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Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

The Scottish referendum

Referendum on Scottish independence

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

I didn’t pay too much attention to it until the poll ten days ago that showed the ‘yes’ in the lead for the very first time. Now I have never set foot in Scotland—which is too bad for me, as I know for a fact that it is a beautiful and wonderful country—but am deeply concerned by the outcome of Thursday’s vote. Simply stated, I will categorically assert that a ‘yes’ victory would be a disaster: for Scotland, the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world. I am totally, unalterably, 100% distressed by and hostile to this eventuality. Period.

First, for Scotland, the consequences for which I am not overly preoccupied but still. As Paul Krugman has informed us, an independent Scotland would be a very bad deal for the Scots. Krugman insists that the Scots would, macroeconomically speaking, seriously regret their decision were they to vote for independence. There would be buyers remorse galore. I won’t repeat Krugman’s argument here. Just read what The Man has to say.

Secondly, for the United Kingdom. Regardless of how one feels about successive British governments over the past three decades and their embrace of neoliberalism and deregulated finance capitalism, it would really be terrible if Scotland were amputated from the UK. Politically speaking, a UK minus Scotland would lurch to the right. The Tories plus the UKIP would dominate, with an eventual Labour party government—even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats—nigh impossible in the short and medium term. For this reason alone, no one on the left side of the political spectrum in England or Wales can possibly wish for Scottish independence. And geopolitically speaking, the UK would be greatly diminished, as Gideon Rachman and Bernard Guetta have asserted, and with a possible departure of Northern Ireland in the cards. A UK without Scotland would eventually be downgraded to the geopolitical rank of Italy. The Brits would no longer be geopolitical players, at least not to the extent that they are, and with their permanent seat on the UNSC increasingly tough to justify. This eventuality is not in the interests of the UK. Nor of the USA, Europe, or most of the rest of the world.

Thirdly, for Europe, and this is the really big deal. First, a UK minus Scotland—with its pro-Europe voters—would almost certainly opt to quit the European Union. This would be a body blow to the EU and entire European project, needless to say. An EU without the UK would be amputated in the same way as the UK without Scotland. The EU would be that much less of a player dans la cour des grands (USA, China, Japan, Russia). Secondly, Scottish independence would have a certain demonstration effect on Spain/Catalonia and Belgium/Flanders, culminating in the breakup of two more core European states. In addition to the uncertain economic consequences—which would certainly not be positive—a Europe further fragmented would hardly be able to go toe-to-toe with the US or Russia as an equal. The power of the EU in global trade negotiations or as a geopolitical actor would be diminished. The EU’s status as a relative geopolitical dwarf would be set in concrete. This eventuality, it goes without saying, is not in the interests of anyone in Europe. Thirdly, a UK exit from the EU and breakup of Spain would consecrate Germany as the uncontested hegemonic power on the continent. The Germans would certainly be fine with this but would other Europeans?

Fourthly, for the world. The centrifugal demonstration effect of the UK’s breakup would be felt in several corners of Asia that I need not mention. A Scottish breakaway would be geopolitically destabilizing and profoundly so—and the last thing the planet needs right now is more instability. It would be a geopolitical earthquake, as more than one has put it. And in diminishing the already diminutive geopolitical role of the European Union, the geopolitical power of the USA, Russia, and China would increase ever more. Now this would not displease these three Great Powers but would it be in the interests of the rest of the world? Je ne crois pas.

A final point, and which—for me at least—is fundamental. Scottish nationalism is nationalism, and I hate nationalism. Now nationalism can be a progressive and/or understandable force in nations under occupation or that suffer discrimination inside multinational states. E.g. pre-1962 Algerian nationalism was utterly justified, as were all nationalisms in colonies against colonial powers. But such does not pertain to the Scottish nation, which suffers no discrimination whatever in the multinational state of the United Kingdom. And what is the problem with multinational states, so long as each national group is equally treated and with its culture respected? As Niall Ferguson—whom I would normally not link to favorably—has argued, the Scots have had a good deal in their three centuries-long marriage with England. The marriage has been one of equals. Cf. Quebec, whose separatists have had half an argument in view of the history of linguistic discrimination in the province until the 1970s, or Belgian Flanders, whose separatists have a quarter of an argument on account of their past humiliations when the Francophones were dominant. And Catalans in Spain have a semblance of an argument given their shabby past treatment by the Spanish state. Now I am not sympathetic to any of these separatisms but at least they’re based on a concrete history of past grievance and by nations that speak a different language from the dominant or other nation they wish to divorce. In the Scottish case, though, there is is no justification whatever. Scottish separatism is, as one political science wag aptly put it on social media the other day, petty bourgeois nationalism. Scots cannot claim that they are disfavored qua Scots in the multinational, linguistically united United Kingdom, particularly in view of the devolution of 1999 (and the increased autonomy that is sure to be granted them in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum). Scottish separatism is pure egotism, as was, e.g., that of the government in Prague in 1993 when it cast out the poorer Slovakia. And the Scottish nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, is a two-bit rogue out for power, as Edinburgh political scientist Tom Gallagher reliably informs us. As for all the younger generation Scots who will be voting ‘aye’ on Thursday, they’ve simply bought into a stupid ass bullshit nationalist narrative and which has nothing whatever to do with their personal lives or life chances, which are every bit as good—or maybe not so good—inside the United Kingdom as they could possibly be in an independent Scotland. C’est affligeant.

Another final point. Author Emile Simpson writes of the injustice he feels as a Briton in helplessly watching as Scots set about dismantling the United Kingdom and without anyone in the UK outside of Scotland—including the hundreds of thousands of Scots who live south of the border—having anything to say about it. Now this is ultimately the fault of David Cameron, who stupidly agreed to the referendum and the terms under which it is being organized. But still, it is just crazy that the breakup of Great Britain should be decided by a simple majority in a single ballot by less than ten percent of its population.

For the record, I predict that the ‘no’ will carry the day, with 53% of the vote. Inshallah.

UPDATE: John Oliver has spot on—and very funny—commentary on the Scottish referendum. Watch here.

2nd UPDATE: The Democracy Now! website has a most interesting 23-minute debate, “Should Scotland vote for independence? Musician Billy Bragg vs. historian Sam Wetherell.” Both Bragg and Wetherell are on the left but are taking opposed positions in the referendum. I entirely agree with the smart and well-spoken Wetherell, needless to say. See also his article in Jacobin, “Exit Stage Right: The Case Against Scottish Independence.”

3rd UPDATE: Gordon Brown gave a great speech on the eve of the vote. Watch here.

4th UPDATE: Robert Reich’s Facebook status update four hours before the closing of the polls in Scotland is worth reading and meditating on

Nationhood doesn’t mean what it used to. Even if a majority of Scots decide to secede today, a separate Scotland will probably still use the same currency as England, remain part of the Eurozone (no visas or passports required to enter Scotland), and coordinate major policies with Parliament and Whitehall.

The only real beneficiaries will be large global corporations. They’ll have more bargaining leverage over a separate Scotland. Global corporations like separatism and “devolution” (a fancy term for pushing responsibility down to state, regional, or provincial governments) because both allow them to play governments against each other with ever bigger tax breaks, subsidies, and favorable regulations. In the United States, for example, states are in a frenzy of corporate gift-giving to attract and keep corporations and jobs.

If lefties have a response to this, I’d like to hear it.

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The World Cup – II

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: 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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