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France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

France-Honduras, Porto Alegre, June 15th

The Algeria-Belgium game is underway as I write. One of the most nationalist countries in the world vs. a country that isn’t even a nation. As it happens, all but two players on the Algerian team play professionally outside Algeria and two-thirds are actually from France, i.e. they’re French-Algerian dual nationals (c’est-à-dire, des beurs). As for the Belgian team, four of today’s eleven starting players are of immigrant origin (Morocco, Mali, the Congo, Martinique). I would have expected more. Contrast this with the Swiss team that played Ecuador on Sunday: of the eleven starters and two substitutes, precisely ten are of immigrant origin: Diego Benaglio (Italy), Johan Djourou (Ivory Coast), Ricardo Rodríguez (Spain), Valon Behrami (Kosovo), Gökhan Inler (Turkey), Xherdan Shaqiri (Kosovo), Granit Xhaka (Kosovo), Josip Drmic (Croatia), Admir Mehmedi (Macedonia), Haris Seferovic (Bosnia). There are more Swiss players who ethnically hail from the ex-Yugoslavia than Suisses de souche! Haven’t yet seen anything on how they feel about that in la Suisse profonde.

Back to Belgium, University of Georgia prof Cas Mudde has a post on Monkey Cage (June 15th) asking “Can soccer unite the Belgians?” And on TNR’s fine World Cup blog, “Goal Posts” (June 16th), Cambridge University political scientist David Runciman explains “Why you should (and should not) be excited about Belgium’s new golden generation,” the Belgian team being, he argues, “[a] test for the unifying power of soccer.”

Update: Belgium beat Algeria. Logically.

I missed the first two days of the tournament, including the Netherlands-Spain game (I was some 35,000 feet above India, or maybe Af-Pak, while it was underway). Arriving back in Paris on Saturday, I learned to my incredulity that the majority of the group games are on pay TV only, on the Qatari network beIN Sports. F*cking Qatar. So I’ve missed a few games I wanted to see, notably last night’s Ghana-USA. But as a month sub for beIN is only €12, and which can be cancelled at any moment, I decided today to just do it, as there’s no way I’m going to miss Portugal-USA late Sunday night, entre autres.

All the France games are on TF1, of course. Les Bleus played well against Honduras (admittedly not among the stronger teams in the tournament). If Les Bleus beat the Swiss—who are good—on Friday, they’ll go to Round 16.

À suivre.

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Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

It was a disaster. A catastrophe. Worse than anyone expected—and certainly than I expected. I knew the FN would do very well, even come in first place ahead of the UMP and PS—as the polls predicted—, but not with 25% of the vote and a participation rate (43%) higher than in 2009. I am going to follow my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer and not do an instant analysis, though, like Art, I will offer a couple of instant comments (and, BTW, I entirely agree with his).

First, the FN’s score is nothing to sneeze at. For the frontistes to come in first place nationally and with a quarter of the vote—and even in a low participation election—is a very big deal. But this does not make the FN the nº1 party in the country. GMAB! On this, Olivier Duhamel and LCP’s Jean-Baptiste Daoulas are entirely right in relativizing the FN’s victory. The fact is, it was a high abstention election, with the FN’s national vote total (4.8 million) equaling that of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s in 2002 but falling well short of Marine LP’s in 2012 (6.4 million). When it comes to membership, number of elected officials—and their quality and competence—, financial resources, ability to turn out crowds at rallies, and you name it, the FN remains a dwarf; it does not rise to the ankle of the UMP and PS. The FN has exactly two deputies out of 577 in the National Assembly—and wouldn’t win too many more if élections anticipées were suddenly held, as MLP is demanding—and controls a grand total of eleven mairies out of 36,000+. And the FN remains totally isolated, as no institutional party of the right will ally with it. The result of the European election, which was a big setback for the UMP, will only cause to UMP to take a harder line against any dealings with the frontistes. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the UMP and FN will enter into some kind of common program as did the PS and PCF in the 1970s. And no party in France can win an election or exercise power without a coalition with other parties possessing distinct bases of support. The FN’s predicament here will not change in the coming years, this I promise.

Art Goldhammer is correct in saying that the FN is a fixture on the political landscape and will not likely be removed. But it is still very much a protest party. One hears and reads continually that the FN now has a structured base of support, which is true in some parts of the country—in the southeast and certain dying industrial towns in the north—but a lot of its support, I am convinced, is soft. E.g. in the bureau de vote in which I was an assesseur in Sunday’s election—which is the most relatively leftist in my very right-wing banlieue (meaning that the PS, Front de Gauche, and écolos together are normally in the 40-45% range)—the FN came in a close third with 17%, which is double its usual score (and in my own adjacent precinct, the FN won 14%). The FN is hardly present in my town. It hasn’t even run a list in municipal elections since 1995. In the 15 years I’ve been living here, I have never seen FN activists hand out leaflets in the marchés during election campaigns. Many of those who voted FN in my neighborhood yesterday were first-timers, expressing ras-le-bol. It’s been this way with the FN for three decades now, though just a little more nowadays.

Another point. European elections are particular; for many voters, it is a low stakes election and ideal for protest voting. And European elections do not prefigure the outcomes of the subsequent (higher stakes) presidential and/or legislative elections. E.g the 1994 European outcome—a calamitous score for the PS (14%) and excellent one for right-wing souverainistes and populists (Bernard Tapie)—was followed the next year by an unexpectedly respectable score for the PS presidential candidate and with the souverainistes sidelined. The 1999 election—in which right souverainistes humiliated Nicolas Sarkozy’s joint RPR-DL ticket (the core of the future UMP)—was followed by a decade of the UMP in power. And the PS biting the dust in 2009—with 16.5%, just a hair ahead of Europe Ecologie—in no way prefigured the 2012 presidential race. So yesterday’s outcome offers no hints for 2017.

Which is not to say that the PS can relativize what has just happened to it. François Hollande and the Socialists are in a deep hole and one has no idea how they can possibly dig themselves out of it. The election outcome was as decisive a rejection of Hollande’s austerity policies as one can get. So what are Hollande and Manuel Valls going to do? Stay the course, implement the pacte de responsiblité, and cut €50 billion in spending? If that happens, Valls will plummet in the polls, and with Hollande descending into maybe even the single digits. I personally know of no one at the present moment who will defend the Socialists—and I travel mainly in left-wing circles. Hell, I was an assesseur for the PS and didn’t vote for them (casting my ballot for Europe Ecologie). But if Hollande were to change course, where would he go and how? With France now diminished in Brussels and Strasbourg, will he really take on Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi? His situation really does seem hopeless.

Another thing. The Front de Gauche, at 6%, did not do well at all. And the extreme left (NPA, Lutte Ouvrière et al) has all but vanished. The French left is K.O., more so than at any time in memory. At least Europe Ecologie rose to the occasion, winning almost 9% and in the absence of Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

As for the configuration of the European parliament, we’ll know about that in a few days. À suivre.

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euro_2918443b

Conservative Eurosceptic commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the conservative, très Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph had a hard-hitting column the other day on “Europe’s centre crumbl[ing] as Socialists immolate themselves on altar of EMU.” The lede

Francois Hollande must be willing to rock the European Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro. This he cannot bring himself to do.

Money quotes:

By a horrible twist of fate, Europe’s political Left has become the enforcer of reactionary economic policies. The great socialist parties of the post-war era have been trapped by the corrosive dynamics of monetary union, apologists for mass unemployment and a 1930s deflationary regime that subtly favour the interests of elites.

Ouch!

One can understand why the Left in small countries may feel too weak to buck the EMU system. The mystery is why a French Socialist president with a parliamentary majority should so passively submit to policies that are sapping the lifeblood of the French economy and destroying his presidency.

Quite a few on the French left have been asking the same question…

The French nation does not have to accept economic asphyxiation. France is the beating heart of the Europe, the one country with the civilizational stature to lead a revolt and take charge of the EMU policy machinery. But to call Germany’s bluff with any credibility Mr Hollande must be willing to rock the Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro.

This he cannot bring himself to do. His whole political life from Mitterrand to Maastricht has been woven into European affairs. He is a prisoner of Project ideology, drilled to think that Franco-German condominium remains the lever of French power, and that the euro is what binds the two. French statesman Jean-Pierre Chevenement compares Mr Hollande’s acquiesce in this ruinous course with Pierre Laval’s deflation decrees in 1935 under the Gold Standard, the last time a French leader thought he had to bleed his country dry in defence of a fixed-exchange peg. It is the brutal truth.

Paul Krugman couldn’t have said it better. Evans-Pritchard’s column makes for tough reading—for a supporter of the European moderate left, at least—but needs to be read.

I’ll be an assesseur in a polling station tomorrow for the PS—as I’ve been in every election round here since becoming a citizen and getting on the voting rolls—and titulaire, meaning that I’ll be supervising the vote count (with the other assesseurs titulaires). Though I’ll be the PS rep in the bureau de vote—I am not a party member, pour l’info, and have no intention of ever being—, I can obviously vote for whomever I please (and have broken ranks a couple of times). If the PS list in the Île-de-France were headed by Harlem Désir, as it was in 2009, I announced to those around me that I would definitely vote for the UDI-Modem. But as the tête de liste in the ÎdF is Pervenche Berès—an MEP since 1994 and solid européenne—I decided to go with the PS after all (and forgiving the fabusienne Berès for her support of the non in the 2005 European Constitutional Treaty referendum). But now I’m hesitating again, and even more so after reading Evans-Pritchard’s column. I want Martin Schulz to be the next President of the Commission but just don’t know if the PS deserves my vote. As I liked Ska Keller in the two debates I saw—and particularly the second—, I just may cast my ballot tomorrow for the Europe Ecologie list (headed in the ÎdF by Pascal Durand and Eva Joly), as I did in the 2009 European elections, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit led the French écolos’s campaign. And the EELV is not a “wasted vote,” as their MEPs are a pillar of the Green political group in Strasbourg and will support Schultz for Commission president if the choice comes down to him or Jean-Claude Juncker. Donc on verra.

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PS rally, Lyon, May 23 2014

PS rally, Lyon, May 23 2014

I turned on LCP last night, to see what was on, and caught live coverage of the Socialists’s final election rally, in Lyon, with party bigwigs in the front row and Martin Schulz the guest of honor. Manuel Valls had just started his speech, which I watched to the end. He was good! both on form and substance. The focus was on Europe. To watch it, go here and scroll down. After Valls’s speech LCP went live to Jean-François Copé’s UMP rally in Evreux. What a contrast. Whereas Valls was uplifting and Europe-focused—and with frequent references to Martin Schulz and the importance of him being elected the next president of the Commission—, Copé spoke almost exclusively about national politics, mainly beating up on François Hollande, the PS, and Marine Le Pen. It was a repeat performance of the Thursday night event on France 2 (see previous post). Lamentable partisan hackery. He mentioned Europe only in passing and, unless I missed it, made not a single reference to Jean-Claude Juncker, the presidential candidate of the European Peoples Party—the Europarty of which the UMP is a member. The UMP has not put the speech on its website, though this one from two days earlier looks to have been much the same. The sooner the UMP dumps him as party president—which may well happen sooner rather than later—, the better.

ump_europe_meeting_national_jean-francois_cope_920x318-1030x360

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invites

This is an extended Tweet, i.e. no deep analysis. “Des paroles et des actes,” France 2’s periodic Thursday evening public affairs show, was devoted last night to the European elections. One+ hour of back-to-back interrogations of reps of the six major formations followed by a one-hour debate with all: Stéphane Le Foll (PS), Jean-François Copé (UMP), François Bayrou (UDI-Modem), Yannick Jadot (EELV), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FdG), and Marine Le Pen (FN). I was initially not going to watch it—other and better things to do on a Thursday evening, who needs to listen to French political hacks and their demagoguery or langue de bois for the umpteenth time, etc, etc—but couldn’t help myself. If one wants an idea as to the state of the European debate in the French political class, this is where to go. Not brilliant. Loin s’en faut. Stéphane Le Foll—who was, until two years, not a first-tier Socialist—was the best; he impressed, both on form and substance, and strove to stay focused on European issues. The écolo Yannick Janot—unknown to the grand public (and myself)—was honest and solid. François Bayrou was François Bayrou; his well-known and well-worn federalist position on Europe is compelling but will likely fall on deaf ears these days. Mélenchon was also Mélenchon (and with his trademark red necktie), but I thought he was somewhat off form, stumbling over the stupid first question lobbed at him—on why the Front de Gauche isn’t doing better in the polls—, which he should have dismissed as irrelevant and not answered; and he only mentioned in passing his formation’s European presidential candidate, Alexis Tsipras. J-F Copé’s partisan hackery was pathetic and lamentable, as was his using the occasion to beat up on President Hollande and the PS rather that speak to European issues; the UMP—which is all tied up in knots over Europe (Nicolas Sarkozy’s tribune in Le Point being the latest demonstration)—would have been well advised to send someone else—e.g. Alain Juppé or Bruno Le Maire—to represent it in such a debate. But the worst was Marine Le Pen. I don’t know how anyone can bear to listen to that grosse conne and her abject demagoguery. If, par malheur, her party ends up sending 15 or 20 MEPs to Strasbourg, France will get what it will get it: ridicule and diminished influence in the halls of European institutions. As José Bové incessantly repeats, a vote for the FN in the European elections is a vote wasted, as FN MEPs, when they even bother to show up in Strasbourg or Brussels, have no interest in European issues, have no idea what they’re talking about when they do try to speak on those issues, and have zero influence.

Here is Thomas Legrand’s commentary on last night’s debate. And here’s his commentary yesterday on Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s discourse on Europe.

The reviews of Sarkozy’s Le Point tribune haven’t been too positive. E.g. Sylvie Goulard, Modem MEP and Européenne du premier plan, takes it apart here and here (at 03:20).

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STop-Tafta

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a.k.a. the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). This has become an issue in the European parliament elections, which are being held today (in the Netherlands and UK) through Sunday. The issue is big—and has been deliberately kept below the radar screen for the past year. The redoubtable Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch—whom I discussed in my post of last October on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—, has an article in the November 2013 Le Monde Diplomatique, “The Corporation Invasion,” explaining what the TTIP/TAFTA is all about. The lede:

A new treaty being negotiated in secret between the US and the EU has been specifically engineered to give companies what they want — the dismantling of all social, consumer and environmental protection, and compensation for any infringement of their assumed rights.

Ms. Wallach thus begins

Imagine what would happen if foreign companies could sue governments directly for cash compensation over earnings lost because of strict labour or environmental legislation. This may sound far-fetched, but it was a provision of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a projected treaty negotiated in secret between 1995 and 1997 by the then 29 member states of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). News about it got out just in time, causing an unprecedented wave of protests and derailing negotiations.

Now the agenda is back. Since July the European Union and the United States have been negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), a modified version of the MAI under which existing legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will have to conform to the free trade norms established by and for large US and EU corporations, with failure to do so punishable by trade sanctions or the payment of millions of dollars in compensation to corporations.

Negotiations are expected to last another two years. The TTIP/TAFTA incorporates the most damaging elements of past agreements and expands on them. If it came into force, privileges enjoyed by foreign companies would become law and governments would have their hands tied for good. The agreement would be binding and permanent: even if public opinion or governments were to change, it could only be altered by consensus of all signatory nations. In Europe it would mirror the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to be adopted by 12 Pacific Rim countries, which has been fiercely promoted by US business interests. Together, the TTIP/TAFTA and the TPP would form an economic empire capable of dictating conditions outside its own frontiers: any country seeking trade relations with the US or EU would be required to adopt the rules prevailing within the agreements as they stood.

The TTIP/TAFTA negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. The US delegations have more than 600 corporate trade advisers, who have unlimited access to the preparatory documents and to representatives of the US administration. Draft texts will not be released, and instructions have been given to keep the public and press in the dark until a final deal is signed. By then, it will be too late to change.

Further down there’s this

Companies would be able to demand compensation from countries whose health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies they thought to be undermining their interests, and take governments before extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals, organised under World Bank and UN rules would have the power to order taxpayers to pay extensive compensation over legislation seen as undermining a company’s “expected future profits”.

Read the entire article here (et en français ici).

The TTIP/TAFTA sounds like a bad deal indeed, for citizens of both the US and EU. And particularly the latter. Now there are those who are less alarmist over the process underway, e.g. the Le Monde editorial board—Le Monde being center-left in political orientation and not (yet) owned by a press lord or group with a financial interest in TTIP/TAFTA—, which had an editorial in last Friday’s issue, “Halte aux fantasmes sur le traité transatlantique

On l’appelle le «GMT», pour «grand marché transatlantique». Mais il pourrait tout aussi bien s’appeler le «GMMT», pour «grand méchant marché transatlantique», tant le traité de libre-échange, que l’Union européenne négocie avec les Etats-Unis, alimente les fantasmes et les peurs, tant à l’extrême droite qu’à la gauche du Parti socialiste. La campagne pour les élections européennes favorise ce climat : déjà peu populaire, l’Europe rajoute à son «passif» un symbole jugé libéral.

Certes, le sujet suscite des inquiétudes légitimes: cet accord protégera-t-il suffisamment les intérêts, les valeurs et les choix collectifs français et européens? Une partie de l’opinion redoute que cet accord, dont la négociation prendra des années, ne force les Européens à accepter des OGM ou du boeuf aux hormones. D’autres craignent qu’il ouvre la porte à l’exploitation des gaz de schiste sans veto possible des gouvernements nationaux.

Mais, pour l’heure, rien n’est fait. Barack Obama n’a pas l’appui du Congrès américain pour mener une négociation rapide. Quant à la Commission européenne, qui mène les discussions avec Washington, elle juge ces craintes infondées, rappelle que rien n’est conclu et que des sujets sensibles comme l’exception culturelle ont été exclus de la négociation.

Ce plaidoyer serait plus convaincant si la Commission et les Etats rendaient public le mandat de négociation. Or, celui-ci reste «top secret», les Européens ne voulant pas abattre toutes leurs cartes devant les Américains avant même d’entrer dans le vif du sujet. Cette tactique alimente tous les fantasmes.

Selon les équipes du commissaire au commerce, le Belge Karel De Gucht, un accord de principe aurait été trouvé avec les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement des Vingt-Huit pour une plus grande transparence. Les citoyens européens sauront, alors, s’ils ont de bonnes raisons de s’inquiéter.

Il n’est pas trop tôt, cependant, pour expliquer froidement les risques, mais aussi les bénéfices de cet accord potentiel. En brandissant des chiffres radieux (un gain de 545 euros par ménage et par an ou de 0,5 point de croissance par an), la Commission ne convainc pas. Et pas davantage le discours sur les vertus revendiquées du libre-échange.

L’essentiel est ailleurs. L’Europe a des intérêts offensifs à faire valoir. Déjà très ouverte, elle est la première puissance économique et commerciale mondiale – et profite, elle aussi, de la mondialisation. La zone euro a doublé, en 2013, son excédent commercial, qui atteint désormais 150 milliards d’euros. Elle est donc en situation de force pour négocier – et doit le rester.

L’enjeu, au-delà de la suppression de quelques droits de douane, est de savoir qui fixera les normes des produits et services échangés dans le monde. Celui qui les façonne jouit d’un avantage stratégique décisif. L’Europe a été cet acteur au XXe siècle. L’Organisation mondiale du commerce aurait dû prendre le relais, mais elle est en panne. Le choix est simple : soit le XXIe siècle sera à la main des Chinois et des Américains, qui négocient autour du Pacifique. Soit l’Europe s’impose comme un acteur central pour faire admettre ses normes, et protéger son mode de vie.

This is a pretty lukewarm defense of the negotiations, and just a little Pollyannaish (for more, see Libé Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer’s piece yesterday, “Traité de libre échange transatlantique: l’ombre d’un traité hors normes“). It was, of course, nice that the French government succeeded in having the exception culturelle (cultural exemption) taken off the table—under no circumstances should the EU/France cede on this—, but it’s small change compared to all the rest that remains on that table. What Le Monde and other European defenders of the negotiations neglect to consider is that while the US and EU are economic equals, politically speaking there is no comparison between the two. The United States is a political (and military) superpower. It is a juggernaut. The European Union is a political dwarf. The political playing field is not a level one. Moreover, no trade agreement stands a chance of ratification by the (corporate-friendly) US Senate if it concedes anything significant in regard to US corporate interests. If those corporate interests—who will be the principal beneficiaries of the TTIP/TAFTA (European multinational corporations being the remaining beneficiaries)—don’t get what they want, there will be no treaty. But the converse is not the case: the governing bodies of the European Union—Commission, European Council, and Parliament—may be expected to cede on all sorts of issues—unless their collective feet are held to the fire by organized continental public opinion. Thus the importance of the elections underway and of Europeans taking a greater interest in the EU. As the concrete prejudice to European (and American) citizens—not to mention the undermining of democracy—of the TTIP/TAFTA will certainly far outweigh any hypothetical benefits (to those citizens), it must be opposed. Resolutely.

TTIP-map

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#TellEUROPE

EuroDebate

Two weeks ago I posted on the first-ever European presidential debate—for the presidency of the European Commission—, that was held on April 28th in Maastricht. Two nights ago another debate was held, before an audience at the European Parliament in Brussels, this time with all five candidates: Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz, Guy Verhofstadt, Ska Keller, and Alexis Tsipras. The organization was stricter than the previous one, with the candidates limited to one-minute responses to each question. The moderators asked them to speak in English, so as to facilitate the simultaneous translation into the 24 official languages of the European Union, three of whom did (Juncker spoke in French and Tsipras in Greek). It was a pretty good debate. Schulz—who’s my candidate—was okay, Verhofstadt—by the far the best last time—was good, but the one I really liked was Ska Keller. She’s articulate, passionate, politically congenial, and gives an all-around positive impression. But, of course, she has no chance whatever of being chosen by the European Council. À propos, the candidates all made it clear that the successor to José Manuel Barroso will be one of them, that the European Parliament will approve no one other, and that the European Council needs to respect the will of the European electorate on this. Indeed. If David Cameron or some other wanker on the European Council refuses to endorse one of the five and tries to pull someone else out of a hat, it will spawn a crisis in the EU and further undermine the EU in the eyes of tens of millions of Europeans. And it will likely not fly in the end.

Then again, it might. Charles Grant of the top-flight think tank the Centre for European Reform, writing two days ago on “Presidential candidates, European federalism and Tony Giddens,” asserted that the President of the Commission is nominated by the European Council, that this is in the EU treaties, and the said Council may propose any candidate it pleases so long as the results of European elections are “[taken] into account.” On verra bien.

The debate (90 minutes) may watched in its entirely here in English et ici en français.

Voici un commentaire sur le débat par Bernard Guetta, sur les ondes de France Inter hier matin, qui l’a appellé “Le premier pas de la démocratie européenne

Dommage, vraiment dommage, que les grandes chaînes publiques n’aient pas retransmis ce débat d’hier soir. Dommage car c’était un vrai débat sur l’Europe entre les chefs de file des cinq grands courants politiques paneuropéens – gauche, droite, Verts, centristes et gauche de la gauche. Dommage car ces quatre hommes et cette jeune femme, Ska Keller, la chef de file des Verts qui a crevé l’écran par sa fraîcheur et sa cohérence, ont su donner à voir leurs différences sans jamais s’invectiver, pas une seconde, et montrer par là qu’il n’y a pas une mais des politiques européennes.

Dommage car on a vu là qu’aucun de ces grands courants ne prônait la fin de l’Union ou la sortie de l’euro et que ceux qui en sont partisans sont tellement divisés qu’ils n’ont pas pu – raison de leur absence de ce débat – se donner un chef de file transcendant les appartenances nationales. Et dommage, enfin, car on a entendu hier soir, beaucoup de choses importantes et notamment deux.

La première est qu’aucun des chefs de file de ces cinq courants n’imagine plus que le futur président de la Commission puisse ne pas être celui d’entre eux auquel le suffrage universel aura donné une majorité ou qui aura pu constituer une coalition majoritaire dans le futur Parlement. Tous ont dit qu’il y aurait déni de démocratie si les dirigeants des vingt-huit Etats membres tentaient de s’y opposer. Il y a unanimité sur ce point des cinq courants et l’on ne voit en effet plus maintenant comment le futur président de la Commission pourrait continuer à procéder d’un obscur compromis entre dirigeants nationaux et non pas du suffrage universel.

Tout semble bien dire qu’on est à la veille d’un vrai progrès de la démocratie européenne et, par conséquence, d’un rééquilibrage des pouvoirs entre la représentation des Etats et celle de l’Union, entre le Conseil européen, d’une part, où siègent les dirigeants nationaux et qui décide aujourd’hui de tout et, de l’autre, le Parlement et la Commission.

La deuxième chose importante est que l’on sentait bien hier soir, qu’au-delà de leurs différences, les cinq étaient d’accord pour promouvoir une politique sociale européenne, plus ou moins affirmée bien sûr. Le candidat des conservateurs, Jean-Claude Juncker, n’a logiquement pas cessé d’insister sur la nécessité de maintenir les politiques de redressement des comptes publics mais lui-même s’est déclaré partisan de l’instauration d’un salaire minimum européen et de la définition d’un socle social auquel tous les Etats devraient se tenir. Pour le reste, ce n’était pas la même chose. La candidate verte voulait la relance par l’investissement dans l’économie verte et les énergies renouvelables.

Martin Schulz, le candidat de la gauche, insistait, lui, sur la chasse à la fraude et l’évasion fiscales qui permettrait, disait-il, de faire l’économie de bien des économies budgétaires. Alexis Tsipras, celui de la gauche radicale, appelait à l’effacement de tout ou partie des dettes publiques. On retrouvait là tous les éléments d’identité politique de ces courants mais on comprenait aussi qu’aucun ne voulait poursuivre avec la seule rigueur et ce débat aura marqué, en un mot, les tout premiers pas d’une démocratie européenne.

Et voici un commentaire de Jean Quatremer, correspondant à Bruxelles de Libération

Les mastodontes télévisuels français (TF1, F2 et F3) sont passés à côté de l’événement de ce début de siècle : la naissance de la démocratie européenne, l’émergence d’un espace public européen, la fin de l’Europe opaque des Etats. Le débat entre les cinq candidats à la présidence de la Commission, une première dans l’histoire de la construction communautaire, a montré où se situaient les vrais enjeux, non plus au niveau national, mais au niveau fédéral. En dépit du format contraignant imposé (trop de questions, des réponses limitées à une minute, l’interprétation), une véritable émotion est passée, celle de l’Europe en train de se faire. Deux Allemands, un Luxembourgeois, un Belge et un Grec ont débattu entre eux en anglais, en français et en grec de questions dont on a pu s’apercevoir qu’elles n’étaient plus nationales, mais transnationales : l’euro, l’immigration, les budgets, la croissance, le chômage, la solidarité, les valeurs, la laïcité, etc.

On a pu voir l’histoire en train de se faire lorsque les cinq, en cœur, ont affirmé que les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement n’avaient plus d’autre choix que de choisir l’un d’entre eux au lendemain du 25 mai : la dynamique démocratique lancée par les partis politiques européens, lorsqu’ils ont décidé de désigner des candidats à la présidence de la Commission, est telle que rien ne pourra l’arrêter. Angela Merkel peut bien être réticente, David Cameron agiter un droit de veto qu’il n’a plus depuis longtemps, on ne voit pas comment le Conseil européen pourra ignorer le choix des électeurs et sortir de son chapeau un sixième homme ou femme qui n’a pas concouru. Le Parlement européen a pris le pouvoir et les citoyens doivent en prendre conscience.

Ce qui m’a aussi frappé, c’est l’absence de débat artificiel entre les candidats, style«faut-il sortir de l’euro»«faut-il quitter l’Union» ? Car, en réalité, ce sont des slogans, des artifices, aucun politique ne l’envisageant sérieusement en dehors de l’extrême droite, chacun connaissant le prix à payer. L’enjeu, et Alexis Tsipras de la gauche radicale l’a bien dit, ce sont les politiques menées. Personne n’est locataire de l’Europe, tout le monde en est copropriétaire et le consensus européen et de ne pas mettre le feu à la maison. L’absence ce soir de l’extrême droite et des souverainistes, incapables de s’entendre sur le nom d’un étranger pour les représenter, était de ce point de vue remarquable. Ils sont tonitruants en France ou en Grande-Bretagne, ils sont marginaux en Europe.

Et puisqu’il faut désigner un vainqueur : sans conteste l’écologiste Ska Keller qui a montré que la jeunesse avait faim d’Europe et qui a donné faim d’Europe. Alexis Tsipras a été aussi excellent, montrant que la gauche radicale pouvait ne pas être vociférante.

Le commentaire de Quatremer est suivi par d’autres—journalistes et universitaires—dans Libé.

Interesting that Quatremer found Alexis Tsipras “excellent.” I wasn’t overly impressed with him. And one commentator on the blog of the Centre for European Politics declared outright that “For Tsipras, it’s nulle points“…

RDV le dimanche 25.

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Paris Bourse, January 1999: celebrating the introduction of the euro (photo: AFP)

Paris Bourse, January 1999: celebrating the introduction of the euro (photo: AFP)

France 2 broadcast a 1 hour 40 minute documentary two nights ago on “Le Roman de l’euro,” produced in cooperation with Le Nouvel Observateur and presented by David Pujadas and the (very smart and excellent) economist Daniel Cohen. Here’s France 2’s summary

La monnaie unique a vu le jour il y a douze ans, redessinant à long terme les contours de l’économie européenne. Michel Rocard, François Fillon, Wolfgang Schauble ou encore José Luis Zapatero, racontent les coulisses «du Roman de l’Euro». Par ailleurs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex-directeur du FMI, s’exprime au cours d’une interview exclusive.

DSK is good here. As for the documentary as a whole, IMO it could have been stronger in detailing the arguments for and against the single currency when the project was elaborated in the early ’90s—I do a more thorough job of it in my class on the EU—, but gets better as it moves into the post-2008 crisis years. For those interested in the topic, the documentary may be seen via YouTube here (en français, évidemment).

In the interests of fairness and balance, here’s a critique of the documentary by the gauchiste economist Jacques Sapir, who calls it “Le roman (noir) de l’euro.”

On the subject of the euro, the Financial Times had a four-part must read series this past week on “How the euro was saved,” authored by FT Brussels correspondent Peter Spiegel. In a short video introducing the series, Spiegel “recounts the moments in 2011 and 2012 when the euro came closest to collapse, and how politicians and bureaucrats battled over the solutions that eventually saved [it].”

In part 1 of the series—”‘It was the point where the eurozone could have exploded'”—”on the year [2011] that forever changed Europe, Peter Spiegel recreates the three bitter days in November when the eurozone crisis hit its lowest moment”

In part 2—”Inside Europe’s Plan Z”—Spiegel “reveals how a secret strategy was developed to contain the firestorm from a Greek exit.”

Part 3—”‘If the euro falls, Europe falls’”—”examines Angela Merkel’s deft political moves that led to the end of the crisis.” One may also add the role President Obama played at a critical moment—and not mentioned in the France 2 documentary—, that obliged Merkel to change her position.

In the conclusion of the series—”The eurozone won the war – now it must win the peace”—Speigel says that “[t]he acute phase of the crisis is over but underlying weaknesses remain.”

As I said, the series is well worth reading. FT non-subscribers will have to register to access it (the free registration option offering eight free articles a month).

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#EUdebate2014

EUdebate2014

The first ever European presidential debate—for the presidency of the European Commission—was held last Monday, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and which I just watched via the debate’s website. There are five candidates—designated by their respective Europarties or European Parliament political groups—in the running to succeed José Manuel Barroso, whose term ends on October 31st: Jean-Claude Juncker (from Luxembourg) of the European People’s Party (moderate right), Martin Schulz (German)—the current president of the European Parliament—of the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt (Belgian) of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (centrist), Ska Keller (German) of the European Green Party, and Alexis Tsipras (leader of the Greek Syriza) of the European United Left. The two right-wing Eurosceptic groups—one of which includes the British Tories—are not running candidates (for more on the candidates, go to the useful website Debating Europe). The new President of the Commission will be nominated by the European Council—by consensus or in a qualified majority vote according to the (overly complex) formula contained in the Treaty of Nice—and ratified (or rejected) by a majority vote in the European Parliament. One more reason underscoring the importance of the upcoming elections for the latter (more on which in a later post).

Four of the five candidates were present for the debate—Tsipras declined the invitation for some reason—, which went for 90 minutes, was held in English, broadcast on Euronews, and where the candidates answered questions from the moderators—relaying some posed via Twitter—or members of the audience. The debate was divided into three half-hour parts, on Europe’s economy—which included questions on youth unemployment, austerity, tax havens, eurobonds, the future of the euro, and the relationship of the Commission with the European Council—, Euroscepticism—with questions on immigration and migration, digital privacy, and trust in Europe’s institutions—, and foreign policy—with Ukraine and the USA (NSA surveillance and the TIPP free trade negotiations) the main subjects of interest. There was a fair dose of langue de bois at the beginning but with the candidates loosening up as the debate progressed. And parts were quite interesting, particularly the discussion of eurobonds and immigration. The candidates had one minute each to answer the questions, which was not nearly enough but was maybe inevitable given that there were four of them (and they started to go over their allotted time as they went along). I like Martin Schulz—he’s been my man for the job—, who was good enough (albeit a little cautious at points), but the one who really impressed was Guy Verhofstadt. And an audience poll afterward designated him the winner of the debate running away, with 53.4% of the vote; Schulz was a distant second at 19.4%, Ska Keller at 18%, and Jean-Claude Juncker a paltry 9.2%. Juncker was a clunker, no doubt playing it safe, as he is clearly the front-runner; also, his heart may not really be in it, as he would apparently prefer to be the next President of the European Council—a far more laid back job than President of the Commission—, succeeding the diminutive Herman Van Rompuy. I remember Juncker being much better in a televised round-table during the 2005 French referendum campaign on the (failed) European Constitutional Treaty.

The debate may be watched on YouTube here. A 23-minute instant analysis of the debate, with Libération’s Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer and Europolitics editor-in-chief Christophe Garach, may be seen here (with English voice-over) or here (en français). A second debate will be held on May 15th in Brussels (and presumably in French).

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

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Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Maxppp)

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, European Parliament, Strasbourg (Maxppp)

There has been a torrent of tributes of late to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who has announced that he will not be running for reelection to the European Parliament next month, signaling, in effect, his retirement from electoral politics. I am, needless to say, a big fan of Dany’s, adhering to his political positions 93% of the time and to his values, world-view, and spirit a full 100%. He’s great, c’est tout ce que je peux dire à son sujet (for those on the hard left who despise him—who call him a sell-out, or worse—, they can just go bugger off). Cohn-Bendit has been a fixture in the European Parliament for the past twenty years—elected with the German Die Grünen 1994 and 2004, with Les Verts/EELV in 1999 and 2009 (his heading the French lists causing their scores to spike)—, the veritable conscience of that body, and a fierce defender of the European project. Le Monde, in an online piece on Wednesday on DCB’s two decades as MEP, linked to videos of some of his more memorable interventions in recent years during plenary sessions in Strasbourg. They’re great. As the LM piece will eventually disappear behind the paywall, here are the vids:

Dany giving his farewell speech on Wednesday.

Dany reprimanding Martin Schulz in 2010 for voting to approve the Barroso Commission—and telling him ta gueule! i.e. STFU, while he was at it (no hard feelings from Schulz, who is a good guy himself).

Dany verbally pummeling Victor Orbán in 2012 and to his face.

Dany giving President Hollande a hard time in 2013, and addressing him in the familiar form.

Dany letting Jean-Marie Le Pen have it in 2011, after the latter’s scandalous reaction to the Utoya massacre in Norway.

Dany in 2012 telling the Earl of Dartmouth—UKIP MEP—a few home truths (and in English).

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is sui generis. As I’ve already said twice, he’s great. Brussels and Strasbourg will be diminished without him.

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piece-zone-euro_4080504

[update below]

Pascal Riché has an important article in Rue89 on the growing debate in France over quitting the euro and the arguments for and against, and which he advises people to familiarize themselves with—”Entraînez-vous au débat qui déchirera vos dîners dans quelques semaines” he says—, as the debate will no doubt rise to a fever pitch during the election campaign for the European Parliament (May 25th in France). Riché notes that, until recently, most French critics of the ECB’s monetary policy and the SGP nonetheless argued that the euro was a net plus for France and that exiting from it was unthinkable. The only ones arguing otherwise—that France should and must quit the euro—have been the Front National, souverainistes like Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, extreme left groupuscules, and a handful of economists (the usual suspects on this subject, e.g. Jean-Jacques Rosa, Jacques Sapir). But Riché now observes that the arguments for leaving the euro are going mainstream, noting in particular the revirement on the question by the high-profile Keynesian economist Bernard Maris, an irreducible partisan of Europe—he voted ‘oui’ in both the TEU and ECT referendums—, but who has regretfully come to the conclusion that France has no hope of increasing economic growth and lowering unemployment so long as it remains in the single currency dominated as it by Germany. I was indeed surprised to hear Maris—of whom I am a fan—make this argument last Friday in his weekly debate on France Inter with the libéral/free-market economics journalist Dominique Seux, and equally surprised to hear Seux’s tepid counter-argument, in which he conceded many of Maris’s points (listen here). And this morning on France Inter I listened to invited guest Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who argued for six minutes straight why the euro has been disastrous for the French economy and that the only salvation for France is to exit from it. Some of Dupont-Aignan’s points were exaggerated or simplistic but he is exceptionally well-spoken and his argumentation is coherent (listen here); and it will certainly be convincing to many citizens who are otherwise not right-wing Eurosceptics or nostalgics for a Gaullist golden age.

IMHO the arguments for staying in the euro are still stronger than those for leaving—the consequences of which could indeed be calamitous—but my convictions on this are becoming shaky. It is, however, clear that the single currency was an error—and that having it run according to German conditions was a double error. I cannot imagine for a second that President Hollande or any of his credible successors would ever make such a fateful decision to leave the euro. But if the euro remains overvalued and France continues to privilege deficit reduction over economic growth, then the economic and social situation in this country is going to get worse, and with political and social consequences one can only imagine.

À suivre.

UPDATE: French News Online informs me—in the comments below—that they had a story back on Feb. 7th on how “The French want out of the euro.” In other words, FNO scooped me and by a long shot. J’en prends acte.

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Beppe Grillo

Beppe Grillo

That’s the title (in English) of a good 80 minute documentary, “Populisme, l’Europe en danger,” that aired last night on ARTE’s weekly news magazine, Thema. It takes up four cases, the first—and the most disquieting, IMO— being Beppe Grillo and his Movimento Cinque Stelle (M5S) in Italy (which I had a post on a couple of years ago, comparing it to the 1950s Poujadist movement in France). I find the M5S disquieting in view of its electoral strength—25% in the 2012 legislative elections, and whose support is apparently holding steady in the polls—and the real problems this is posing to the Italian political system given the big bloc of seats it has in both chambers of parliament, the dictatorial manner in which Grillo runs the movement, and the manifest anti-democratic—if not downright fascistic—undercurrent in his discourse and general world-view. The parallel with Mussolini was indeed suggested toward the end of the segment.

The second report is on the French Front National, with a focus on its municipal election campaign in Forbach (Moselle), a dying industrial town in the Lorraine and which the FN, via its high-profile mayoral candidate there—the énarque and party vice-president Florian Philippot—, had high hopes of winning (but didn’t). One interesting bit of information in the segment concerns the FN’s decision not to endorse or formally participate in the big anti-gay marriage movement of last spring, despite this being supported by the near totality of its traditional voter base (and with FN voters no doubt taking part in the demos in large numbers; for my one post on the French gay marriage issue, go here). The reason: Marine Le Pen did not want to jeopardize her budding alliance with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.

A report on Wilders follows the one on the FN. He and his party, the PVV—which speaks for some 10-15% of the Dutch electorate—, are a new kind of right-wing populist movement: liberal/libertarian on societal issues (notably on sexuality), economically free-market (though this is being watered down), and aiming its fire at Islam. Wilders’s Islamophobia—a neologism I don’t like but which is apt in his case—is well known and hardly needs explication, except to mention that this has enabled Wilders to avoid formally stigmatizing Muslims qua Muslims or to speak about immigration more generally. A clever sleight of hand. The ARTE report says that Wilders could eventually become prime minister, which I doubt. His latest dérapage probably hasn’t enhanced his prospects here, that’s for sure.

The final report is from Hungary, on the neo-Naziish Jobbik—which received a shocking 20.5% of the vote in last Sunday’s legislative election—and, above all, Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz, which took 44.5% (a drop of 8% from the 2010 election), though with 67% of the national assembly seats. The dérive autoritaire in Hungary has been written about extensively—e.g. see the 5-part series by Princeton University’s Kim Lane Scheppele, published in February on Paul Krugman’s blog. That the European Union has failed to take decisive action against Hungary is an absolute scandal. Then again, the reason for this inaction—as the report makes fairly clear—may have to do with the critical support offered to Orbán inside the EU’s institutions, his Fidesz being a member of the European Parliament’s current majority party, the European People’s Party (EPP), and whose other constituents include the German CDU, the French UMP, and the Spanish PP—not to mention European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s home party, the Portuguese PSD.

This underscores the importance of next month’s elections to the European Parliament, of depriving the EPP of a majority and preventing the establishment of a parliamentary group by an alliance of far right-wing populist parties led by Le Pen and Wilders.

The documentary may be viewed on ARTE’s website here through next Tuesday.

Marine Le Pen & Geert Wilders, The Hague, November 13 2013

Marine Le Pen & Geert Wilders, The Hague, November 13 2013

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

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I initially had no interest in seeing this—the trailer didn’t hook me at all; not my kind of movie, even though I thought that the one other film I’d seen by Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom,” was pretty good—but in view of the stellar reviews on both sides of the Atlantic plus the gushing recommendation from friends and colleagues, decided what the hell, so I went with a friend two evenings ago. And it’s not bad at all. Agreeably entertaining, droll, offbeat characters and an A-list cast… On passe un bon moment. But its Adventures of Tintin portrait of the Old Europe has a more somber side, as Wes Anderson was influenced by the work Stefan Zweig, who witnessed Europe’s descente aux enfers during the calamitous decade of the 1930s and committed suicide in 1942. Voilà a few articles on this aspect of the film:

Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Promises to Make Americans Rediscover the Books of Stefan Zweig,” by Jason Diamond, in Flavorwire (February 7th).

‘I stole from Stefan Zweig': Wes Anderson on the author who inspired his latest movie,” in The Telegraph (March 8th). The lede: As his film The Grand Budapest Hotel hits cinemas, Wes Anderson talks to George Prochnik about its inspiration, the early 20th century Austrian author Stefan Zweig.

Stefan Zweig, Wes Anderson, and a longing for the past,” by Richard Brody, in The New Yorker (March 14th).

Wes Anderson’s Elegy to Stefan Zweig,” by Max Nelson, in the Los Angeles Review of Books (March 14th).

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nsa-fort-meade_tx700

[update below] [2nd update below]

This is my first post on the NSA/Edward Snowden brouhaha, which I have admittedly not been following extremely closely. Lots of headlines, a newspaper article read to the end here and there, reports on the TV and radio news, that’s about it. Certain gauchiste FB friends have gotten all bent out of shape over the affair, poussant des cris d’orfraie, announcing that they will henceforth be encrypting their emails (as if anyone could care less what they have to say about anything), etc etc. I abstractly understand that there may be constitutional and civil liberties issues at stake here but don’t personally feel concerned by it, as I just don’t care if the NSA is logging my emails and records of my phone calls along with trillions of others. A couple of grains of sand on a long stretch of coastline. I have no illusions about the potential—indeed the present-day ability—of the US government to behave arbitrarily and/or in a repressive manner, but don’t see it being realized through electronic surveillance. And what does privacy mean nowadays anyway? If I have anything really confidential to tell someone, I’m certainly not going to do it via email or social networks, NSA PRISM or not. I’m sorry but Big Brother just doesn’t worry me.

But I have now been compelled to read into the NSA/Snowden business, as a couple of students in a Master’s course I teach will be doing a class presentation on the subject tomorrow (they proposed it). So I have had to inform myself and particularly on the European angle—being in France and the students French—and the revelations of the NSA’s surveillance of Angela Merkel’s and other European leaders’ phone calls. Of the numerous articles and analyses I’ve read on this aspect of the affair, the one I’ve found the most useful is by ex-CIA case officer Reuel Marc Gerecht in TWS, “When to spy on our friends: The NSA in Europe.” As he argues, it is not only normal that America should spy on its friends—as the friends spy on America—but there are excellent reasons to do so, and this includes eavesdropping on the communications of allied leaders, who may be engaged in their own dealings, sometimes shady, with non-allies (e.g. Gerhard Schröder with the Russians); pursing particular policies that may collide with those of the US; or may be penetrated themselves by enemy intelligence services (remember Günter Guillaume?). European allies know this, which is why their publicly indignant reactions after the latest revelations are to be taken with a grain of salt.

Gerecht also had a good piece in June on the American side of the issue, “The costs and benefits of the NSA: The data-collection debate we need to have is not about civil liberties.” Gerecht nails it in these two articles, IMO.

Jennifer Sims of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs echoes Gerecht in a good piece on the Foreign Affairs website last week, “I Spy… Why allies watch each other.”

French physicist and former research director at the Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, Jacques Villain, had a salutary op-ed in the October 25th Le Monde, informing the reader that “Les Etats-Unis n’ont jamais cessé d’espionner la France.” But France, so he reminds us, has seriously spied on the United States as well. Ce qui est tout à fait normal.

It is also tout à fait normal for Europeans and everyone else to try to protect themselves from the NSA’s mega-vacuuming of their metadata—as this analysis in today’s NYT explicates—, notably by working to break America’s near total control of the Internet.

Stephen Walt had a good post on his Foreign Policy blog last week as to whether or not the US is getting its money’s worth with the NSA spying—that can justify the massive resources consecrated to it (and that offsets diplomatic problems generated by revelations of the NSA’s reach). And last June Walt had a blog post spelling out “The real threat [to Americans] behind the NSA surveillance programs.” Ordinary Americans may not have much to worry about but potential government whistle blowers, investigative journalists, and the like may indeed need to worry.

Eric Posner, in a review essay in TNR, “Before you reboot the NSA, think about this: The paradox of reforming the secrecy-industrial complex,” ponders how to implement effective institutional oversight of the NSA. The book under review is Princeton political scientist Rahul Sagar’s Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy, which looks to be the one to read on the topic.

In this vein, Jeffrey Rosen wrote an op-ed for Le Monde, “PRISM, un défi pour le droit,” on NSA espionage and what judicial recourse may be available to French citizens.

Affaire à suivre.

ADDENDUM:  It turns out that I had a post on the NSA affair back in July. Totally forgot about it.

UPDATE: Le Monde has a page 2 article, dated November 29th, entitled “La France, précieux partenaire de l’espionnage de la NSA.”

2nd UPDATE: The National Interest has a piece, dated December 4th, on “Why we must spy on our allies.” The author, Elbridge Colby, served with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and with the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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EU Profiler

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Last year I linked to the Politest: le test pour se positionner politiquement, i.e. the test to see where one is situated politically in France (here, with questions translated into English). There’s a similar test—which I just learned about—, EU Profiler, that was devised for the 2009 elections to the European parliament, that tells which parties one is closest to in all European countries. To take the test, go here (on peut le prendre en français et d’autres langues européennes aussi).

Here are the parties in selected European countries that the EU Profiler informs me I am closet to:

France: PRG followed by PS (my Politest result was the other way around)
UK (England): Liberal Democrats
Germany: SPD
Italy: Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (don’t know a thing about them)
Spain: Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds (huh?) followed by PSOE
Greece: PASOK (ugh)
Poland: SLD-UP
Turkey: Özgürlük ve Dayanışma Partisi (don’t know them but they sound sympathique)

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The Brussels Business

Bruxelles-business

For those interested in the EU, today’s New York Times has a must read article on the “Lobbying bonanza as firms try to influence European Union.” American public relations and law firms are heavily involved, and importing Washington/K Street practices to Brussels—and with all that that implies in terms of $$$ and legalized corruption.

On this precise subject, there is an excellent, must see 1½ hour documentary, ‘The Brussels Business‘, that has aired on television in Europe over the past year. It may be watched in its entirety on YouTube here. La version française peut être regardée sur la site web d’ARTE ici ou sur YouTube ici.

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U zemlji krvi i meda

The other day, at one of the universities I teach at, I was chitchatting with an administrative staffer, a naturalized French citizen from Bosnia-Herzegovina (Mostar)—she came to France in the 1990s, in her teens—and who is about to go there for her summer vacation. We talked about the wars in Yugoslavia in the ’90s, particularly in Bosnia, and, as is my wont, I mentioned the movies I’d seen recently on the general subject. One of them, which I caught on DVD last month, was Angelina Jolie’s 2011 ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’, on the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose narrative hook is the relationship between a Serb militiaman and a Bosniak female prisoner he takes under his protection, whom he had met at a Sarajevo nightclub before the war. Reviews for the film were generally positive in both the US and France, though a few were mixed. I thought it was good and tip my figurative hat to Angelina Jolie for making it (and for it being in Serbo-Croatian, a language she doesn’t speak). Now the film is a tad propagandistic and manichean, as the Bosniaks are portrayed as the victims and the Serbs the bad guys. The latter are really evil in the film, even when one or two of them try not to be. But Angelina J.’s portrayal is correct. The Serbs were the bad guys in Bosnia-Herzegovina. They really did murder at will, rape countless women—and the pic is explicit on this—, and behave in a genocidal manner toward the Bosniaks (as even if what happened in B-H in 1992-95 may not qualify stricto sensu as a genocide, the genocidal logic of the Serbs’ démarche can hardly be denied). One would have to be a fanaticized Serbian nationalist—or a deranged Muslimophobic pro-Serb foreigner—to insist otherwise. I won’t say that the film was perfect from beginning to end but I liked the politics and perspective, found the acting good—and particularly the protag, played by Zana Marjanović—, and it more than held my attention. For details, see the review in Salon by Andrew O’Hehir.

Briefly, on two other films from the ex-Yugoslavia seen in recent months (these at the cinema). One was ‘Children of Sarajevo’, by Aida Begić (who lived through the 1992-95 siege). The pic is about a 23-year-old named Rahima (actress Marija Pikić) and her 14-year-old brother, Nedim, who are orphans from the war and fending for themselves in contemporary Sarajevo, she supporting the two of them with a petit boulot. Rahima, one learns, had a dissolute adolescence but has now found religion and wears a headscarf, and is trying to protect her brother from getting into trouble (as he is, notably with a classmate who is the son of a government minister; the corruption of the nouveaux riche ruling class is a theme). It’s a small film, not too bad, but also not essential IMO. Reviews are here, here, and here.

The other one was the Serbian ‘Clip’, by youthful director Maja Miloš. Apparently inspired by the 1995 indie pic ‘Kids’—that I’ve never seen—, it’s set in a trashy, soulless cité in a trashy, soulless town somewhere near Belgrade, about teenage airheads who, when not at their trashy high school, spend their time listening to trashy music, surfing trashy Internet web sites, playing with their cell phones, consuming intoxicating substances, and engaging in porn-inspired sex acts (which are rather explicit). The guys are violence-prone assholes, the girls stupid, and the adults both. I went to see the pic strictly on the recommendation of Le Monde’s thumbs up review. During the thing I was slightly embarrassed to be watching it, wondering why I was subjecting myself to this (not to mention wasting my time), even though the pic is “serious,” has been screened at film fests, and even won awards. The director clearly had a point to make about aimless youth, life in contemporary Serbia, or something. US reviews (mainly positive) are here and here. Chacun son goût.

djeca

klip

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Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010  (photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Emine, Tayyip & Angela, Istanbul, March 29 2010
(photo: Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

[update below]

Europe edition.

Reuters had a dispatch on Thursday on “Turkey warn[ing] Germany not to play politics over EU entry talks,” which quotes Turkish EU affairs minister Egemen Bağış trash talking Angela Merkel, who has criticized the Turkish govt’s response to the protest movement

If Mrs Merkel is looking for domestic political material for her elections, that material should not be Turkey…If Mrs Merkel looks into it she will see that those who mess about with Turkey do not have an auspicious end…

Yeah, don’t mess with Turkey. Or else…

The prospect of Turkey joining the EU in the coming decade has been looking increasingly improbable these past two or three years but with this kind of talk—not to mention the fallout of the protests—, I would say the probability has lessened that much further.

And then there’s this report of PM Erdoğan “declar[ing] that foreign-led conspirators he alleges are behind the anti-government movement in his country also are fomenting the recent unrest in Brazil,” with him saying (and I trust the translation of the quote is accurate)

“The same game is now being played over Brazil…The symbols are the same, the posters are the same, Twitter, Facebook are the same, the international media is the same. They (the protests) are being led from the same center…They are doing their best to achieve in Brazil what they could not achieve in Turkey. It’s the same game, the same trap, the same aim.”

One wonders who this “center” is and who “they” are. And if the good Turkish PM doesn’t, by chance, have them in mind…

I think it would be nice for a modern, forward-looking Turkey to join the EU in the next decade—say, on the centennial of the founding of the Turkish republic—, but if this is the prevailing mentality at the summit of the Turkish state, no way. Not a chance.

À propos, Yigal Schleifer has a post on the informative EurasiaNet website asserting that “‘Kneejerk Anti-Westernism’ could complicate Ankara’s foreign policy.” And not only with Europe. Looks like Turkey has gone from having zero problems with its neighbors to having all sorts of problem with them. And with countries that are not its neighbors.

Also à propos, Turkish Policy Quarterly has an article (written before the current protests) by U. of Toronto doctoral candidate Tuba Eldem, “The End of Turkey’s Europeanization?

And if all this weren’t enough, the WSJ’s Moneybeat blog had a downbeat post on Friday on the Turkish economy, saying that “Turkey can’t catch a break.”

À suivre.

UPDATE: Twenty prominent Turkish academicians, artists, and intellectuals have signed a letter (en français) to the foreign affairs ministers of the EU member states—”Un appel des démocrates turcs à l’UE“—calling on the European Council not to freeze Turkey’s accession negotiations to the EU. Turkish liberals—who are with the protest movement to a man and woman—are strongly supportive of Turkey’s EU candidacy and would clearly feel undercut if the prospect of membership were to fade.

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hannah-arendt

The movie. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. It should not be labeled a biopic, as it focuses on only two episodes of Hannah Arendt’s life: of her coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial—and the controversy that followed the publication of her articles in The New Yorker—and her youthful relationship with Martin Heidegger (though this part, treated in flashbacks, receives lesser attention). It’s a well done film, impeccably depicts the German émigré academic-intellectual milieu in New York in the early 1960s, and with a first-rate performance by Barbara Sukowa. I wasn’t aware of the extent of the firestorm Arendt’s articles on the Eichmann trail provoked in the American Jewish community. The film clearly takes Arendt’s side (her speech at Bard College, where she defended her intellectual integrity against her detractors, is the high point of the film). French reviews have been good. For reviews in English, see the ones by New School sociologist Jeffrey Goldfarb, feminist blogger Mary Creighton, and Spiegel Online. The film opens in the US at the end of the month. [See update below]

I’ve seen two other films lately on Germany and Nazis. One was ‘Lore’, by Australian director Cate Shortland (the film is in German, though she doesn’t speak it). The film follows the children of a Nazi family—father in the SS, mother a Nazi ideologue—at the end of the war, who are left by their parents to fend for themselves, to make their way on foot to their grandmother’s home near Hamburg, which is a few hundred km to the north from where they set out. The whole movie is of their journey through the countryside—of the children of the Nazi elite reduced to penury and in the sauve qui peut atmosphere of 1945 Germany—, and of their encounter with a young man who passes himself off for a Jew. It’s a good film, particularly for the performance of the remarkable teenage actress Saskia Rosendahl. The pic opened in the US in February and reviews were good.

LORE_Plakat_A1_Layout 1

The other film was ‘Combat Girls’ (in France: ‘Guerrière'; the German title, ‘Kriegerin’, means ‘warrior’), which is about contemporary neo-Nazi skinheads in the former East Germany and with the protag a 20 year-old neo-Nazi woman named Marisa (actress Alina Levshin). The film opens with the neo-Nazi gang marauding through a train physically assaulting anyone of non-European origin. During the scene I asked myself why I was subjecting myself to this, that coming to see the film was maybe a mistake. There is no lower specimen of humanity than neo-Nazis, and having to watch them for an hour and a half on the screen is not pleasant. But it turned out not to be a bad film, as it shows Marisa—who is full of rage and hate—to be a complex character and who is carrying baggage from her difficult family history. And in the link she forms with a teenage refugee from Afghanistan—which at first seemed contrived but finally wasn’t—, she shows herself to have at least an ounce of humanity—and unlike the lowlife reptiles of her neo-Nazi gang, who have none whatever. Reviews of the pic are here and here.

A few days after seeing the film I read this article in Le Monde about a trial of five neo-Nazis that is presently underway in Germany, which is the biggest trial of its kind there since that of the Baader-Meinhof gang in 1977. One learns that 152 murders have been committed by neo-Nazis in Germany, mainly in the east, since reunification in 1990. That’s a lot. Neo-Nazis are marginal in Germany but not as marginal as they should be.

UPDATE: The Jewish Daily Forward has a review essay (May 26th) of ‘Hannah Arendt’ by Beate Sissenich, visiting scholar at New York University’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies. The concluding paragraph

Anyone with a passing interest in 20th-century social theory will benefit from seeing this film, but no one should expect to receive from it an education in either philosophy or Holocaust history. It succeeds best as a sociology of intellectuals who were grappling with one of the fundamental cataclysms of the 20th century that they themselves had barely escaped — genocide on an industrial scale.

kriegerin

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Margaret Thatcher R.I.P.

margaret thatcher 1983

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I was initially not going to write anything about her passing but seeing that my FB timeline is inundated with posts on her—90% of it vitriol and hate from my numerous gauchiste FB friends—I suppose I should add my 2¢ as well (and no more than that). I was not a Thatcherite, loin s’en faut, disliking her out of gauchiste ideological reflex. But I couldn’t get too worked up over her, as I’m not a Brit, spent all of two weeks in England during her years in power, and was too consumed by my detestation of the Reagan administration to get overly emotional on what was happening across the pond. And I did support her sending the Royal Navy to the Falklands in ’82 (and made no secret of it). Rising to the top of a male-dominated political world when she did and imposing her authority also aroused a certain admiration. I liked Shirley Williams but don’t know if she would have had a chance at the time, even if the UK had had a different electoral system. In this respect, Thatcher was blessed by the first-past-the-post system—the Tories did not receive more than 43% of the vote in any of the elections she won—, the divided opposition, and lack of checks-and-balances in the British system, meaning she had free rein to impose her legislation. And she was especially blessed by the calamitous state of the Trotskyist-infiltrated Labour party and the trade unions, and notably Arthur Scargill’s mine workers. Between Thatcher and Scargill, one had little choice but to tilt toward the former. À propos, Libération has an interview with left-wing French economist Denis Clerc, who, in an otherwise negative assessment of Thatcher’s record, said that Thatcher’s victory in the miners conflict was necessary, as British unions had become a conservative force clinging to an economic model that Britain could no longer sustain.

Mrs. Thatcher may have been hated by British (and US) leftists but French Socialists—who were in power during most of the time she was—had a certain admiration for her (as a leader and interlocutor, if not politically). And François Mitterrand definitely did (saying that she had the eyes of Stalin and the smile of Marilyn Monroe). As for Thatcher’s economic policies, the main thing she did was privatize. So did the French right during the first cohabitation (1986-88). And the Socialists did even more from 1997 onward. But she didn’t privatize the NHS, and the disastrous privatization of British Rail was the doing of John Major. Thatcher also kept the Bank of England under political control. As for her Euroscepticism and opposition to EMU, she had good company in France (Jean-Pierre Chevènement, Charles Pasqua, Philippe Séguin…). On Thatcher’s privatizations, here’s a 1994 academic article by political scientist (and personal friend) Stathis Kalyvas, “Hegemony Breakdown: The Collapse of Nationalization in Britain and France.” And here’s a piece by historian Harold James on “Margaret Thatcher’s Lessons for Europe.” I’ll link to more good stuff I come across.

One thing. All sorts of lefties on FB are asserting that Thatcher called Nelson Mandela a “terrorist” in the 1980s. I’ve been trying to find a precise quote and but haven’t been able to, which leads me to think that maybe she never said such a thing about Mandela (as opposed to the ANC, which she did label “terrorist” in the ’80s). She did oppose imposing sanctions on South Africa, which is known, but it seems that she lobbied the apartheid regime to release Mandela. If anyone has specific information on this, do let me know.

ADDENDUM: On the Thatcher biopic ‘The Iron Lady‘, the US reviews of which were mixed, I wrote the following on this blog last June 17th

It’s hard to make a really good biopic. Some succeed, more don’t. This one did not, and despite Meryl Streep’s stellar performance (her Oscar was well-deserved). Too much on Mrs. Thatcher’s descent into Alzheimer’s, not enough on her years in power. The latter was given short shrift in the pic, which I could not understand. Whatever one thinks of Thatcher—and few are neutral on her, politically or on her persona—she was one of the major political figures in the Western world of the past half century. She deserved a better cinematic treatment than this.

French reviews weren’t too positive either. Don’t know how the pic was received in Britain, though leftists—critics and audiences alike—no doubt trashed it.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan, who was a teenage Thatcherite, assesses her legacy here (he calls her a “liberator”).

2nd UPDATE: Paul Krugman asks—with graphs and data—”Did Thatcher turn Britain around?” Answer: insofar as she did, it didn’t happen while she was in office. Bruce Bartlett, in discussing “The legend of Margaret Thatcher,” reminds us that taxes as a share of GDP sharply increased under Thatcher, spending was not reduced, and she left office with the welfare state intact. And like all Brits, she strongly supported the National Health Service. US Republicans take note. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy reminisces on “Maggie and me: how Thatcher changed Britain.” Martin Wolf has a column in the FT on “Thatcher: the great reformer,” in which he observes, entre autres, that Thatcher was a pragmatic politician who showed little interest in embarking on politically suicidal attempts to dismantle the welfare state, and certainly not the NHS, and that public spending never fell below 39% of GDP under her watch. Again, US Republicans take note.

3rd UPDATE: The Guardian has published an epitaph for Mrs. Thatcher written by Hugo Young, a Thatcher biographer (not sympathetic) and longtime Guardian political columnist, days before he died in 2003, “Margaret Thatcher left a dark legacy that has still not disappeared.” Among other things, he had this to say

Thatcherism failed to destroy the welfare state. The lady was too shrewd to try that, and barely succeeded in reducing the share of the national income taken by the public sector. But the sense of community evaporated. There turned out to be no such thing as society, at least in the sense we used to understand it. Whether pushing each other off the road, barging past social rivals, beating up rival soccer fans, or idolising wealth as the only measure of virtue, Brits became more unpleasant to be with. This regrettable transformation was blessed by a leader who probably did not know it was happening because she didn’t care if it happened or not. But it did, and the consequences seem impossible to reverse.

And this

on the subject of Europe, Thatcher became a contradictory figure. She led Britain further into Europe, while talking us further out. Endeavouring to persuade the British into an attitude of hostility to the group with which she spent 11 years deepening their connection must take a high place in any catalogue of anti-statesmanship. This, too, we still live with.

The Washington Post has republished on its website a piece dated December 22 2011 by Thatcher biographer Claire Berlinski (sympathetic), “Five myths about Margaret Thatcher,” in which she says this about Mrs. Thatcher’s European convictions

Yes, she is known as the great Euroskeptic. But the peculiar truth is that for most of her career, she was a passionate advocate of European unification. In 1975, she led the Tory faction of the “Vote Yes” campaign in referendum to determine whether Britain should stay in the Common Market, the precursor to the modern European Union. The Single European Act of 1986, which revised the Treaty of Rome to expand the power of the European Economic Community, as the Common Market was then known, was her initiative.

On the subject of Thatcher and Europe, a friend who worked with the EC/EU for much of his career wrote to me in an email today (April 9) that

One aspect that seems to be missed is the great irony of her career. She was a main driver of the expansion if the EU and turned it into a thoroughly “British” affair (by which I mean driven by free market ideology. She pushed the Single European Act which has done for Europe what the Interstate commerce act did for the US. The SEA created the internal market and caused the number of regulations (loose use of the word) to increase by orders of magnitude.

My friend also added this Anglo-French pun, that apparently never caught on: Thatch = chaume. Thatcher = chaumeur = chômeur. :-D

Re Hugo Young above, the LRB has a lengthy 1989 review by R.W. Johnson of Young’s biography of Thatcher. Also on the LRB website is this 1994 piece by Christopher Hitchens in which he describes being spanked (literally) by Mrs. T.

4th UPDATE: Political scientist Stephen Benedict Dyson has interesting essay, “Margaret Thatcher, her personality and politics,” on the academic website The Monkey Cage. And Anthony Barnett of OpenDemocracy has a piece on “Thatcher and the words no one mentions: North Sea Oil.”

5th UPDATE: Paul Krugman has a blog post on Thatcher’s penchant for regressive taxation, in which he informs us who is “Margaret Thatcher’s true heir“: Bobby Jindal. John Palmer, think tank wonk and former Guardian editor, informs us in the fine website Social Europe Journal that “Margaret Thatcher’s social and economic ‘revolution’ has proved a failure.” Nicolas Gros-Verheyde on the Bruxelles2 blog has a good post on Thatcher’s European convictions. And on NRO, a website I look at as little as possible, Claire Berlinski (supra) is interviewed on why “Thatcher matters.” Claire may be a Thatcherite but is no hack. Her views are nuanced and complex, even if I’m not on the same political page as she. At some point I’ll read her biography of Mrs. T.

6th UPDATE: The leftist Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis has a very good, balanced assessment, “Farewell Mrs Thatcher: In spite of everything, you are being missed already.” In TNR, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes on “The importance of being prickly: How Margaret Thatcher ruled,” in which he discusses, entre autres, the dim view Mrs. T had of much of the Reagan administration’s foreign policy. And Stylist magazine, in assessing the legacy of the Iron Lady, asks “Was Thatcher a feminist?

7th UPDATE: Theodore Dalrymple of the conservative Manhattan Institute has an interesting assessment of Mrs. T’s legacy on the Liberty Law Blog, in which he asks “What hath Thatcher wrought?” For his part, Ali Gharib on the Open Zion blog asks “What kind of friend to Israel was Thatcher?” (Answer: she was a friend but not uncritically). Historian David Cannadine, writing in the NYT, poses his question, “How should we rank Margaret Thatcher?” And IFRI’s Politique Étrangère blog reprints a 1989 portrait (en français) of la Dame de fer—which is not too tender—by the late defense analyst and Tory party member, Hugh Hanning.

8th UPDATE: Economist John Van Reenen has analysis at VoxEU on “Mrs Thatcher’s economic legacy.” And the trendy Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, in “a leftist tribute to Thatcher,” says that

What we need today, in this situation, is a Thatcher of the left: a leader who would repeat Thatcher’s gesture in the opposite direction, transforming the entire field of presuppositions shared by today’s political elite of all main orientations.

To which a lefty friend—who may or may not have been joking—responded: yes, Chairman Mao! Well, if that’s the leftist answer to Mrs. T, I’ll take Mrs. T any old day…

9th UPDATE: I had a lively exchange on FB over this post with a leftist FB friend named Joel, who expressed indignation at what he saw as my limp-wristed critique—if not backhanded defense—of Margaret Thatcher. Here is my portion of the exchange (Joel has deleted his, though one may divine its tenor from my remarks)

Joel, thanks for your comments. I was not focused on ridiculing knee-jerk leftists – I think you’re overly sensitive here – even though knee-jerk leftists do sometimes merit ridicule. On what happened to the British economy under Thatcher, I am familiar with the story and data, but given the calamitous state of that economy when she came to power, I wonder how different it would have been (in terms of unemployment and inflation) had Labour or the Tory wets been at the helm in the 1980s. As for the privatization of enterprises in the competitive, productive sector of the economy, this was going to happen sooner or later anyway, as it did in France (and on this specific issue, I’m a neoliberal). On trade unions, I’m totally for them, except when they become rent-seeking, conservative, and retrograde, which was indeed the case for at least some in the TUC. In very specific cases, unions sometimes do deserve to be smashed (as I’ve argued on my blog in re to a couple of cases in France). And in the conflict between Thatcher and the Stalin-praising Scargill, I will reiterate here my tilt toward the former, no apologies. Thatcher’s economic legacy is the only question that interests me – I couldn’t care less if she embraced Pinochet or Zia ul-Haq – and on this, I follow the lead of economists like Krugman. The verdict: mixed, with a lot of negative points but not totally so.

I’m struck by the torrent of hatred toward Mrs. T. on FB, and almost all from non-Brits at that. It’s as virulent as the Sarkozy hatred on the left in France. Now, I finally couldn’t stand Sarko myself and desperately wanted him to lose the last election, but found the hatred toward him – including in my immediate entourage – unhinged and bordering on the irrational. It seems to be likewise with Thatcher, and with much of it fueled by her public persona more than her policies (and over twenty years after she left the scene; personally speaking, I just can’t continue to despise politicians once they’re gone from power for good, particularly if they left in defeat; though I may make an exception here for Silvio Berlusconi). She personally got under the skin of a lot of people. But insofar as the hatred is due to her policies, it would be useful for lefties to look in the mirror and do a little auto-critiquing themselves, as the Labour party was in pretty bad shape in the late 70s-80s (and by lurching left in the 1983 elections, enabled Thatcher to win easy reelection). The fact is, the Labour party – and particularly its Tony Benn wing – was not credible in the early 80s and had no chance of rallying anything approaching an electoral majority (if the UK had had PR and necessitating coalition govts, the Alliance would have no doubt joined with the Tories rather than Labour in ’83)…

Following Joel’s rejoinder (deleted), I riposted

Joel, the last thing I’m going to do is go to bat for Thatcher’s policies. Seriously. But your rage against the course of history over the past few decades – to which I am not unsympathetic – strikes me as manichean and devoid of any autocritique of the left (Labour party and the unions) and its role in facilitating Thatcher’s rise to power. In point of fact, many features of the postwar UK (and US) economic model had become unsustainable by the late 1970s – politically speaking at least – and had to be reinvented. Listen, those coal mines were not going to be kept open and industry in the competitive sector of the economy was not going to remain under state control. The only alternative I can glean from your denunciation is a Soviet-style command economy behind high protectionist barriers. But this model failed miserably everywhere it was implemented. And there was no electoral majority for it, and certainly not in the 1970s and ’80s (let alone today). There is no getting around this fact.

Joel may have had a response here but I left it at that.

10th UPDATE: Martin Sieff, who belongs to an outfit called the Globalist Research Center, says that “Thatcher lives! In Moscow.” Interesting take. (April 19)

11th UPDATE: The New York Times has an article on newly declassified British “[d]ocuments show[ing] Thatcher-Reagan rift over U.S. decision to invade Grenada.” (August 1)

12th UPDATE: LSE emeritus prof John Gray has an essay in TNR on “Margaret Thatcher’s unintended legacies.” The lede: “She wanted a conservative, middle-class England. She delivered anything but.” (August 23)

The-Iron-Lady

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