Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Je recommande la lecture de cette fascinante, étonnante et gratifiante série en six volets, intitulée “Sarajevo-Jérusalem” et publiée dans Le Monde du 13 au 19 août, sur la communauté juive de Sarajevo, présent et passé, de son histoire de bonne entente avec les musulmans bosniaques de la ville – ville où il n’y a jamais eu de ghetto et où l’antisémitisme était quasi inexistant. Il y a eu une douzaine de milliers de juifs à Sarajevo avant la Deuxième guerre mondiale – 20% de sa population, majoritairement séfarade – dont plus de 80% ont été exterminés pendant l’occupation nazie, avec le concours des Oustachis croates. Un certain nombre des rescapés est parti en Israël après 1948, et surtout pendant le siège de Sarajevo par l’armée yougoslave serbe (1992-95) – quoique les juifs de Bosnie-Herzégovine étaient, dans leur majorité, peu pratiquant et pas très sioniste.

Ce qui reste aujourd’hui est une vibrante communauté d’un millier d’âmes qui fait partie intégrante de la ville. L’expérience sarajévienne réfute-t-elle la notion d’une Bosnie historiquement divisée en communautés vivant à couteaux tirés – et s’inscrit en faux plus généralement contre le nationalisme ambiant de notre époque. Comme on peut lire dans le sixième volet, “contrairement au mythe brandi par les nationalistes des trois dernières décennies, la coexistence ne fut pas limitée à une Yougoslavie de Tito condamnée à disparaître après sa mort, mais qu’elle fut ancrée dans l’histoire de la ville durant des siècles, répondant à un sincère besoin de bon voisinage et d’humanité des Sarajéviens.”

L’expérience sarajévienne allait au-delà du bon voisinage. Il y a eu une véritable solidarité entre juifs et musulmans (avec des mariages mixtes). À ce titre, le Jérusalem d’aujourd’hui – l’exacte contraire du vivre-ensemble, où une communauté (en l’occurrence, juive) domine les autres par la force – est implicitement posé en contre-modèle, et pour cause.

L’auteur de cette remarquable série, Rémy Ourdan, connait bien le sujet. Grand reporter au journal Le Monde, il a couvert le siège de Sarajevo durant quatre ans (et a co-réalisé un documentaire dessus) et a fait maints reportages en Israël-Palestine au fil des années.

Voilà les volets de la série:

  1. Juifs de Sarajevo: les héros ordinaires de la ‘Jérusalem de l’Europe’. —— A travers l’histoire des juifs de Sarajevo, voyage dans ces deux villes en quête d’universalité, symboles des peuples du Livre, épicentres des conflits modernes, sur les traces d’une certaine idée, réelle ou imaginaire, de la coexistence…
  2. La saga du sauvetage de la Haggadah de Sarajevo, le manuscrit sépharade le plus précieux au monde. —— Convoité par les nazis en 1942 puis menacé pendant la guerre de Bosnie, le fameux manuscrit enluminé du XIVe siècle a dû être caché à plusieurs reprises.
  3. Les mousquetaires juifs du siège de Sarajevo. —— La communauté juive a, pendant la guerre de Bosnie, lancé une incroyable opération humanitaire, organisant l’évacuation de 2 500 Sarajéviens et portant assistance aux assiégés. Israël a de son côté vu débarquer des centaines de ‘juifs sarajéviens’ très peu juifs…
  4. Les étonnantes coutumes des rabbins sarajéviens. —— A l’instar du dernier rabbin yougoslave, Cadik Danon, c’est toute une lignée de religieux, représentée aujourd’hui par Eliezer Papo et Igor Kozemjakin, qui prend des libertés avec les lois et traditions juives. Une vision du judaïsme proche de l’esprit de Sarajevo.
  5. De l’’éducation sarajévienne’ à la cause palestinienne. —— Fille d’une survivante sarajévienne de Bergen-Belsen, Amira Hass vit depuis vingt-cinq ans en Cisjordanie. Cette reporter et éditorialiste au quotidien ‘Haaretz’ défend sans relâche la cause palestinienne dans les colonnes de son journal.
  6. Sarajevo-Jérusalem, deux villes, deux destins. —— Contrairement à Sarajevo, qui a résisté avec l’énergie du désespoir à la division ethnique de la ville, les habitants de Jérusalem vivent aujourd’hui séparés et la ville sainte est plus fracturée que jamais.

Here’s a related article in Haaretz, dated 19 July 2017, by Sarajevo-based journalist Kate Bartlett: “Why Sarajevo’s tiny Jewish community believes it’s in the safest place in Europe for Jews: In a country where ethnic hatreds run deep, the Jewish community in the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ says it is not subject to anti-Semitic acts and is even enjoying a ‘baby boom’.”

Read Full Post »

Credit here

I’ve been off AWAV for a while, which a few have noticed, in part as I was away from the banks of the Marne—and on or near the shores of the Aegean—earlier this month. There’s also been too much news to follow. So much to write about, so little time. Actually, I do have some time now. One never-ending story that continues to capture attention is the Brexit psychodrama, which has entered an ever crazier phase, with the descent into insanity of a Tory party that is increasingly resembling its unhinged conservative counterpart outre-Atlantique—just take a look at the YouGov poll released last week (image below)—and the seemingly inevitable accession of Trump wannabe Boris Johnson to 10 Downing Street. That BoJo does not belong there goes without saying, former Daily Telegraph editor and well-known historian Max Hastings being the latest to remind us, in a June 24th opinion piece in The Guardian, “I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister.”

The most fascinating explanation of how a clown like BoJo could rise as high as he has—in the world’s oldest, most stable, and, so we thought, most serious democracy—may be found in a terrific “long weekend read” essay by Simon Kuper in the FT (June 21st), “How Oxford university shaped Brexit — and Britain’s next prime minister.” Kuper, an Oxford alum himself and contemporary of BoJo and other top Tories, knows the institution, its culture, and personalities comme sa poche, and offers a unique insight into the us et coutumes of the British ruling class (in the vein of the pieces by Pankaj Mishra and Joanna Scutts that I’ve linked to on the subject). It’s a must-read.

If one has lost the thread on Brexit and needs a refresher, see Ian Dunt’s “Short guide to Britain’s long attempt to leave Europe.” And if one needs a refresher on BoJo’s inveterate lying and mythomania—rendering him utterly untrustworthy by his future EU partners and not to be taken seriously—see the post-2016 referendum pieces by Martin Fletcher and Jean Quatremer.

On a subject having nothing to do with Brexit or the Tory party, but merits posting here in view of the Oxbridge/British elite angle, take a few minutes to read the obituary (here) of the well-known historian and journalist Norman Stone, by fellow historian Sir Richard J Evans, I can’t remember the last time I read an obituary like this, at least in a mainstream publication. Sir Evans really didn’t care for Professor Stone!

Read Full Post »

[update below] [2nd update below]

In 2014 it was a disaster, as I wrote back then. This time it wasn’t. Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National may have finished in first place but this was pretty much expected. And there were some bright spots—from my standpoint at least—in the scores for all the principal lists. I’m not going to give a full-blown analysis here, just flesh out some instant thoughts I posted on social media on Sunday night.

  • First, the marked increase in the participation rate, which broke 50%, the highest for a European election since 1994. Late polling indicated that turnout would be up compared to last time, but it wasn’t expected to this extent. I was an assesseur titulaire in my bureau de vote on Sunday, so could observe this throughout the day. Salutary this sursaut citoyen, even if the veritable impetus had less to do with Europe than national considerations (to sanction Emmanuel Macron or deny first place to Marine Le Pen). That said, the increased turnout—and in other EU states as well—signals in increasing interest in the European  Union—and for many, a support for the European project.
  • The RN may have come in first place but, at 23.3%, its score was lower than in 2014 (24.9%). And as it will have two fewer seats (22) in the European Parliament, this cannot be seen as a hands-down victory for Le Pen. The RN drew votes from Gilets Jaunes—up to 44% of GJs voted RN, according to one poll—but they were likely RN/FN voters anyway. The RN has consecrated its status as one of the major poles in French politics but this result does not, in itself, point to RN gains in next year’s municipal elections (as for 2022, that’s a ways away). So long as the RN remains in its ghetto, with no major party willing to ally with it, it will not be able win a national election. And in the European Parliament, one may be sure that it won’t do a thing—i.e. its MEPs won’t participate in the work of the parliamentary committees (where they’re congenital no shows)—and will only undermine the influence of France in EU institutions.
  • I wrote on Sunday night that Macron took a hit (and a well-deserved one) with the République en Marche-MoDem list finishing in second place, though think I need to attenuate that. It would have obviously been preferable from Macron’s standpoint to finish first, but the close second—and with 22.4%—should not be viewed as a setback, all things considered. E.g. with Macron’s unpopularity—he’s at 27% approval/68% disapproval in the latest IPSOS baromètre—and the endless weekend GJ manifs, it could have been worse for him, cf. the more marked votes de sanction against the party in the Élysée in almost all past European elections (2009 a notable recent exception). Exit polling has shown that the REM benefited yesterday from the defection of moderate right LR voters in its direction, confirming that Macron will most surely govern from the center-right for the rest of his term. This will be majorly consequential for the ongoing recomposition of the French political spectrum heading toward 2022.
  • Europe Écologie-Les Verts’ 13.5% is quite simply stunning, as no one expected it, Yannick Jadot’s list polling at 9% tops. Given the momentum of Green parties in Germany and elsewhere, and the increasing importance attached by voters to climate change and other environmental issues, such electoral progress can only warm the heart. And the increased size of the European Greens political group in the European Parliament can only be welcomed. This said, EELV’s excellent score does not augur anything for the future, as we’ve seen this before. E.g. in the 1999 European elections, Les Verts, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, reached almost 10%, but which did not send the écolos into orbit nationally, nor did its amazing 16.4% in the 2009 Euro elections (close on the heels of the PS, led by Martine Aubry at the time). The écolo spikes in past elections have been sans lendemain, with European election Verts voters returning to other left or centrist parties/candidates in national elections. And this will likely remain the case, with almost all parties outside the hard right having integrated environmental themes into their programs, The fact is, EELV remains a small formation, permanently rent by factional infighting, and with, at present, almost no high-profile elected representatives. And if it tries to go it alone electorally—presenting candidates on its own, outside of any alliance or pact with the PS or anyone else—which has been its reflex in recent years, it will bite the dust, as it always has in two-round elections when it does its cavalier seul act. So despite EELV’s brilliant score yesterday, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to become the leading force on the French left.
  • The catastrophic 8.5% of Les Républicains, which not a single poll came anywhere close to predicting—LR was seen going as high as 15%, if not more—is the big story of this election. No one could have ever foreseen the longtime standard-bearer of neo-Gaullism and la droite parlementaire sinking into the single digits, and despite the party’s increasingly hard right turn over the past decade (recalling the rightward progression of a certain conservative party outre-Atlantique). The cerebral tête de liste François-Xavier Bellamy seemed to be catching on with the LR base, and despite—or perhaps because of—his very conservative, Catholic views on questions de société, and came across as friendly and open-minded to boot (quite unlike the cynical, insufferably arrogant LR secy-gen Laurent Wauquiez). E.g. even Benoît Hamon, among other lefties, enjoys conversations with Bellamy, so one reads. But this finally didn’t matter to LR voters, particularly the more moderate among them, who found Bellamy too conservative—and Wauquiez’s identitarian rhetoric too extreme—so defected to the REM and Macron. And on LR’s right flank, réac voters decided to go for the real thing—Marine LP and the RN—rather than the wannabe. As for where LR goes from here, it would be nice if this calamitous result brings moderate rightists like Valérie Pécresse or Xavier Bertrand back to the fore, but I’m not optimistic. The core of the LR base remains the “Trocadéro right,” and despite the REM having realized some its best scores in Paris’s most upscale arrondissements (6th, 7th, 8th, 16th), plus wealthy western banlieues (Neuilly-sur-Seine et al)—which have been fiefs of the right since the dawn of time—finishing way ahead in first place and with 45-48% of the vote. With the REM now occupying the center-right and the RN formally abandoning its pledge to quit the EU, the space for a significant conservative party between these two is narrow indeed.
  • The paltry 6.3% of La France Insoumise list was the most gratifying surprise of the election. This catastrophic, utterly unforeseen result for LFI was not a failure of tête de liste Manon Aubry, who is sympathique and acquitted herself well in the campaign, so I thought, but of LFI caudillo Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was aiming for the double-digits and to consecrate LFI as the uncontested nº 1 force on the left, but instead barely avoided being overtaken by the convalescing PS, which would have been the supreme humiliation for him. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. With this score, JLM is K.O., both politically and personally, the latter because his trash-talking, scowling personality is not wearing well, including among his voters. I personally know people who are otherwise supportive of LFI’s line but simply cannot stand JLM (the televised spectacle of him blowing his fuses with the judicial police last October turned off more than a few). And within LFI, there is increasing exasperation at JLM’s authoritarian style and of his solo leadership—in informal tandem with his significant other—of the party. On the political level, LFI’s counter-performance signifies the limits of JLM’s populist discourse, of trying to appeal to categories of the electorate who don’t necessarily have the same world-view, e.g. the couches populaires—of the Gilets Jaunes variety—and urban, educated left-wing millennials. Both may share an allergy to neoliberalism but they sharply differ on other matters (e.g. immigration, identity). The couches populaires are attached to the nation and are reflexively suspicious of the European Union; with educated millennials, it’s the reverse. With the latter, JLM’s nationalism and Euroscepticism—when it comes to the EU, he is fundamentally not so different from Marine Le Pen—will not fly. There is a bitter truth that a lot of lefties over a certain age have a hard time accepting, which is that the working class unmoored from trade unions leans much more to the right than the left. JLM knows this—I’ve heard him say it up close, that it’s a myth that the WC has always monolithically voted for the left—but he underestimates the numbers. Left-wing parties can craft an appropriate economic message—that’s what makes them left-wing—but insofar as identity and nationalism trump economics for atomized WC voters, the latter are out of reach for the left. And a party of the left that tries to address the cultural anxieties of WC voters will not only fail in the effort but lose sizable numbers of its educated supporters. There is a space on the political spectrum for an LFI-type party but in the single digits. If LFI were to become the leading party of the left—which is now not too likely—it would consign the French left to permanent opposition in the same way the PCF’s domination did in the three decades following the end of WWII. Hopefully JLM will wake up, smell the coffee, and abandon his ambitions for 2022. As for who could take his place as the porte-drapeau of the radical left, I have my ideas.
  • The Parti Socialiste-Place Publique’s 6.2% was cause for satisfaction, as, according to the final polls, the list was in danger of falling under 5%, and thus sending no deputies to the European Parliament. As I wrote in the previous post, such a result would have likely meant the end of the PS. That the PS came close to matching its calamitous score in the 2017 presidential election is hardly a cause for rejoicing—which Raphaël Glucksmann made clear on Sunday night—but at least we know that the Socialists have touched bottom and can only go up, particularly in view of LFI’s failure. If Benoît Hamon had responded favorably to Glucksmann’s unity initiative and not run a list of his irrelevant micro-party, Génération.s—which received a predictable 3.3%—the “Envie d’Europe” list could have gone as high as 9%. So now that the PS has sauvé les meubles, it can now look to rebuild, as the positioning of Macron and the REM on the center-right has created a wide open space on the center-left that cannot and will not be filled by EELV alone. Or even primarily. The PS still has an infrastructure of militants and élus—which is rather larger than EELV’s—and, with the next elections being the municipals in March 2020, can realistically aim to recover some of the ground it lost in the 2014 debacle, particularly if it can forge single slates with EELV. Also, the REM controls not a single mairie—the party not existing in the last municipal elections—and most of its eager beaver marcheurs of the 2017 campaign have fallen by the wayside. If Macron remains unpopular into next year—which is likely—the REM will not be entering the municipal election campaign with a head of steam. Likewise with LR, in view of its current state. So things may indeed be looking up for a rejuvenated PS after next March. In this respect, some history: (a) In the 1969 presidential election, as everyone remembers, the Socialists hit rock bottom with Gaston Deferre’s 5%. Two years later was the Epinay congress and François Mitterrand, followed by the Union de la Gauche and the cliffhanger 49.2% loss in 1974; and then there was 1981… (b) After the victories of 1981 the PS suffered one major electoral setback after another and by 1986 the right looked to be in the drivers seat; but Mitterrand recovered and was easily reelected in 1988;  (c) The catastrophic 1993 legislative elections saw the PS lose 218 of its 275 incumbent deputies, followed by the rout of Michel Rocard’s list in the 1994 European elections; the PS looked to be out of it for the foreseeable future; four months before the 1st round of the 1995 presidential election, the party didn’t even have a candidate, but then Lionel Jospin rose from the ashes, losing to Jacques Chirac with a respectable 47.4% in the 2nd round; and then there was the 1997 early legislatives and the brilliant victory of the PS-led Gauche Plurielle; and if it hadn’t been for the accident of the 21 avril, Jospin would have likely defeated Chirac in the 2002 presidential election. (d) After its miserable result in the 2009 European elections, the future of the PS looked somber, and with the high-profile pundit BHL proclaiming in a banner headline in a Sunday newspaper that the party would soon be “dead.” But it came back in the 2010 regionals and, by mid 2012, was the dominant party in France (okay, that didn’t last long but still). The lesson: when it comes to the French Socialist Party, it ain’t over till it’s over…

There’s a lot more to say but that’s it for now.

UPDATE: The image below illustrates the point made above about the REM doing particularly well in Paris’s beaux quartiers on Sunday (h/t Angelo Pardi via Guillaume Duval).

2nd UPDATE: Libération editor-in-chief Laurent Joffrin’s “lettre politique” of May 28th, on LFI and JLM, is absolutely worth reading. He totally nails it.

28 mai 2019
La lettre politique de Laurent Joffrin

La France insoumise a «un problème»

Clémentine Autain est sortie du bois la première. Il y a, dit-elle, «un problème de ligne et de profil politique» à La France insoumise, qui a trop misé sur «le ressentiment, la haine, ou le clash permanent». Nostra culpa : «Sans doute avons-nous pris trop de distance avec un discours de gauche.»

«Problème» il y a, de toute évidence. Sur une ligne dégagiste, LFI a divisé par trois en deux ans le score de Jean-Luc Mélenchon à la présidentielle (de 18% à 6%). C’est l’effet des innombrables sorties de route volontaires des insoumis, toutes justifiées par la culture de l’anathème : agressivité permanente, dénigrement constant du reste de la gauche, procès en sorcellerie contre Jadot, «haine» assumée contre les journalistes de tous bords, vociférations grand-guignolesques contre une perquisition judiciaire, invocation rituelle d’un «raz-de-marée» populaire qui n’a jamais eu lieu, sauf avec le mouvement des gilets jaunes, parti tout seul, quand LFI n’appelait à rien ; déification compensatoire de certains leaders gilets jaunes aux options pour le moins ambiguës, discours européen incompréhensible consistant à prévoir une «sortie des traités» qui ne serait pas une sortie de l’Union, alors que l’Union est justement bâtie sur un traité, etc. A force de considérer que l’enfer, c’est les autres, tous traîtres, soumis ou vendus, on reste seul avec ses certitudes.

Problème plus large, d’ailleurs : le recul de la gauche radicale est général en Europe. La débâcle la plus spectaculaire a frappé le parti dégagiste Podemos, miné par les divisions, tombé à 10% en Espagne, après avoir perdu la plupart des villes conquises dans la foulée du mouvement des «indignés», dont Madrid et Barcelone, excusez du peu. Il n’est pas le seul. Au total, le groupe d’extrême gauche au Parlement européen est passé de plus de 50 sièges à moins de 40, représentant tout au plus 5% de l’électorat. Gauche radicale, gauche marginale. A force de dire non à tout, les énergies militantes se lassent et passent chez ceux qui disent oui à quelque chose. Elles ont gonflé le mouvement écologiste, qui se bat sur un programme positif de réformes immédiates et, au lieu de dénoncer mécaniquement tous les compromis, cherche des alliances européennes pour y parvenir.

C’est l’essence même du dégagisme qui est en cause. Le peuple d’un côté, les élites de l’autre : sommaire et faux. Les élites ne sont pas toujours réactionnaires ni le peuple progressiste. C’est en bâtissant une coalition «interclasses» qu’on réunit une majorité ou, à tout le moins, qu’on impose des réformes de progrès. C’est avec des civils qu’on fait des militaires, et donc avec des gens qui ne pensent pas comme soi qu’on élargit son influence. Sans quoi on reste au balcon à distribuer les excommunications. Le dégagisme a marché un temps. Il est usé, ou alors il profite aux nationalistes. LFI en avait fait un dogme, un leitmotiv, un ADN. Effectivement, il y a «un problème».

Read Full Post »

Polls, 2019 European elections, France (credit: Huffpost)

[update below]

The European election campaign in France has been a sad spectacle. The level of public interest is typically low, the pro-Europe left is weaker than ever, and the extreme right-wing ex-FN—renamed the Rassemblement National—will likely finish in first place as it did in 2014, with a quarter of the vote and Marine Le Pen exulting. Emmanuel Macron likely thought that anointing the non-politician Nathalie Loiseau—unknown to the public and who is as much a caricature of the énarchie as he—to head the REM list—called Renaissance, which will join the centrist ALDE in the European Parliament—was a deft move, but she hasn’t worked out too well as a candidate. Macron’s political skills are nul; as a politician, he’s hopeless. If his list finishes behind the RN, he will rightly be seen as the election’s big loser—particularly as he has implicated himself in the campaign to a greater extent than his predecessors in the Élysée—which will further weaken him in Brussels. And with the RN set to win up to a third of France’s 79 seats in Strasbourg, this will only increase the marginalization of France in the EU, as Le Pen’s party, in addition to many things, barely participates in the work of the European Parliament. The RN is a party of grifters. Triste France.

There have been a number of televised debates, the latest one last night on BFM, with the 11 leading têtes de listes and which went for three hours. I didn’t see it. Too long, too many people, too much cacophony. I did, however, catch on replay Wednesday night’s first debate on France 2, with candidates or representatives of the six lists polling over 5%, which went for an hour-and-a-half (it was followed by a second debate, with nine lesser candidates, which I didn’t bother with). The participants were Marine Le Pen, standing in for the no. 1 on RN list, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella; MoDem‘s François Bayrou, who is allied with Macron and REM, taking the place of Mme Loiseau; the hard-rightist Laurent Wauquiez, replacing the youthful conservative egghead François-Xavier Bellamy, who heads the LR list; the engaging newcomer Manon Aubry, all of 29 years of age, whom Jean-Luc Mélenchon has put in charge of LFI‘s list; Yannick Jadot of EELV; and Place Publique‘s Raphaël Glucksmann, who is leading the PS’s effort (more on him and that below).

According to IPSOS’s Brice Teinturier, the four most important themes for the French electorate in this election are purchasing power (i.e how much money people have in their figurative pockets), protection of the environment, France’s place in Europe and the world, and immigration (slipping to fourth place). So the questions revolved around those, which included ones on whether or not diesel cars should be banned in the EU by 2040, if the VAT should be set at 0% for “produits de première nécessité” (not precisely defined), what degree of protectionism should be imposed by the EU, should national border controls be reestablished, and if there should be obligatory quotas for EU member states in receiving asylum-seekers and refugees.

As one knows, form is as important as substance in debates, particularly in televised political ones, and all the more so when there are many undecided voters faced with multiple options to choose from that, on substance, hardly differ from one another—and in a proportional representation election where le vote utile (voting strategically) does not factor (except if a list is close to the qualifying threshold). E.g., even in this particular debate, with just six candidates, large numbers of voters (myself included) could, strictly on the issues, vote for two, or even three, of them (like a Democratic or Republican primary in the US). When the two debates ended, Teinturier announced the result of IPSOS’s instant poll as to which candidates were “convincing”—I knew it about beforehand, having watched the debate en différé—which had Le Pen in first place, with 39%. I regret to say that I can understand why persons even somewhat open to her rhetoric would say this. MLP spewed her usual bullshit but not with the aggressiveness for which she is wont. She toned it down. And as her party has changed its line on quitting the euro and the EU—the FN/RN, ceding to French public opinion, no longer formally advocates this—she could not be attacked on this score. She also skillfully avoided answering the environmentally-related question by weaving, dodging, and bringing up irrelevant issues. She was likewise fortunate to have Wauquiez—standing to her right on the stage—as a foil. Wauquiez, who leads the LR party, is not a stupid man but, like Macron and Loiseau, is almost a caricature of the arrogant énarque—he graduated first in his class at ENA (promotion Mandela, 2001)—who thinks he’s brilliant and everyone else around him is, at best, a nitwit, at worst an outright idiot. Wauquiez is, moreover, surely one of the most cynical men in French political life. E.g., he started his political career under the tutelage of the late Jacques Barrot, as a pro-Europe centrist and liberal in the classical sense, but tacked to the identitarian hard right, and with a soft Eurosceptic stance, when he detected that the base of the LR party was increasingly aligned with the FN on practically every issue. And he comes across as antipathique—he really does seem like a nasty person utterly full of himself—which cannot be a merely subjective opinion on my part in view of his poll numbers (in the May IPSOS baromètre politique: 17% approval, 62% disapproval). Wauquiez had at least two sharp exchanges with MLP in the debate, and with the latter getting the better of them. It was a mistake not to have sent Bellamy, who is equally smart, comes across rather better, and has become popular with right-wing voters to boot.

Aubry, Jadot, and Glucksmann all acquitted themselves well IMHO, but Bayrou did not so much. His participation in the debate was almost incongruous. A renewal of the French political class has been underway for the past several years, and which accelerated with the 2017 election of Macron and his REM in the National Assembly. Bayrou is a throwback to a bygone era. He’s a smart man, very well spoken, and with interesting, valid things to say—and, at 67, is not that old—but he seemed out of place on the stage. An almost has-been. And in responding to the question on migration, he specified that he was expressing his personal viewpoint. But, hey, he was there as the representative of the REM-MoDem list! A big mistake. And also for Macron to have sent him.

On Raphaël Glucksmann and the PS list, this is the one I will be voting for. The PS, as one may be aware, has been a champ de ruines—a rubble heap—since the 2017 elections. First Secretary Olivier Faure has struck me a good man and well spoken, though he doesn’t have much of a public presence and may or may not be the right person to revive the PS from its pitiful state. When Glucksmann announced the creation last year of Place Publique, whose objective was to unite the moderate left—i.e. everything between REM and LFI—into a single list for the European elections, it wasn’t taken too seriously, as Glucksmann is a mere writer and intellectual (his late father, André, had more notoriety). Personally speaking, I’ve listened periodically to Glucksmann’s weekly Saturday afternoon debate on France Inter with the contrarian souverainiste talking head Natacha Polony—I’ll take him over her any day—but that was it. But Faure, fully cognizant of the PS’s calamitous state, decided to take up Glucksmann’s offer—and for him to head the list—and got his skeptical party to go along (with the smaller Parti Radical de Gauche and Nouvelle Donne; Benoît Hamon, to his discredit, refused to commit his Génération.s movement—and for specious reasons—and there was never a chance that the écolos would join).

But the list, called Envie d’Europe, hasn’t taken off, needless to say, hovering around the 5% threshold, below which is elimination and no MEPs elected, and one of the reasons being Glucksmann’s difficult transition from the Parisian intellectual world to partisan politics. Last Saturday, at the marché in my neighborhood, I ran into a local PS tract-distributing militant, who, when I asked if the PS was having any rally at all in Paris in the final week of the campaign, informed me that one would be happening the next day at a venue called the Cabaret Sauvage, in the 19th arrondissement, which I had never heard of. And so I went, on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The place—tucked away in the Parc de la Villette complex, along the Canal de l’Ourcq and off the Boulevards des Maréchaux—is hard to find if one doesn’t know it. My, how far the PS has fallen, I told myself, to have its final Paris election rally in such an obscure venue, and with there having been almost no publicity, not even online (there was a Facebook page but that was about it). And the sentiment was reinforced when I got there, as the thing was beginning (toward 4:45 pm); the place was packed, most standing room, but held a maximum of maybe 800, almost all manifestly card-carrying PS militants (as they cheered wildly at the mention of PS politicos present I hadn’t heard of, and I am fairly well-informed as to who is who in French politics; the event was, in effect, a pep rally for the hard core). Not too good for the once great Parti Socialiste. But my attitude evolved as the event progressed. There was a succession of speakers, all holding to their clearly allotted 10-15 minute speaking time. Faure was good. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who, with no elective mandate, has taken a break from the political arena—she presently works for IPSOS and Fayard, and teaches at Sciences Po—gave one of the keynotes. She’s hugely popular with PS activists, and with me too. She was followed by Anne Hidalgo, who was sure to be a hit with the crowd—she’s mayor of Paris, after all—though while impeccable on substance she needs to work on delivery IMHO. She’s not a great speaker. Mais peu importe. Glucksmann spoke last, for half an hour. The reception was rapturous and he rose to the occasion. He was laid back but serious. In short, he aced it, on both form and substance. It was all about Europe, and with few references to the opposition (and no mention at all of rival left-wing lists). I didn’t disagree with a thing he said.

Leaving the venue I felt reasonably good about the PS for the first time in a long while and am encouraging undecided friends and family to vote for Glucksmann’s list. One of the arguments: as retiring PS MEP Pervenche Berès wrote in a text message to a friend of mine earlier this week in regard to incumbent MEPs Sylvie Guillaume and Éric Andrieu—who are in the 2nd and 3rd positions on Glucksmann’s list (and were at Sunday’s rally)—they “did a great job on migration and asylum for her, and fight against Monsanto and GMO, glyphosate, health, and sustainable agriculture for him.”

It will be terrible if the PS fails to break 5% on Sunday. The French Socialist Party absent from the European Parliament is unthinkable. I don’t think this will happen but if it does, it will possibly be the PS’s death knell. And with that, any chance of the French left credibly contesting elections for the foreseeable future. The specter of another presidential 2nd round confrontation between Macron and Le Pen is not something I want to contemplate. Crossing fingers.

UPDATE: See the reflection (May 23rd) by Alternatives Économiques editor-in-chief and friend Guillaume Duval, “Pourquoi la France ne débat pas de l’Europe.”

Paris, 19 May 2019

Read Full Post »

[update below]

The elections to the European Parliament are taking place between tomorrow and Sunday in the 28 EU member states, which persons outside Europe (and some inside) may or may not be aware of, and with several presidential debates—for the presidency of the European Commission—having been held over the past month. The latest one—and with the most participants—was on Sunday, at the European Parliament in Brussels, which I watched via the debate’s website. There are six “Spitzenkandidaten”—”lead candidates,” designated by their respective Europarties or European Parliament political groups—in the running to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker, whose term ends on October 31st: Manfred Weber (from Germany) of the European People’s Party (moderate right), Frans Timmermans (Netherlands) of the Party of European Socialists, Margrethe Vestager (Denmark) of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (centrist), Ska Keller (Germany) of the European Green Party, Nico Cué (Belgium) of the European United Left, and Jan Zahradil (Czech Republic) of the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe, this last one being the one Eurosceptic (soft) Europarty to present a candidate. The other right-wing Eurosceptic groups—which include such parties as the Italian Lega and French RN—appear not to have their Spitzenkandidaten. For more on the candidates, go to the website Europe Elects.

The new President of the Commission will be nominated by the European Council—by consensus or in a qualified majority vote according to the formula contained in the Treaty of Lisbon—and ratified (or rejected) by a majority vote in the European Parliament (which will vote up or down on the entire College of Commissioners, not just the President). One more reason underscoring the importance of these elections. The European Council is not obliged to choose one of the Parliament’s Spitzenkandidaten, and though it ultimately did in 2014 it may not this time. If it were to designate, say, Michel Barnier—who would like the job and is certainly the best possible person from the EPP, which will no doubt remain the largest party in the Parliament after the election—it’s hard to see how the Parliament could reject that. On verra.

The debate lasted 90 minutes, with six broad questions posed and each candidate—all speaking in English except for Cué, who spoke in French—having one minute to answer and with the opportunity for rebuttal. The questions were on migration, youth unemployment, climate change and what sacrifices should be asked of Europeans in dealing with it, GAFA and tax havens, trade negotiations with Trump and if Europe should open its markets to US agricultural produce (including GMO), and how to explain the rise of Euroscepticism across the continent and if the candidates felt that their own political families had any responsibility in bringing it about. Cué (who’s a trade union leader) and Vestager were the best on the migration issue (I expected a fuller response from Keller), whereas Timmermans was very good on youth unemployment. The candidates were all fine on form, though none stood out in the way the ALDE’s Guy Verhofstadt did in the two 2014 debates (when it comes to exuberance and sheer presence, no one in the EU parliament beats the Belgian Verhofstadt, e.g. see him shred Nigel Farage and offer a few thoughts to Italian PM Giuseppe Conte). As for Weber’s performance, it was rather superior to that of the EPP’s Juncker back in ’14, who was a dud in those debates. The conservative ACRE’s Zahradil actually impressed, in that he gave full, concrete, coherent responses to all the questions. I don’t adhere to his positions but for those who do, he’s as good a spokesperson as they will find in Brussels and Strasbourg.

To watch the debate—which is worth the while—go here. À suivre.

UPDATE: Wolfgang Münchau, who is one of the best informed and most incisive analysts of the EU around, has an important column in the May 19th FT, “Brexit wrangles intrude on EU job allocation: Victory for Nigel Farage in the European elections could complicate appointments.”

Read Full Post »

The Brexit fiasco

People’s Vote march, London, March 23rd

[update below]

I haven’t had a post on Brexit since the aftermath of the calamitous referendum now almost three years ago, but have been following the affair closely all along, and particularly in the run-up to today’s third vote on Theresa May’s plan. The Brexit psychodrama is, as they say on my side of the Channel, ubuesque. It’s bonkers.

As everything there is to say about the Brexit matter has been said countless times by the legions of pro-Remain commentators—e.g. on the opinion page of the FT, the first-rate politics.co.uk, and analysts presently or formerly associated with the Centre for European Reform, to name just a few—I will simply reiterate what I’ve been asserting from the outset, to wit:

  • There is no valid argument for Brexit. None whatever. It makes no sense for a country to quit a single market and customs union with which it has been economically interlocked for four decades and conducts close to half of its trade. There is no rational argument for this, economic or otherwise.
  • That crashing out of the EU with a no-deal is irrational and makes no sense was expressed during the referendum campaign by the Leavers themselves, none of whom advocated leaving the single market (or even the customs union); and this included Nigel Farage and the most Europhobic of Tories, who assured voters that in the event of Brexit, the UK would continue to enjoy frictionless trade with the EU in a relationship akin to Norway or Switzerland—though it seemed not to occur to the Leavers that these two countries are bound by EU rules—though which they have no seat at the table in making—must respect the “four freedoms” (one being the movement of people), and pay into the EU budget, entre autres. (As for why Norway and Switzerland have their particular relationships with the EU, it’s because their electorates rejected joining the EU, or the EEA for Switzerland, in the first place, so these are the closest relationships they can negotiate with the EU short of full membership).
  • In short, the Brexit campaign was driven by delusions and sold to the British electorate on lies. As Boris Johnson famously put it, the UK would have its cake and eat it. The Brexiteers thought they could have a Europe à la carte, in which the UK would take what it liked (single market, customs union), reject what it didn’t like (movement of people, ECJ, contributing to the EU budget), and then take things that were not on the menu (concluding its own trade agreements). This was utterly delusional. And then there was the matter of the Irish border, which was never mentioned during the campaign. It wasn’t even an afterthought. As for Scotland and sentiments there, qu’est-ce qu’on en a foutre?…
  • The referendum, needless to say, should have never been held. And, needless to say, the majority of those who voted ‘leave’ had no idea what they were voting for. Demagoguery over immigration was central in the Leave campaign, as was, for working class Labour voters, anger over six years of the David Cameron government’s austerity. But whatever the case, if a hard Brexit had explicitly been the one on offer, ‘leave’ would have never won. This is a certainty.
  • Contrary to popular belief, referendums do not express the “will of the people.” Referendums are not inherently “democratic.” French Republicans long had a healthy allergy to plebiscites, in which strongmen or demagogic politicians can short-circuit the institutions of representative democracy in stoking the fears or appealing to the base instincts of voters with ill-understood binary choices. Likewise with popular referendums (Switzerland, which has its unique history and particularities, is a case apart). Insofar as the Brexit referendum was merely advisory, i.e. not binding, there was no legal reason to respect its outcome. Failing that—and in view of the inability of the House of Commons to approve anything—it stands to reason that the people should have the opportunity to revisit the 2016 referendum in a second one: to vote to quit the EU outright, with no deal, or revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU, and with the House of Commons ratifying that choice. After that, no more referendums. On anything.
  • Theresa May, in view of her abject incompetence, may be the worst British prime minister ever, but she is joined by Jeremy Corbyn, who is surely the worst-ever leader of the opposition. If the Labour Party were led by someone other than this 1970s gauchiste dinosaur, who still thinks of the EU as a Trojan Horse for the Gnomes of Zürich, we likely would not be in this Brexit mess.

It’s been a challenge engaging in a contradictory discussion of Brexit, as seemingly every UK citizen and/or resident I know personally is pro-Remain and as opposed to Brexit as I and my US cohorts are to Trump. But then I discovered that one UK citizen I do know personally, and whom I see on Facebook, is a Leaver, so I tried to engage him in debate a few months back, in response to a Brexiteer comment he made. I got some bollocks about how the EU is “undemocratic,” to which I responded that this is a myth, that the EU’s institutions are no more or less undemocratic than those of its member states (and as for the euro and its very real structural problems, the UK, with its opt-out, is not concerned by these). He then brought up German “dominance” of the EU, with me retorting that this is no less a reality than the now erstwhile British dominance—or at least outsized influence—in Brussels over the past three decades. Following that I was zinged with a question about Jean-Claude Juncker and who elected him anyway, with me replying the European Council followed by the European Parliament, and then rhetorically asking in return who, pray, elected Theresa May to be prime minister? No answer to that one and so that was that. So much for exchanging views with a Brexiteer.

At least he didn’t rhapsodize about a post-Brexit UK becoming another Singapore

The excellent Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole had an essay in The Guardian last November 16th entitled “The paranoid fantasy behind Brexit: In the dark imagination of English reactionaries, Britain is always a defeated nation—and the EU is the imaginary invader.” I mentioned above the UK’s outsized influence in Brussels. This was real. The Single Act was spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher. The Brits basically got everything they wanted from Europe, including the rebate and opt-outs from Schengen and the single currency. That Europe has been a very good deal for the UK makes Tory Euroscepticism that much more irrational. For English right-wingers, allergy to the EU has become a marker of identity, like guns and Israel for US Republicans. And that it has been fueled by myths and lies goes without saying.

Who knows what’s going to happen on April 12th? The choice now looks to be between a no-deal crash out and requesting a long-term extension from the European Council, which would necessitate the UK participating in the European elections and likely organizing a second referendum, perhaps preceded by a general election. The logical choice would be the latter—in terms of both public opinion and the votes in the House of Commons—but after reading this uncomplimentary portrait of Theresa May in Spiegel Online (March 15th), I’m not confident. If faced with a choice of breaking ranks with her party’s Brexiteer base or going over the cliff, it is more than likely that she’ll opt for the latter.

If one didn’t see it, former UK and EU diplomat Robert Cooper has a must-read op-ed (March 22nd) in the FT, “The Brexit farce is about to turn to tragedy: Britain is paying for its ignorance of how the EU actually works.”

Probably the most pertinent piece I’ve read on the general subject over the months has been by Pankaj Mishra this past January 17th in The New York Times, “The malign incompetence of the British ruling class.” The lede: “With Brexit, the chumocrats who drew borders from India to Ireland are getting a taste of their own medicine.”

The view that so many of us have always had of Britain as being a serious country, with serious institutions and a serious ruling class, has sustained a serious body blow over the past three years. Watching BoJo, Jacob Rees-Mogg & Co, how can one take this ruling class seriously? Sérieusement.

À propos, literary critic and cultural historian Joanna Scutts had an intriguing article last September 14th in The New Republic, “Britain’s boarding school problem.” The lede: “How the country’s elite institutions have shaped colonialism, Brexit, and today’s global super-rich.”

For those slightly conspiracy-minded—or maybe not—this piece (January 30th) by OpenDemocracy UK co-editor Adam Ramsey is worth pondering: “Stop calling ‘no-deal’ Brexiteers idiots. They know exactly what they’re doing.” The lede: “This is not bungling, or delusion. It’s part of the Great British Asset striptease. And we need to know who’s bankrolling it.” In this vein, also see Anne Applebaum’s March 8th Washington Post column, “The more we learn about Brexit, the more crooked it looks.”

Finally, New Statesman contributing editor Martin Fletcher has a ‘long read’ dated March 27 entitled “The humbling of Britain: The ‘enemies of the people’ are not those opposing Brexit, but the reckless politicians who have brought us to this act of self-harm.” He concludes:

Events are now moving so rapidly that it is impossible to predict what the situation will be even by the time this article is printed. Just conceivably, enough MPs will have discovered their spines to avert a complete disaster. Just conceivably they will have paused to ask themselves what was so awful about EU membership that leaving is worth such turmoil. Just conceivably they will have realised that there is no deal nearly as good as the one we already have.

Otherwise Britain will slink shamefully away – impoverished, marginalised and vastly diminished – from the greatest experiment in multinational co-operation the world has ever known. There will be no sense of joy, no national celebrations. As we live with the consequences the Brexiteers will inevitably blame anyone but themselves, but they will assuredly deserve what Donald Tusk, the European Council president, called their special place in hell.

À suivre, c’est sûr.

UPDATE: Politico.eu has a lengthy, must-read enquête (March 27th) by its UK correspondent Tom McTague, “How the UK lost the Brexit battle: The course of Brexit was set in the hours and days after the 2016 referendum.” The party to whom the UK lost was, of course, the EU, which quickly gained the upper hand after the June 2016 referendum and took charge. The EU’s position was predictable from the outset, but that those in power in London were blind to. What has been striking is how isolated the UK has been in Brussels throughout the process. The UK has always had allies in the European Council. It has been a very big player and for decades. But in the case of Brexit, it has had not a single ally. Even the Visegrad countries and Italy, who are otherwise telling Brussels to sod off, have been at one with Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier—who’s the real hero here—on Brexit. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit psychodrama, the UK will be greatly diminished. Sad.

Read Full Post »

Credit: FT

Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has won his expected landslide victory, Trump is ratcheting up the demagoguery to levels unseen in history by an American president, hard Brexiteers are determined to take the UK over the cliff, Matteo Salvini is topping the polls in Italy, Emmanuel Macron in France is blowing it big time but with no alternative on the horizon who would not be much worse than he, Angela Merkel is on her way out and who knows what will follow, Viktor Orbán and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will rule their respective countries for the rest of their natural lives if they so wish, et j’en passe. Ça va de mal en pis. We are not living in good times.

In this vein, I cannot recommend highly enough Anne Applebaum’s sobering essay in the October issue of The Atlantic (which went online in mid-September), “A warning from Europe: the worst is yet to come.” The lede: “Polarization. Conspiracy theories. Attacks on the free press. An obsession with loyalty. Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well.” This is one of the most important pieces I’ve read over the past several months. If you haven’t read it, please do so. Now.

To this must be added the essay by Christopher Browning—the Frank Porter Graham ­Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—in the October 25th issue of The New York Review of Books, “The suffocation of democracy.” Browning begins:

As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.

And then there’s the reflection by Thomas Meaney—visiting fellow at the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna—in the New Statesman (September 12th), “The dark European stain: how the far right rose again.” The lede: “Faced with Trump and populist nationalism, liberals are quick to proclaim the return of fascism. But other disturbing historical echoes are going unnoticed.”

I have more but will leave it there for now. Bonne lecture 😦

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: