Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Syria’s lost generation

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Syrian refugee collecting leftover food, Istanbul (photo credit: AFP)

Istanbul-based journalist Sebnem Arsu has a feature article in Politico.eu on the dire situation of Syrian refugee children in the city—which, one may safely presume, is likewise elsewhere in Turkey as well, plus Lebanon and Jordan, not to mention in Syria itself—who have been descholarized in massive numbers, some since the outbreak of the war four years ago. The consequences of this, ça va de soi, will be calamitous—for the children’s futures, the countries in which they live, and Europe and the world—if the international community, such as it is, does not act quickly. Quoting Abdulrahman Kowara, director of the Syrian Education Commission—the de facto educational authority of the Syrian opposition in Syria and Turkey—at the end of the piece

“These children, if left uneducated, will harm Syria, Turkey and the entire world in the future…I see these children as time bombs, ready to explode any time. I see the expression of detachment on their faces. It is up to the world to help the future generations of Syria as much as their own.”

On the subject of Syrian refugees, the German website In a Nutshell – Kurzgesagt, which makes videos “explaining things,” posted a six-minute You Tube last Thursday—which has already been viewed almost 4.5 million times—explaining the European refugee crisis and Syria. It’s good and merits wide circulation, though, for the record, I will quibble with the line about how “[a]ll sides committed horrible war crimes, using chemical weapons, mass executions, torture on a large-scale, and repeated deadly attacks on civilians.” All sides have indeed committed exactions and done very bad things but the lion’s share of this has been the doing of the regime of Bashar al-Assad—and when it comes to the use of chemical and torture on a large-scale, that share is total. The Islamic State would commit worse crimes if it could but, so far at least, the aggregate quantity of its crimes and of persons killed, maimed and/or displaced from their homes as a consequence cannot hold a candle to those committed by the regime in Damascus.

In arguing for generosity toward the Syrian refugees landing on the continent, the video’s authors make this impeccable assertion

Even if the EU alone were to accept all four million refugees and 100% of them were Muslims, the percentage of Muslims in the European Union would only rise from about 4% to about 5%…The European Union is the wealthiest bunch of economies on Earth, well-organized states with functioning social systems, infrastructure, democracy, and huge industries. It can handle the challenge of the refugee crisis if it wants to. The same can be said for the whole Western world.

In a post two years ago on Syria’s Palestinians, I opined that it would behoove the European Union, US, Canada, Latin American states, Australia, and Russia to absorb all 300,000 of them. Comme ça. Can these states—to which one must add those in the OIC who have the means but have so far done little to nothing, but who can and must share in the responsibility—absorb four million Syrians? That’s a lot but what choice is there, as the Syrian war is not going to end anytime soon and what will become of those four million displaced persons in the meantime? But if some kind of international agreement can possibly be worked out on this at some point down the road—when the Syrian refugee crisis has really become untenable—the refugees should be offered choices as to where they want to go—where they have family or support networks, speak the language, and/or will encounter the least difficulties in finding employment, i.e. in integrating into the host society. If refugees are sent to countries—however generous the latter’s intentions may be—where they know no one, don’t speak the language, and are sure to have great difficulties in the labor market, there will be problems, as one learns in this report in Le Monde last week.

À propos of all this, see these two reportages—here and here—on the France 2 news this evening. Je n’ai rien à dire de plus.

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: Vocativ/Jodi Hilton)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: Vocativ/Jodi Hilton)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

Syrian refugees, Istanbul (photo credit: DHA Photo/Hakan Kaya)

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Arabian Nights

As Mil e Uma Noites Vol1 O Inquieto

Volume 1, The Restless One. This is the first part of a trilogy, or triptych, by Portuguese director/auteur Miguel Gomes, which opened in Paris last month to dithyrambic reviews. As I have been more or less riveted to Greece and the EU over the past three or so weeks, it seems logical to have a post on this film and at this moment, as its subject is precisely the deleterious effects that the European Union’s austerian policies have had on Portugal with the crisis that began in 2008-09.

The film is an original—if not idiosyncratic—presentation of the manner in which the crisis has affected that country. Quoting from this pre-projection dispatch in Screen Daily

Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ Arabian Nights, a contemporary re-telling of One Thousand and One Nights, is set to premiere in Directors’ Fortnight, a parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival (May 13-24).

Arabian Nights, the film – or, even better, the three miraculous films – by Miguel Gomes, will be premiering at the Directors’ Fortnight,” said Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop.

“The breathtaking triptych is inspired by the tales told by Scheherazade and by some events that occurred in Portugal between 2013 and 2014, while the country was subjected to a political power denying all forms of social justice. It will set the pace of our program. Each film, directed with a wild fantasy and a great freedom, will have its day.”

Set against the background of the economic crisis in Portugal, a contemporary Scheherazade paints a picture of the country’s woes, across three episodes: Volume 1, The Restless One; Volume 2, The Desolate One; and Volume 3, The Enchanted One.

The Portuguese economic and social crisis, recounted via The Arabian Nights‘s Scheherazade, updated for our present era and with stories that have actually happened in Portugal these past few years. What an original idea for a film. And Hollywood press critics, who saw “Volume 1” at Cannes, indeed piled on the praise. Variety’s Jay Weissberg, whose reviews are always reliable, thus began his

The first installment of Miguel Gomes’ trio of pics acts as a melancholy paean to a broken Portugal and a denunciation of European financial control.

The number of films dealing head-on with the global economic crisis have been shockingly few, leaving the field wide open for someone with the creative complexity and storytelling verve of Miguel Gomes, whose three-part “Arabian Nights” tackles the subject with characteristic imagination and, unsurprisingly, righteous anger. While too early to tell how the trio of pics hang together, it’s possible to say from “Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One,” that audiences are in for a meaty opus that weaves actuality and allegorical fantasy into an outraged portrait of European austerity, witch doctors, the Portuguese politicos at their beck and call, and, most importantly, the unemployed masses. (…)

And this from The Hollywood Reporter’s Boyd van Hoeij’s review’s “Bottom Line”: “People in crisis and flights of fancy come together in this frequently fascinating collage of stories.” And then there’s Indie Wire’s Oliver Lyttelton, who simply said that Miguel Gomes’s triptych was “astonishing.” No less.

As the last film I saw by Miguel Gomes, the 2012 ‘Tabu’, was quite good and original, and in view of the US reviews (always more reliable than the French), I assumed this one would be a guaranteed thumbs up.

The verdict: I found it incomprehensible. I didn’t understand what was happening in the film (made up as it is of several vignettes, all allegories; trailer here). I ceased trying to follow it after some twenty minutes, as I couldn’t make sense of the story (as there didn’t appear to be one). I could have walked out of the theater (sparsely attended, and on opening day) at any moment but stuck it out to the end, though for no good reason, as I was bored to tears for the two long hours. So for the first time in my recent movie-going history, I am obliged to part company with Jay Weissberg. Gomes’s film is one for critics, not audiences. And I am manifestly not alone, as after four weeks in the salles, barely 29,000 have seen it in all of France (cf. ‘Tabu’, which attracted 144K spectateurs during its run; for this latest one, Allociné spectateurs are decidedly less enthusiastic than the critics). In France that is called an échec, i.e. the pic has bombed, and among its natural audience of highbrow cinephiles.

The second “volume” of the triptych opens next week. I think I’ll skip it. And I certainly won’t be the only one.

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Grexit or Gerxit? Ashoka Mody, visiting professor in international economic policy at Princeton—and previously of the IMF—writes in Bloomberg View that “Germany, not Greece, should exit the euro.” Those who read the NYRB will remember George Soros’s essay three years ago, “The tragedy of the European Union and how to resolve it,” in which he proposed precisely this solution: that either Germany assume its role as a benevolent hegemon and with the attendant responsibilities—here, to shore up Greece over the long run—or exit the euro.

At the risk of engaging in crass essentialism, Germany seems incapable of the former, as its only historical experience as a hegemon has been to militarily conquer countries and then brutalize them. So failing to be a benevolent hegemon, Germany should indeed consider quitting the euro (perhaps accompanied by fellow travelers Finland, Slovakia, and maybe the Baltic states) and reverting to its beloved Deutsch Mark, the immediate consequence of which would be a sharp increase in the value of the DM and with the euro plunging, but with the respective currencies, after a couple of years of chaos, finding their equilibrium.

Realistically speaking, though, Germany is not going to quit the euro. No one outside the pages of intello journals and webzines is proposing it. It is not on any agenda and is simply not going to happen. But as Germany is not going to act the benevolent hegemon as Soros suggests—and despite its “moral obligation to Greece,” as FP editor Daniel Altman puts it—the only alternative, in view of the manifest absurdity of the latest bailout agreement—a.k.a. the Agreekment, which no serious person thinks will be implemented, or can be—is Grexit. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard put it on Thursday

What Greece is being asked to do is scientifically impossible. Almost everybody involved in the talks knows this. Yet the lie goes on because the dysfunctional nature of EMU politics and governance makes it impossible to come clean. The country is dishonestly kept in a permanent state of crisis.

Wolfgang Schauble is one of the very few figures who has behaved honourably in this latest chapter. As readers know, I have been highly critical of the hard-bitten finance minister for a long time, holding him directly responsible for the 1930s regime of debt-deflation and contraction imposed on much of Europe, and for refusing to accept that the eurozone’s North-South divide must be closed by both sides. Any policy that puts all the burden of adjustment on the South is destructive and doomed to failure.

But he is entirely right to argue that a velvet divorce and an orderly exit from the euro for five years would be a “better way” for Greece, as he did on German radio this morning [July 16th].

It would allow the country to regain competitiveness at a stroke without a disastrous over-shoot or the risk that events might spin out of control. It would clear the way for proper debt relief – or a standard IMF-style package. (…)

If accompanied by some sort of Marshall Plan or investment blitz – as Mr Schauble appears to favour – it would set the foundations for genuine recovery.

Huge sums of Greek money sitting on the sidelines would probably flood back into the country once the Grexit boil had been lanced. It is a pattern seen time and again in emerging markets across the world over the past 60 years. (…)

Perhaps. For Grexit to happen, there would have to be at least a ten or twenty year moratorium on interest payments on Greece’s debt, not to mention a scrapping of the impossible €50 billion privatization fund contained in the current agreement.

If one didn’t see it, AEP had a hard-hitting, must-read column on Wednesday on how “EMU brutality in Greece has destroyed the trust of Europe’s Left.” The lede: “The Left let itself become the enforcer of reactionary policies and mass unemployment because of the euro. Greece has broken the spell.” Ouch!

Here’s DSK, in an open letter “To my German friends” posted on Twitter, skewering the Agreekment.

The well-known French specialist of geopolitics, François Heisbourg, had an FT op-ed the other day on “The end of an affair for France and Germany.” His conclusion:

Unfortunately, by having avoided what they loathe — debt forgiveness — the Germans may now be hoist with their own petard. Adding billions to Greek debt, enforcing pro-cyclical pension cuts and tax increases in the middle of renewed recession, and positing as in 2011 a €50bn privatisation programme: this is as unlikely to work now as it was in the past. Now it has acquired the formal status of plan B, Grexit is likely to come back. France would then be faced with an impossible choice: to flow with the German-led tide of Grexit, clearly as a subordinate, or to fight a losing battle to prevent a country from being forced out of the European family.

Even Franco-German co-management may not be up to striking a workable compromise. The change behind the scenes is that the Paris-Berlin bond can no longer take strength from the shared project of European integration: France’s 2005 rejection of the proposed EU constitution was a turning point. The relationship has instead become utilitarian and as a result the EU’s days of ever closer union may be at an end.

For a reminder of the intimate involvement of outside actors in the Greek tragedy, see Robert Reich’s piece in The Nation on “How Goldman Sachs profited from the Greek debt crisis.” The lede: “The investment bank made millions by helping to hide the true extent of the debt, and in the process almost doubled it.”

And then there were the 2004 Olympics, which, in the words of freelance journalist Peter Berlin, “rotted Greece.” He poses “the obvious question: Should the International Olympic Committee shoulder some of the blame?” The answer too is obvious. But will the IOC ever shoulder any of the blame? Poser la question c’est y répondre.

Le Monde’s Alain Frachon, in a column dated July 9th, “Grèce, torts partagés,” had this

De Tokyo et avec le recul que confère la distance, le politologue franco-américain Robert Dujarric observe: «Tout le monde sait depuis le XIXe siècle que la Grèce est un Etat dysfonctionnel. Mais depuis son admission, l’UE n’a fait aucun effort pour la moderniser. L’abandonner maintenant serait comme un couple qui a adopté un enfant handicapé et décide de s’en séparer comme on jette une batterie usagée.»

«Au plan moral, les dégâts [du Grexit] pour l’Allemagne seraient incommensurables», dit le politologue Hans Stark, de l’IFRI, sur le site Boulevard extérieur qu’anime Daniel Vernet, grand familier des affaires hellènes. L’Allemagne se verrait reprocher de «n’avoir pas su prévenir un divorce entre peuples, opinions publiques et gouvernements du sud et du nord de l’Europe» ou, poursuit Stark, «de ne l’avoir pas voulu, par crainte de déplaire à une partie de son électorat et de sa classe politique».

Ben Bernanke, formerly chairman of the Fed, has a worthwhile post on his Brookings blog, “Greece and Europe: Is Europe holding up its end of the bargain?” His conclusion:

I’ll end with two concrete proposals. First, negotiations over Greece’s evidently unsustainable debt burden should be based on explicit assumptions about European growth. If European growth turns out to be weaker than projected, which in turn would make it tougher for Greece to grow, then Greece should be allowed greater leeway after the fact in meeting its fiscal targets.

Second, it’s time for the leaders of the euro zone to address the problem of large and sustained trade imbalances (either surpluses or deficits), which, in a fixed-exchange-rate system like the euro zone, impose significant costs and risks. For example, the Stability and Growth Pact, which imposes rules and penalties with the goal of limiting fiscal deficits, could be extended to reference trade imbalances as well. Simply recognizing officially that creditor as well as debtor countries have an obligation to adjust over time (through fiscal and structural measures, for example) would be an important step in the right direction.

Putting forth the libertarian perspective, Cato Institute Senior Fellow Alan Reynolds asserts in Politico that (surprise!) “Greece is being taxed to death.” The lede: “No debtor ever became more creditworthy by being forced to accept less income.” Sounds right to me.

Also writing in Politico, James K. Galbraith, the well-known UT-Austin econ prof and Yanis Varoufakis’s BFF, says (surprise!) that Greece faces a “death spiral ahead.” The lede: “How the latest ‘solution’ to the debt crisis locks Europe into a grim next chapter.” Yep.

In a similar vein, see the analysis by the très gauchiste New School for Social Research econ prof Sanjay Reddy, writing on his Reddytoread blog, “Greece and the Eurozone: The real stakes.”

On why Germany is being so tough on Greece, investigative journalist Dick Laabs, writing in The Guardian, says to “Look back 25 years: To understand Wolfgang Schäuble’s demands in the bailout talks, look at what he inflicted on his own country when it reunified.”

For an explanation of German views of Greece by a historian and specialist of Germany, see the interview in Libération with Johann Chapoutot, who teaches at the Université Sorbonne-Nouvelle, “‘Pour les Allemands, les Grecs d’aujourd’hui ne sont pas à la hauteur des Grecs anciens’.”

Looking at the other side of the equation, Pavlos Eleftheriadis, who is a barrister and Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford—and an activist in the Greek center-left party To Potami—insists, in an op-ed in The Telegraph, that “Greece is a victim of its own cronyism and corruption.” The lede: “Postwar Greece never established welfare systems or open institutions—now it’s paying the price.”

Finally, see the essay in OpenDemocracy by Ronald G. Asch, professor of early modern history at the University of Freiburg: “The decline and fall of the European Union: is it time to rip it up and start again?” The lede: “There was no distinction in EU politics between friend and foe. Everything worked so nicely. But this was also the reason why nobody was greatly interested. This has definitely changed now.” I read Asch’s piece quickly, noting a number of interesting points. Now I have to go back and reread it carefully.

UPDATE: So how is the Agreekment playing in Greek public opinion? According to a poll, 70% are for, with only 24% for default and Grexit. And another poll shows Syriza’s popularity to be up. Stathis Kalyvas’s comment on this: “Greece shows that you can strike a heavy austerity bailout deal that goes against your stated principles and promises and gain in popularity.”

2nd UPDATE: Pierre Crétois, an agrégé in philosophy, has a philosophical meditation in Slate.fr, “Grèce: Et si on n’avait rien compris à la dette?” The lede: “Tout le monde part du principe que la Grèce, débitrice, est responsable du remboursement. Mais le créancier est lui aussi responsable de la dette. Petit rappel philosophique de ce qu’est une dette, de ses enjeux et de sa violence.” Haben Sie Französisch, Herr Schäuble lesen?

3rd UPDATE: Here are links to a few pertinent articles and tribunes in Le Monde from the past three weeks—and which are not too tender toward Greece:

Marie Charrel, “La Grèce a perdu toute la richesse gagnée depuis son passage à l’euro” (July 4th). The lede: “Athènes a utilisé les facilités de la monnaie unique pour accroître les salaires et les dépenses publiques, laissant gonfler les déficits.”

Annick Cojean et Adéa Guillot, “Le système politique grec miné par le clientélisme et la corruption” (July 5th). The lede: “Les réformes destinées à favoriser la méritocratie et la transparence n’ont pas été entreprises.”

In other words, an absolutely colossal, astronomical amount of European money has been wasted in Greece—gone up in smoke—since it joined the euro, as, entre autres, Greece utterly lacked the political and state institutions that should normally have been a precondition for membership in the Eurozone. So does Europe (Germany, France et al) bear at least some of the responsibility for this?

On Greece spending colossal European transfers to no productive end, see the tribune by Christian Saint-Etienne, who holds the chair in economics at the CNAM in Paris, “Athènes est responsable de ce que lui arrive” (July 15th). Money quote:

La Grèce s’est mise largement toute seule dans sa situation actuelle, car le pays a bénéficié de 200 milliards d’euros de fonds structurels depuis son entrée dans l’Union européenne et n’a pas su développer une économie compétitive. L’Etat est structurellement faible et l’évasion fiscale, considérable. Depuis la crise de 2009-2010, la Grèce a bénéficié d’une remise de dette de 105 milliards d’euros par les banques en 2012 et de réductions de sa charge d’intérêt qui porte l’aide accordée au pays à environ 175 milliards d’euros. Si on ajoute les 200 milliards de transferts structurels, la Grèce a déjà obtenu une aide de l’Union européenne de 375 milliards d’euros, supérieure au double de son PIB actuel !

Arrêtons de dire que le pays est écrasé par l’Europe alors que la Grèce ploie sous le poids de son régime oligarchique et du refus de payer l’impôt ! La dette actuelle du pays de 320 milliards d’euros serait de 495 milliards sans l’aide massive déjà obtenue. (…)

La Grèce brûle aujourd’hui du cash au rythme de 20 à 25 milliards d’euros par an. Les banques, qui avaient rétabli leur situation fin 2014, sont à nouveau virtuellement en faillite. Elles devront être recapitalisées à hauteur de 30 milliards d’euros. Même si on réduit sa dette, la Grèce reviendra continuellement tendre la main sans un programme crédible de réformes structurelles. (…)

Those are big numbers there.

4th UPDATE: Fernando Betancor, an American economist living in Madrid, has an essay in OpenDemocracy (July 17th), “Germany’s demographic challenge,” in which he argues strongly against a hypothetical return to the Deutsche Mark. The lede: “Germany is by no means an unstoppable juggernaut, and the re-erection of trade barriers across the continent and a return to a strong Deutschmark would ravage the economy.”

5th UPDATE: On Project Syndicate, Harvard Kennedy School economics prof Jeffrey Frankel asks “Is Tsipras the new Lula?” (July 17th) and Jeffrey Sachs weighs in on “Germany, Greece, and the future of Europe” (July 20th).

6th UPDATE: The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki has an interesting, worthwhile piece in the issue dated July 27th, “How can Greece take charge?” The lede: “If Europe won’t help, the only option is reshaping the economy.”

7th UPDATE: University of Pennsylvania poli sci prof Julia Gray has a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on “How Greece’s credit went south” (July 20th).

8th UPDATE: Professors Vassilis K. Fouskas and Constantine Dimoulas, respectively of the University of East London and Panteion University in Athens, have a sharp and worthy article—in which they make a number of good points—in OpenDemocracy, “Greece has two choices, and so do the creditors” (July 21st). The lede: “After 13 July 2015, Syriza’s Greece and, for that matter, the creditors have two choices. Modernise the Greek state; or let Greece default and risk disintegration not just of EMU/EU but also Nato.”

9th UPDATE: Kathleen McNamara, who teaches government and international affairs at Georgetown, has a smart, must-read post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (July 21st), “This is what economists don’t understand about the euro crisis – or the U.S. dollar.”

10th UPDATE: Anatole Kaletsky, who, entre autres, chairs the governing board of the Institute for New Economic Thinking (co-founded by George Soros), has a commentary in Project Syndicate (July 22nd) on “Why the Greek deal will work.” This one merits reading.

11th UPDATE: Libération’s incontournable Jean Quatremer has, on his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, a lengthy, unsparing critique (July 24th) of the current Greek prime minister and his action since taking office in January, “La déroute d’Alexis Tsipras.” Quatremer’s demolition of Tsipras and Syriza is a must-read, so please take the time to do so.

12th UPDATE: Joschka Fischer has a commentary in Project Syndicate (July 23rd) on “The Return of the Ugly German.” See also Zeit Magazin’s graphic novel “Game of Greece” (July 23rd; translated from the German). The lede: “The rise and fall of Greece explains a great deal about Europe, politics and power – in a way not unlike ‘Game of Thrones.’ An illustrated guide throughout the crisis.”

13th UPDATE: Now here is a totally excellent, absolutely must-read article, published on the website of the Harvard Business Review (July 27th), “Greece’s problem is more complicated than austerity,” by Michael G Jacobides, who is Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, plus Sir Donald Gordon Chair of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, at the London Business School. And he’s Greek. Please read it. Now.

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Today is Bastille Day. La fête nationale. I would normally have a special post on it—as I have every July 14th since AWAV was launched—but not this year. Am too distracted by Greece. And Europe. À propos of this, here’s an on-target commentary I came across earlier today, “Tormenting Greece is about sending a message that we are now in a new EU,” by the well-known Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole. He starts

What’s the difference between the Mafia and the current European leadership? The Mafia makes you an offer you can’t refuse. The leaders of the European Union offer you a deal you can neither refuse nor accept without destroying yourself.

The European Union as we have known it ended over the weekend. That EU project was all about the gradual convergence of equal nations into an “ever closer union”. That’s finished now.

Read the whole thing. As an observer in one of the PIGS, O’Toole knows of what he speaks. And in addition to being a sharp analyst, he has a fine sense of le second degré, as one may glean in this tweet

#Greece should have declared itself a bank. Would have been bailed out no questions asked.


Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Centre for European Reform in London—the best think tank on the EU—has an op-ed in today’s NYT, “The Eurozone’s fault lines,” in which he begins with this

The euro was supposed to boost European economic growth and living standards, strengthen public finances and hence the sustainability of welfare states. Politically, it was supposed to bring the European Union’s member states together, and prevent a newly united Germany from becoming too dominant. But the opposite has happened.

The hoped-for convergence in living standards between richer and poorer members of the eurozone has failed to materialize. Far from the single currency nurturing a European polity, relations between northern and southern countries have never been more fraught. And the crisis has put the burden on a German leadership that is poorly equipped to exercise it.

On relations between the EU north and south, see the piece in Foreign Policy on the goddamned f*cking Finns, “Tiny Finland could complicate new Greek bailout deal.” Anyone for a #finexit? (just kidding) Europe is doomed if populist politicians in little EU countries gain the ascendancy in the European Council and Eurogroup.

CER analysts Christian Odendahl and John Springford, writing on the CER website, assert that “The Greek bailout deal resolves nothing,” that “[e]ven if the new bailout makes it through the Greek parliament in coming weeks, the programme’s economic incoherence will make it fall apart.” And in the same vein, Barry Eichengreen, writing in Social Europe, argues that to save Greece is to save Europe.

While one is at it, see as well the comment by Social Europe editor-in-chief Henning Meyer, “What are the consequences of the Greek deal?” Also the piece by WaPo Wonkblog reporters Roberto A. Ferdman and Matt O’Brien, “How Greece became the worst economy in Europe.”

À suivre.

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It’s only a matter of time. The European Council may have reached its last-minute deal to avert a Grexit this month—with the certain calamitous consequences for Greece and the rest of Europe this would have entailed—but the damage has been done. This past week has to have been the worst ever in the 65-year history of the construction of Europe. What has happened is a disaster for Europe—for the idea of Europe, if that still means anything. Arthur Goldhammer is right in saying that “the euro [may be] saved, but the euro, it is now clear, is going to be a thorn in Europe’s side if not a spike in its heart for years to come.” How can it not be, with people like Wolfgang Schäuble and Jeroen Dijsselbloem all but calling the shots? Of course the successive governments in Athens have been hugely responsible for what has happened but still, who do the f*cking Finns and Slovaks think they are to lecture the Greeks and threaten them with expulsion from Europe? Who the hell does Alexander Stubb think he is to be reading the riot act to anyone outside his little country? And for the big country in Europe—Wolfgang Schäuble’s—to be humiliating a member EU state—or any state, for that matter? Art Goldhammer nailed it again

[The deal] was nothing less than a humiliation of a small and suffering member state, a sadistic display of naked financial power. Do as we say or we will “collapse your banks,” Eurogroup Chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem had apparently told Greek negotiators earlier. In the climactic weekend it emerged that he wasn’t bluffing. Despite the fact that the ‘No’ vote had scored a resounding victory in a national referendum a week earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided he had no choice but to surrender to all the creditors’ demands, but in the end it turned out that even unconditional surrender was not enough.

Germany’s implacable finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, saw weakness in his opponent and went for the jugular. He insisted on “guarantees” that Greece would keep its word, including sequestration of Greek assets in a fund under his control. No such guarantees had been demanded previously, but now Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously seemed less exigent than Schäuble, declared that Greece had forfeited the “trust” of its European partners. In the end she proved to be a good German but not a good European.

As for what happened in Brussels last night, the FT thus reported

“They crucified Tsipras in there,” a senior eurozone official who had attended the summit remarked. “Crucified.”

Wolfgang Münchau has an awesome FT tribune today, “Greece’s brutal creditors have demolished the eurozone project.” No money quotes, as the whole piece is one. Just read it. All of it.

This social media comment by Yascha Mounk, a recent Harvard Ph.D. who teaches political theory in the Government Dept there (and who’s German)—no doubt reflects the sentiments of many

It’s strange to think that, back when I was a teenager, the European project still seemed like the kind of thing to which one might nobly devote one’s life. But the European dream is dead—not just because of Greece, but because of the depth of nationalism the euro crisis has revealed, and the ugly hatred it has incited.

The best we can now hope for is an orderly slimming of the EU to its key achievements: free movement of people, coordination on the most important regulations, etc. (I deliberately exclude political values: as the case of Hungary shows, the EU is incapable of safeguarding those in any case.) But the centrifugal forces, and the strength of the populists, will be such in the next years that we may wind up losing even that.

Again, the posture of Germany and its little country allies may have killed the European idea. As for big country France, I shudder in anticipation of the coming public opinions polls on attitudes toward Europe. Revulsion is all but guaranteed. And in polls outre-Manche, Brexit will no doubt leap.

It’s now beyond doubt that the euro has been “a curse,” as retired longtime Christ Church, Oxford, economics professor Peter Oppenheimer asserted recently.

N.B. the euro, not Europe; not the European idea. The problem is not the Treaty of Rome or even the Single European Act; it’s Article 109 of the Maastricht Treaty, and all that ensued from that.

The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in a comment entitled “Greek deal poisons Europe as backlash mounts against ‘neo-colonial servitude’,” weighs in on the deal. E.g.

“Greece has been devastated and humiliated. Europe has showed itself Pharisaical, incapable of leadership and solidarity,” said Romano Prodi, the former Italian prime minister.

An independent fund will take control of €50bn of Greek state assets, collateral to prevent Syriza reneging on the deal at a later date. Three-quarters of this will be sued to recapitalise the Greek banks and repay debt.

International inspectors will have the power to veto legislation. The radical-Left Syriza government will be forced to repeal a raft of laws passed since it took power in January, stripping away the last fig leaf of sovereignty.

“It is unconditional surrender. We get serious austerity with no debt relief. We will have foreign supervisors crawling over everything,” said Costas Lapavitsas, a Syriza MP and one of 40 or so rebels who plan to abstain or vote against the deal, mostly from the Left Platform.

“They are telling us that from now on, they are going to govern the country…”

In the plan is a provision for ending laws against Sunday trading. Rhetorical question: What does having stores open on Sundays have to do with economic growth and/or reimbursing national debt? Concrete question: Are stores in Germany open on Sunday? Answer here.

Back to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, TWS senior editor Christopher Caldwell, in a piece on Greece in the latest issue—in which valid points are mixed with Eurosceptic pablum and other silliness—writes this

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of London’s Daily Telegraph has therefore asked whether we are right to focus on Greece at all. Evans-Pritchard is a conservative writer whose well-informed essays on European finance are a bracing contrast to the conservative sloganeers in the United States, who often write as if the virtuous party in any dispute were always the one with the most money. “The currency union itself is delinquent,” Evans-Pritchard asserts. He is right. Greeks could borrow what they did because they were now members of a rich family. If Brad Rockefeller walks into a casino in a soiled T-shirt and runs up a million-dollar debt that neither he nor his family will repay, what was the casino’s mistake? Trusting some T-shirt-wearing guy or trusting the Rockefellers?

In the Paris business daily La Tribune, Romaric Godin asserts that “La défaite de la Grèce [est] la défaite de l’Europe.” Disheartening reading but necessary. See also Godin’s piece from last Friday—an eternity ago—”Grèce: où Alexis Tsipras veut-il en venir?

I’ve been ranting here but so be it. I’m really quite dismayed and dejected about all this.

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Posters pushing for a no vote for the French referendum on the EU constitution in Marseille

I am reminded that today is the 10th anniversary of the French referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty, which resulted in the treaty’s decisive defeat—thereby scuttling it (and with Dutch voters delivering the coup de grâce four days later in the referendum there)—and formally inaugurating the era in which the French electorate became Eurosceptic in its majority. N.B. Euroscepticism here does not signify a rejection of the construction of Europe tout court; just not “this” Europe. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Personally speaking, I was a 100% partisan of a oui vote in the 2005 referendum. The Constitutional Treaty was a good, solid, well-conceived text, put together via a democratic, transparent process, and was quite simply the best treaty the European Union could have possibly come up with in view of the absolute necessity to adapt the institutional architecture to an EU going from 15 to 25 members—with the enlargement of 2004, and an additional two in 2007—and to institutionally tackle the EU’s famous “democratic deficit.” IMO, there were no good arguments against the treaty. None whatever. Those who opposed the treaty either didn’t know what they were talking about—which was the case for leftists who voted non—or were fighting the last war—and one already lost—which was the case for right-wing non voters.

During the referendum campaign in the spring of 2005—to which I was riveted—I attended public events of all four camps:

  • Oui de gauche: A town hall meeting at the Sèvres mairie, with Jack Lang (very good) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (totally excellent), which was intermittently disrupted by two loud-mouthed noniste de gauche hecklers, who, after the longest time, were escorted out.
  • Oui de droite: A packed town hall meeting at a large auditorium in my right-wing banlieue, with the then local UMP deputy (and member of the Raffarin II government) Henri Plagnol (excellent) pedagogically explaining the treaty to the audience of mostly UMP voters.
  • Non de droite: A packed rally of several thousand at the Palais des Sports (Porte de Versailles), with souverainistes Philippe de Villiers and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan the têtes d’affiche, and with speakers from several, mostly northern European Eurosceptic parties, including UKIP’s Nigel Farage (speaking in fluent, albeit heavily accented, French).
  •  Non de gauche: A rally in a meeting hall in Créteil of a couple of hundred people, presided by the commune’s longtime fabusien mayor, Laurent Cathala, and with a panoply of speakers from hard leftist (PCF), extreme leftist (LCR etc), and gauchiste civil society associations.

The arguments of the oui de gauche and oui de droite were similar, which each camp emphasizing different things to address concerns of its voters, e.g. the oui de gauche assuring that the Constitutional Treaty would absolutely not undermine the welfare state, the oui de droite that the treaty in no way paved the way for the entry of Turkey in the EU.

Noteworthy were the arguments of the non camp. In the case of the right-wing souverainistes, they argued for a Gaullist vision of a Europe of Nations, of a return to the Europe of the Treaty of Rome. And on this, they presented their case well (on the level of oratory, de Villiers and Dupont-Aignan, plus the youthful Guillaume Peltier, were excellent, BTW). Their world-view was coherent, with one either buying it or not, but voting oui or non wouldn’t have changed a thing, as, with the Single Act and the Maastricht Treaty, the horse had already bolted from the stable, as it were. There was (and is) simply no turning the clock back to the 1960s (and returning to the franc). The hard right-wing, as is its wont, was engaging in the politics of nostalgia.

A note: The oui de droite rally revealed, for me at least, an undercurrent of Germanophobia on the French right (and which is present on the left as well, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon has reminded us with his latest pamphlet). All the flags of EU member states were hung from the rafters except for the German. And in the literature tables there were anti-Germany books (by small right-wing publishers) that I had never heard of. And this Germanophobia has become more pronounced in the ensuing decade.

What most struck me was the rally of the non de gauche. It was a horror show. A tissue of lies from beginning to end. In attendance at the Créteil rally was the petit peuple de gauche in all its splendor: working-class public employees, CGT and FO activists, Communist and Trotskyist militants, and other sundry hard leftists, and with each speaker seemingly trying to outdo the other in demagoguery and mendacity. E.g. the insistence that the Constitutional Treaty would threaten abortion rights (bullshit) or laïcité (bullshit times ten), or undermine the sacrosanct French social model (unfounded nonsense). Etc, etc. The hysteria and lies went on and on. But none of the gauchistes’ objections were valid in the least. Not a single one.

As for blogger Etienne Chouard’s arguments, which were a huge hit on the noniste left, I refuted all of them at the time, as did others.

At the end of the day, the failure of the referendum was the fault of Jacques Chirac, who organized it in the first place. He wasn’t obliged to. He could have simply had parliament ratify it with a three-fifths votes and that would have been that. But with the referendum called, Chirac then failed to defend the treaty, unlike François Mitterrand during the Maastricht referendum campaign 13 years prior. And UMP president Nicolas Sarkozy, obsessed with 2007, didn’t lift a finger to do so.

One positive effect of the referendum was that it got the French electorate engaged with Europe in a way it had never been before, save the 1992 campaign. Malheureusement les Français ont mal votés…


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The UK election

generalelection-575738 Daily Express

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Je suis dégoûté. Really disappointed, mainly as the outcome wasn’t expected. After the US midterms, the Israeli vote, and now this one, I don’t think I can take any more such unanticipated election results. What next? An AKP landslide in Turkey on June 7th, giving the president-sultan there his super-majority to rewrite the constitution as he sees fit? What an unpleasant thought. On the misfiring of the UK pre-election polls, Nate Silver, in his live blogging last night, opined (at 9:54 PM) that “the world may have a polling problem,” with accurate polling posing increasing challenges.

Also having a problem—and a big one—is the Labour party and, more generally, center-left/social democratic parties of government that have moved to the center over the past two decades. As political scientists Johannes Karreth and Jonathan Polk argued on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog two days ago—and with data to back it up—”Moving to the center can be costly for left-wing parties.” The era when embracing neoliberalism looked to be the right electoral strategy is now past.

On Labour’s debacle, journalist John Lanchester, in a post today on the LRB blog—in which he confesses that he did not see the result coming—writes

First-past-the-post is not especially fair, but it is supposed to deliver clear outcomes. In 2010, it didn’t. This time, against all expectations, it did. Lots more detail will come in over the next weeks as the data are analysed and the political scientists do their thing, but for me, a couple of things really stand out. If Labour had retained all of their 41 Scottish seats, the Tories would still be the majority government. So that must mean Labour got creamed in England, yes? Actually, no. Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. Labour could even claim that they won the English campaign, in the same sense that the British army could claim it won the Charge of the Light Brigade.

So what did happen in England? The Tories smashed it in the marginals. In the battleground constituencies Labour were down on their 2010 performance by 0.7 per cent. Labour’s overall improvement in England was driven by success on their own turf: 3.5 per cent increase in the North East, 6 per cent in the North West. Where there was a genuine contest with the Tories, the Tories did better. People sometimes say that election campaigns don’t matter, but that is manifestly not the case this time. The Tories out-campaigned Labour in the places where they needed to.

Writing in The Telegraph, blogger Tim Stanley, who was apparently a Labour person in the recent past, says “No tears for Ed Miliband, please. He was the reason Labour lost.”

On first-past-the-post vs. proportional representation, LSE political scientists Jack Blumenau and Simon Hix had a pre-election post in Monkey Cage asking “What would Britain look like under Proportional Representation?

That question today is neither here nor there but it nonetheless merits mention that, under straight PR—and with voters voting the way they did—the LD yesterday would have netted 50 seats (instead of 8), SNP 30 seats (and not 56), and UKIP a full 82 (as opposed to its measly one). The likely coalition outcome: the Tories with UKIP and the (very right-wing) Ulster Protestant DUP. Anyone still for PR?…

On the (trashy) British media coverage of the election campaign, which was flagrantly biased in favor of the Tories and against Labour, see journalist Peter Jukes’s piece, “The British press has lost it,” which has been the most read article on Politico.eu’s website today. The British press, as I wrote some four years ago, is terrible (and far worse than the American or French).

The main concern for me personally in this election—and the reason why I so wanted the Tories to lose—was David Cameron’s insane promise to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership in the EU, which, if it takes place—and it now will—will likely result in a vote for Brexit, the consequences of which will be calamitous for Europe—and for the UK as well, as a pro-EU Scotland will demand—and necessarily be granted—another referendum on independence, and which, this time, will succeed.

My idée reçue on this, however, may not be warranted. As Politico.eu’s Tunku Varadarajan argues, the decisive Tory victory now means that “Britain’s membership [in] the EU is safe

The Tories have seen off the UKIP threat in the short-to-medium term. Their backers in the City of London and in industry would rather die than endure the calamity of ‘Brexit,’ and Cameron knows this. Cameron’s silence on the subject of the EU during the election campaign made it plain that his promise of a referendum was tactical. A referendum there will be, of course, but it will be one in which only UKIP campaigns for an abrogation of EU membership. Cameron’s pro-EU price in Brussels will be a promise by the European Council to renegotiate some treaty terms. It is unlikely that Brussels will refuse. If the prospect of Brexit is unbearable in the City of London, it is equally unbearable in Brussels.

On Cameron’s demand to renegotiate EU treaty terms, I’ve been assuming that such will be met by the European Council with a fin de non recevoir, but again, maybe I’m mistaken. Bernard Guetta, in a commentary on France Inter this morning, thinks it likely that Brussels will end up making the necessary concessions to keep the UK in the EU (and which will thereby allow for the formal creation of a two-speed Europe, as dreamed for by France; listen here).

As for Scotland, numerous journalists and pundits are certain that independence—a hypothesis I am totally hostile to, as I explained here last September—is only a matter of time, e.g. Ben Judah’s Politico.eu report last weekend from the campaign trail, datelined Edinburgh, in which he asserted “Make no mistake: It’s ‘bye-bye Britain.’” With yesterday’s SNP sweep, the sentiment that Scotland will quit the UK has only been reinforced. I’m not convinced. The SNP may have won a big victory but the impressive 30 point increase in its popular vote score, to 50% north of the border, merely aligns it, more or less, with its score in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections—and its result in last September’s referendum. And while every last voter who favors Scottish independence voted SNP yesterday, a small number of the latter’s voters no doubt remain unionists at heart. So pro-independence sentiment is not (yet) in the majority.

In point of fact, Scotland can only gain independence if the UK prime minister allows the organization of a referendum, and there is no reason for Cameron (or his successor) to do this in the absence of a game changing situation, which can only be a Brexit victory in the UK-wide EU vote. Moreover, if such a referendum for Scotland is eventually held, the rules imposed by London may be different from those last time, e.g. stipulating a super-majority (say, 55%) or allowing all persons born in Scotland, but residing elsewhere in the UK, the right to vote in it. So Scottish independence is not a done deal.

Also, the fact that the SNP will have the third largest group of deputies in the House of Commons also changes the game. The SNP’s participation in Westminster will significantly implicate it in national politics and likely temper its demands for a referendum on independence, particularly if a new federal or confederal arrangement is negotiated with London (if Cameron is going to make demands on Brussels for the UK to stay in the EU, it stands to reason that he will concede to Edinburgh to keep Scotland in the UK). So at the end of the day, the SNP may ultimately transform itself into a regional federalist party, as the PQ has, in effect, become in Quebec, as has the Lega Nord in Italy.

One good analysis I’ve read today on the election is University of Georgia professor Cas Mudde’s “A disunited kingdom,” in OpenDemocracy. The lede: “While the Conservative victory is remarkable, it is a mere incident in the fundamental transformation of British politics that is being played out in at least four important chapters. British politics is dead.”

The most gratifying result from the election was certainly the defeat of the unspeakable George Galloway, in his Bradford West constituency, and to a Pakistani-origin female Labour candidate. That warms the heart.

UPDATE: Author Richard Seymour—who is solidly on the left—has a good post-election analysis on the Jacobin website, “The end of Labour.” The lede: “Yesterday’s British election was about the collapse of the Labour Party — and where we go from here.”

2nd UPDATE: Cambridge University political theorist David Runciman has some interesting “Notes on the election” on the LRB blog.

3rd UPDATE: David Frum, the well-known conservative Canadian-American pundit—who is presently chairman of the UK think tank Policy Exchange—has a post-election commentary in The Atlantic worth linking to, in which he tells US Republicans “What [they] can learn from British Conservatives.” The lede: “Several of the world’s center-right parties have modernized in ways the GOP hasn’t.”

The conservative leaders Frum mentions are mainly in the Anglosphere: in addition to David Cameron, Canada’s Stephen Harper and Australia’s Tony Abbott. Now these latter two I find particularly unpalatable but Frum’s point—that the GOP could learn from them—is well-taken. E.g.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. These conservatives do not abjectly defend the healthcare status quo; they attempt to open more space for competition and private initiative within the health sector. But they accept that universal health coverage in some form has joined old-age pensions and unemployment insurance in the armature of an advanced modern economy. In this, their American counterparts are the true outliers.

The difference between the American right and the rest may, I think, be summed up in one name: Ayn Rand. If her ideas have ever found a receptive audience elsewhere in the Anglosphere—or anywhere else in the world—I am not aware of it. As for the receptiveness to Ayn Rand in the US, this has ideological roots—e.g. in late 19th century Social Darwinism—but that’s a whole other discussion.

4th UPDATE: Peter Oborne, associate editor of The Spectator, has an opinion piece in Politico.eu on “The ruins of Labour,” in which he says that a return to Blairism is not the answer to Labour’s woes.

5th UPDATE: Peter Hall, the Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University—who’s very smart; I’ve read and used his academic writings over the decades—has a piece in WaPo’s Monkey Cage on how “English voters were influenced by the politics of fear.”

In this vein, the post-election commentary by The Nation’s London bureau chief D.D. Gutterplan also asserted that “Fear wins big in Britain.”

And also in Monkey Cage is an instructive piece by Kieran Healy, associate professor of sociology at Duke University, on “What the runners-up tell us about Britain’s election.” Reading this, it seems pretty clear that the UK needs electoral reform, to replace FPTP with STV or some variant of PR.

6th UPDATE: John Prescott—former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, former UK Deputy Prime Minister, and current Sunday Mirror columnist—argues that “Labour lost the election five years ago” and explains why. The reason: Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership failed to defend Labour’s past economic record.

7th UPDATE: Jim Messina, President Obama’s former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager, who was an adviser to the Tories and David Cameron’s campaign, has a piece in Politico Magazine (May 17th) on “Why the GOP can’t get no satisfaction.” The lede: “My British experience—including advice from Mick Jagger—taught me that the Republican Party could end up like Ed Miliband.” N.B. Messina’s piece is about the British election, not the GOP or American politics.

8th UPDATE: Stanley Greenberg, the CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and pollster for the Labour Party (as well as the Zionist Camp in Israel during the last campaign there), explicates, in Politico.eu (May 17th), the reasons for the Tory victory, in which it is asserted that “Right-wing wins come at too high a price.” The lede: “I watched overseas as Britain and Israel’s leaders did long-term harm to their countries.”

9th UPDATE: Simon Wren-Lewis, who teaches economics at Oxford University, has a post on the election reblogged in Social Europe (May 18th), in which he puts Niall Ferguson and his “triumphalist Tory tosh” through the shredder.

10th UPDATE: Ross McKibbin, an emeritus research fellow at St John’s College, Oxford, has a lengthy piece in the June 4th issue of the LRB (posted online on May 21st) on “the Labour Party’s most recent demise.”

11th UPDATE: David Held, who teaches politics at Durham Univesity, has a column (May 22nd) in OpenDemocracy, in which he poses “10 questions for the Labour Party.”

12th UPDATE: Patrick Wintour, political editor of The Guardian, has a lengthy piece (June 3rd) on “The undoing of Ed Miliband – and how Labour lost the election.” The lede: “It was Labour’s most stunning defeat since 1983. This exclusive account, based on unique access to the party leader’s closest aides, tells the inside story of what went wrong.”

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