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Archive for May, 2014

Two Days, One Night

Deux jours une nuit - Affiche

The Cannes film festival ended on Saturday night. Congratulations to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for winning the Palme d’or for his 3¼-hour ‘Kış Uykusu’ (Winter Sleep). He’s a fine director—I’ve seen five of his previous six feature-length films (the last I had a post on)—and will look forward to this one when it opens in the summer.

One film that was in competition at Cannes, but which came away with nothing, was Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne’s ‘Deux jours, une nuit’ (Two Days, One Night). This is too bad, as it’s an excellent film. It opened in France on Wednesday and I, of course, had to see it illico. I will see anything and everything by the Dardenne brothers. The subject of this one is a 40ish woman named Sandra—played by the always excellent and sublime Marion Cotillard—, a mother of two with devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione), who’s coming off a bout of depression that got her onto sick leave for a few months, and is suddenly being laid off from her job at a small company (in the greater Liège area, where all the Dardenne brothers’ films are set) that makes solar panels. The procedure for her layoff—the Belgian Code du travail is clearly different from the French—was a voice vote by the personnel, the choice being for her to be laid off in return for each of them receiving a bonus of €1,000, or her not being laid off but then no bonus—and, apparently, with not-so-subtle pressure from the plant’s foreman (Olivier Gourmet) for the personnel to opt for the former. So she was canned, though with the boss, after entreaties from her and a colleague friend in the parking lot after work on Friday, agreeing to do the vote over on Monday morning and by secret ballot. So Sandra, desperate to keep her job—the unemployment rate in Belgium’s Wallonia being around 13% these days—, had the weekend to find each of her sixteen co-workers and try to persuade them to vote to retain her, but thereby foregoing their bonuses. And that’s the movie, of her, in a defeatist mood, but prodded by her supportive husband, tracking down her colleagues one-by-one, at their homes, in cafés, at their places of work in their second jobs, and putting them on the spot… It’s the best film I’ve seen in some time on the world of work for those in the lower half of the 99%, who live from paycheck to paycheck, need every last euro they make—not just to survive but also to realize their middling class consumption dreams—, and for whom the prospect of unemployment, always looming, is something that cannot be contemplated. If one wishes to be convinced of the necessity of strong trade unions and/or robust labor law—neither of which is mentioned in the pic, BTW—, see this movie. The acting is first-rate—which may be seen in range of the reactions of Sandra’s co-workers, and, of course, Marion Cotillard, who’s in almost every frame. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (tops) are here, trailer is here. Don’t miss it!

I’ve seen two other films in the past week that premiered at Cannes. One was David Cronenberg’s ‘Maps to the Stars’—for which Julianne Moore won the best actress award—, which delivers a biting critique, to put it mildly, of the us et coutumes of the amoral—when not immoral—, superficial, cynical world of Hollywood and its obsession with money and fame. Not an original theme but one that can always be approached from unique angles. The pic is definitely more watchable than Cronenberg’s last one, ‘Cosmopolis’—which was the worst film I saw in 2012—, but left me somewhat cold, as every last character is so loathsome and odious. And while I am quite sure that many in Hollywood are like those in the movie, I have a hard time believing that most are. It is not an essential film IMO but may be seen. Reviews so far are good (e.g. here, here, and here). Trailer is here.

maps-to-the-stars-poster

The other Cannes film seen was ‘The Homesman’, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. I like Tommy Lee Jones and will a priori see anything he directs. This one is a sort of road movie on the high plains, set in mid 1850s Nebraska—though mostly shot in New Mexico—, with the Jones character, named George Briggs, accompanying a headstrong, independent, no-nonsense unmarried woman—but who is actively seeking a man—, named Mary Bee Cuddy, played by a fine Hillary Swank, who has volunteered to transport three mentally disturbed plains women to Iowa. Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter called it “[a]n absorbing, melancholy look at the hard lot of women in the Old West.” I was absorbed enough, I suppose, but won’t say it’s an essential film. I mean, it was okay. It may certainly be seen. One criticism: I was not convinced by the act Mary Bee committed fifteen minutes from the end—of why she did it; I didn’t like the scene too much—or by the film’s ending. Variety’s review is here and French reviews (good) are here. Trailer is here.

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Another film seen lately, that premiered at the Berlinale in Febrary, and which, like the above, was shot in New Mexico, was Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s ‘Two Men in Town’ (French title: La Voie de l’ennemi). It’s a remake of Franco-Swiss director José Giovanni’s 1973 film of the same title—which I have not seen—, entirely set in a New Mexico border county (it’s not the first film Bouchareb has shot in the US and in English) and with the kind of Western vistas that French/European audiences like. The cast—Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Brenda Blethyn—is great. The pic is well-acted and absorbing. But it has a few implausibilities and an unsatisfying ending. So I really can’t give it the thumbs up (though it is far superior to Bouchareb’s calamitous 2010 ‘Hors-la-loi’, which is the worst movie ever made on the Algerian war of independence). Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety got it right. See also Deborah Young’s review in THR. French reviews were good overall. Trailer is here.

la voie de lennemi

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Yet one more massacre

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.  (Credit: abc7.com)

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.
(Credit: abc7.com)

[updates below]

Joe Nocera of the NYT has a must read column today on the Second Amendment, “What did the Framers really mean?” For those who are maxed out on their free NYT access or are too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Also worth reading is Michael Moore’s reaction to the Isla Vista massacre, posted on his Facebook page (h/t Lisa H.)

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

Yes, as this is America, it will indeed happen again. Very soon.

UPDATE: Americans get killed by guns every day, by people who are not criminals or “bad guys.” Every last day of the week. If one does not believe me, read the “Holiday Weekend Gun Report: May 23-26, 2014” on Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.

2nd UPDATE: Mother Jones has an interview (June 19th) with Michael Waldman, in which he talks about his book, informing us that “The Second Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does.”

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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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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.

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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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