of the country’s economic revolution. Under the stewardship of Kakha Bendukidze (Minister for Reform coordination, 2004-2008), Georgia has transited from a statist economy stifled by a corrupt state bureaucracy and red tape into one of the most successful post-Soviet economies. The spectacular increase in economic freedoms (12th in 2011 World Bank, “doing business index”) has generated economic growth (6.4 percent, 2011) and more prosperity. A few years only after the 2003 Rose Revolution, this feat is truly remarkable. The author argues that this success bears testimony to the idea that radical liberal economic reforms, if well handled, can work anywhere.
There is no such thing as an ideal or painless transition model but only fools can ignore what works and what doesn’t. European leaders would be well advised to take a few lessons in “Bendunomics.”
Friday, April 8, 2011
Japan’s struggle with the aftermath of a natural disaster has created an odious kind of green chain reaction. The priesthood of the cult of “Mother Earth” (Gaia) is back with a vengeance and scaremongering tactics. The “avatar-esque” personification of the planet in the article by Mr. Semih İdiz (March 14, 2011) is evidence of this phenomenon. Apparently, "Mother Earth demands respect.” This incantation is directed at us, the blighted human-consumers who buy cars, use electric coffee machines and want to keep warm in the freezing winters as we live out our global-warming doomsday scenario.
That a healthy debate should arise on the safety of nuclear power, disaster preparedness and alternative energy sources is right. But that the disaster afflicting Japan be used by some politicians and journalists to connect the embattled thesis of global warming reloaded as “climate change” with geological events and their nuclear aftermaths is disgraceful. To claim that humans are not heeding “warnings” and have therefore brought upon themselves the destructive powers of a “merciless mother nature” is grotesque.
Judging by the flurry of commentaries by the bien pensant intellectual and political class, James Lovelock's controversial “theory of Gaia” which posits that the Earth is a “single living organism” (and Man a "disease" killing the planet) is alive and well outside the “deep ecology” movement. Never mind that many scientists view it as little more than a neo-pagan new age religion, even the Brussels bureaucracy is seizing the moment to preach its simplistic “green truth” by making a spurious connection between climate change and the Japan earthquake. On March 11, the European Economic and Social Council published on its website an official statement that concluded, “Mother Nature has again given us a sign.”
The skeptical climate-change blogger Vincent Benard nails the argument in a damning post (Objectif Liberte, March 12, 2011): “How dare they [Ils ont ose] link the earthquake to climate change!” He asks inter alia the inconvenient question of why it has not even occurred to European Economic and Social Committee Staff that this disaster demonstrates a simple truth. Billions of public funds are being thrown in the pursuit of the anti-carbon chimera, in turn diverting limited financial resources from the search for solutions to the very real problems populations are confronted by.
“Surely coal thermal plants ought to no longer be seen as an unreasonable option notably in seismic areas even with their CO2 emissions?” Benard ponders. That would be rational, but sadly with global warming rationality and science have fallen prey to politicization and “cultishness.”
So how can the highly paid president of a consultative body – arguably one the most useless institutions of the ever-growing Euro-bureaucracy – cross the Rubicon to enter the realm of green cultishness? Well, to put it simply, it is all about “believing and belonging,” about being seen as a friend of the "good guys," the earthly “Navi” people of Planet Brussels, namely the tribe of green lobbyists.
Of course, the European Union is not quite like the utopian planet of Pandora. So aside from “communing with mother nature,” the neo-Navis are kept busy by green greed. The friends of Gaia have many friends in the Brussels bureaucracy. As the International Policy Network study “the Friends of the EU" (March 2010) revealed, green advocacy groups like Friends of the Earth, Birdlife or WWF (the so-called big 8 or 10) receive plenty of funds to lobby for more funds and provide environmental expertise to the commission. It is a self-serving circle. Nothing, not even the debt crisis, appears to be able to slow the EU green-spending spree. If anything the Japan crisis should trigger a new euro-funding wave.
Nuclear power is not risk free but the fact is also that political ecology is having a profound impact on global governance and policy-making in Europe in particular, whether we like it or not. As the above-mentioned report concludes, “sponsoring the narrow interests of such NGOs undermined the democratic process.” No matter, European politicians have embraced the green dogma with gusto. None more so than Nicolas Sarkozy. One should be grateful for the timely Arab uprising because France was prepared to help Gadhafi’s regime “go green" with "cleaner" energy (read: construction of a nuclear plant). It is also time for the French government to face some tough and necessary questions over its all-out nuclear policy at home (80 percent of electricity production).
A democratic debate is vital but it must be based on reason, not cultishness. In the meantime, implying that the victims of a natural disaster in one of the most technologically advanced countries are in some way “paying for their sins of progress and materialism” is pure nonsense. It is also unbecoming while shattered communities are battling to cope, displaced families trying to piece together their lives and grieving the death of their loved ones.
On March 26, the modern day followers of Gaia will also demand with renewed fervor that darkness be celebrated by having us switch off our lights to join in their absurd ritualistic global communion against progress: the Earth Hour. I will keep my lights on in memory of those who perished, out of respect for the extraordinary courage and dignity of the Japanese people in the face of a national disaster, for their contribution to human progress with cars, technology and a unique culture.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
The moral standing of the European Union in its Mediterranean neighborhood is taking a serious blow. Events in Tunisia – and now Egypt – have caught its leadership by surprise. The overthrow by a popular uprising of a corrupt and authoritarian leader supported for years by European leaders showed that “ethical Europe” has no clothes. The moment is opportune for a liberated Tunisia to reset its relationship with the EU.
To those who believe in freedom and democracy, the revolution unfolding in Tunisia has been heart-warming news. How it was received in Brussels is anybody’s guess. Suddenly, the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime, the “example for the region,” the “important and reliable partner of Europe” – to quote Stefan Fule, the Czech commissioner for enlargement and neighborhood policy – was being challenged. “Jasmine” revolutionaries were pouring onto Tunisian – but also European streets – to demand freedom and democracy.
The shambles of conditionality.
The bloc must face up to the fact that until the revolution, its policies in Tunisia had hardly been the “force for good” bureaucrats like to trumpet about. Rather, as human rights activists have often stated, they had helped maintain the status quo. Brussels' decision last year to pursue “advanced status” talks even emboldened the regime to suppress dissent further. Direct contacts between local NGOs and European institutions were criminalized. European leaders' “business as usual” attitude with the man most Tunisians called a “dictator” made a mockery of EU human rights rhetoric and conditionality.
Development aid and trade agreements are theoretically conditional to the fulfillment of “political and economic conditions.” So-called “conditionality clauses” are included in all agreements with third parties. But why bother? Studies have shown that conditionality is irrelevant in both countries that with existing strong democratic constituencies and in autocratically-ruled states. Be it in Tunisia or in Egypt – or for that matter in Europe – most politicians have only paid lip-service to it. For oppressed peoples of the continent, it has been a bad joke.
Illiberal EU and France.
If the response of the “Lisbon-ized” EU was meek – a knee-jerk reaction of aid for elections – the initial silence of Paris was deafening. For days after the popular uprising, the French executive remained embarrassingly mute. In the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie was asked to account for the incoherence of the government's foreign policy in Africa. How could the country ask for the respect of democracy in Ivory Coast while simultaneously supporting the dictatorship of President Ben Ali. Indeed that is the question, and also the answer why the EU could never really have any coherence of its own.
When it comes to EU-Africa relations, the common foreign policy is more often than not “steered” behind Brussels’ “closed doors” by former colonial powers. Powerful administrations with privileged contacts with local politicians ensure the continuation of their prevalent role in policy-making. With enlargement to 27 states, decision-making has become overly complicated and its tell-tale of the lowest common denominator seems to have sunk lower. On sensitive topics, tension quickly flares. In the case of Tunisia, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables revealed the deep division between member states. While Germany and the United Kingdom favored a tougher approach, other key states (France) were reluctant to criticize the regime. But in the end, no pressure was applied.
Appeasement does not foster stability.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, keeping political stability in the region has been the linchpin of Europe’s security policy, whatever the cost to democratization. In the light of recent dramatic developments, it is clear that its “soft” engagement with “model autocrats” has failed. Rethinking relations with its southern neighborhood is urgent.
For France that will not be easy. Emmanuel Martin, a researcher at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, argues that the root of the problem is deep. Behind the discourse of “de rigueur” liberty and fraternity, the French political class has remained highly suspicious of individual liberties and profoundly anti-liberal. “La Françafrique,” a mafia-like system of economic and political cooperation based on state monopolies, economic dirigisme and statism, has fed on this reality. The promise made by Nicolas Sarkozy that the country would be on the side of the peoples of Africa has yet to be fulfilled. Last September, the French ambassador to Senegal resigned in protest.
Europe and Tunisia are bonded together by history and geography and need each other. But right now, Tunisians could do without hot “eurocratic” air. The foreign policy chief's declaration affirming the “solidarity of the EU with the Tunisian people” was just that. Unfortunately, with a protectionist union struggling with a democratic deficit, a disunited foreign policy, institutional turf wars, economic recession and an unresolved debt crisis, change anyone can believe in is misguided hope.
Tunisians have now the opportunity to take ownership of their country’s political and economic reforms. Hard times lie ahead but, “yes, they can” walk the bumpy democratization road with their heads held high. We, the freer peoples of Europe, can be thankful for the lesson in courage and dignity given.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
During the recent Bielarussian presidential elections, the EU flag was flown as a symbol of freedom and democracy. In Europe, it is being burnt by angry demonstrators. With the sovereign debt crisis gathering pace on the bloc's periphery, austerity measures of payfreeze and other cuts starting to bite, EU civil servants and politicians enjoyed a very festive season indeed. Our supranational ruling class fêted on a bonanza of payrises and bonuses. What austerity at the centre of the “empire” as Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso referred to the EU... In the “promised Euroland” some have truly become “more equal than others”.
The EU often complains that it is “unjustly” accused of being out of touch. Recent decisions can only reinforce the perception that the euro-elite is now in orbit. The Supreme Parliament of our post-democratic polity awarded itself a nice little Xmas present. In 2011, MEPs will pocket around €100,000 of tax free expenses (pay hike and perks). While promising more accountability and transparency to the Euro-toiling masses, they will not be required to provide any proof of expenditure! "Doublespeak" à la EU....
More disconcerting news from the “fairy kingdom of Luxembourg where the European Court of Justice rules supreme without a ‘supremacy’ clause’” as American scholar E. Stein famously remarked. The judiciary annulled the Council decision curtailing the 3.7% pay-rise of EU civil servants. From a legal standpoint, the Court merely applied EU law. Struggling taxpayers across Europe will have to pay. 46,000 civil servants (including ECJ judges) are poised to receive their frozen pay-rise plus interests pending new rules. A Happy New year to them!
We, citizens of Europe, are all equal but some are more equal than others. In the subsidized farm that the EU has become, one cannot help but think that the “pigs” are living in Brussels. Shocked by the Orwellian metaphor? Think again.
At the centre of the EU empire, the neo-gosplanners are planning for more 10-year-plans (the 2020 Agenda) unable to review their failing integrationist momentum course. To save the Euro, the bloc nudges towards the establishment of a centralized economic government and to carry out this impossible mission, an economic governance Czar, Council president Herman Van Rompuy, is to be anointed. In the meantime, anger is pouring onto the streets and the governments of the PIGS are fighting for their political survival.
In the late 1980s, the political vision of the single currency driven by Jacques Delors, a socialist now acting as a “wise man” of integration, prevailed. It is worth recalling that the final endorsement of the Delors Report by the member states took place against a background of extraordinary events: the fall of Communism. The quantum leap of integration (1991 Maastricht Treaty establishing the union) is therefore linked to the desintegration of the Soviet Empire. The old French fears of a powerful neighbour provided additional diplomatic momentum for the Monetary Union.
Realists would argue that the Euro was the political price Germany had to pay for reunification. In 2010, its taxpayers are bearing the financial cost of the debt mess. The question is: for how long?
Whatever form the rescue or control mechanism eventually takes, it will imply more bureaucracy to enforce convergence on 27 divergent economies. The parallel with the centrally planned economies of the former Soviet bloc and their eventual failure to deliver prosperity is pertinent. Grand centralizing bureaucratic schemes eventually fail and in the process dwarf individual freedoms. Have we not learnt the lesson? Evidently not.
The quasi-authoritarian technocratic measures imposed by the troika (IMF-EC-ECB) are undermining popular sovereignty, i.e. who rules. As a recent survey revealed, 56% of Irish people believe that by accepting the bailouts, their country has surrendered political independence. Eurosceptics have long argued that the Brussels elite are actively seeking to replace sovereignty by bureaucracy, voters by experts. As the rejection and eventual adoption of the European Constitution in all but name amply demonstrated, popular sovereignty is deeply unpopular with the European leadership. To illustrate the arrogance of our new “vanguard”, suffice it to recall the comment made by former Labour Commissioner Neil Kinnock in the aftermaths the referendum in 2005. The French “non” said he, was “the triumph of ignorance"....
How ironic that the European Union now fighting for its survival would owe so much to the demise of another supranational utopia; the Soviet Union with its own kind of highly centralized supranational state apparatus and privileged elite. In a thought-provoking essay, "The Soviet Roots of European integration” (2004), former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky explains how socialist ideas have gradually transformed a successful economic area (EEC) into a new bureaucratic hegemon. Food for thought.
Of course, the “post-democratic” Union is constituted by democratic states enjoying high standards of political freedom. To Bielarussian democrats, the EU represents a beacon of freedom. But everything is relative. In fortress Europe, it is no longer possible to ignore the obvious. The on-going surrender of sovereign rights to a self-serving nomenklatura is a step towards the establishment of a supranational economic government, and a bEUROcratic Leviathan. In 1944, Austrian economist F.A. Hayek called it the “Road to Serfdom”.