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Europe

May was histrionic. June could be historic.

Saturday, 25 May, 2019

When Prime Minister Theresa May stepped up to the lectern outside No. 10 Downing Street yesterday to announce she was stepping down as Tory leader on 7 June, a weary press and public exhaled a sigh of relief. Yes, there were pious expressions of sympathy from pundits declaring to be moved by her emotional statement, but their tears, unlike those of the genuinely upset Mrs May, were of the crocodile kind. Theresa May will be judged as one of the UK’s worst leaders. That’s the harsh reality. She took office at a time of crisis, but also opportunity. The Brexit vote was a democratic demand for change, but she wasted that opportunity, and then drove Great Britain deeper into crisis.

Theresa May was a technocrat, and the kind of politics preferred by technocrats is best exemplified by the Brussels bureaucracy. Not everyone wants that kind of politics, though. So, what next? Brexit means Boris writes Stephen Robinson in The Spectator. This bit will strike a chord with all those members of the typing class who have struggled with deadlines:

“I can’t say I know Boris well, despite our once having been Telegraph colleagues, mostly on different continents. I cannot say I even like him that much. I resented him when I edited the paper’s comment pages for filing his column three hours late, which meant I couldn’t get home to see my infant children.”

In the end, May was histrionic. June could be historic.


These EU elections again

Wednesday, 15 May, 2019

Apart from the excitement generated so far by the astonishing polling performance of the Brexit Party in the UK, this year’s European Union Parliament elections are inducing even more torpor than ever. European political debate, such as it is, is still dominated by Brexit, while President Macron’s EU reform proposals, which should have lit a fire, have been completely quenched. Credit for that must go to Chancellor Merkel, who ignored them, and her designated successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has done nothing to suggest that she’s going to deviate from Mutti’s cold-shoulder line. Reformist ideas coming from France simply don’t survive the crossing of the Rhine anymore.

This leaves us with an election in which mostly Lilliputian candidates repeat mostly hackneyed phrases. Because the stakes are so low, turnout will be low, too. And because nothing much will change after 26 May the lack of voter excitement is totally justified. Despite Brexit, the immigration crisis and the fragility of the euro, the EU seems unable to energize itself or the citizens of its member states. This is all the more astonishing, given that Europe’s North Atlantic partner and protector is drifting away, China’s rapacious Belt and Road initiative is making inroads in Italy after making important acquisitions in Greece and Russia is becoming ever more dangerous as it expands its malign influence into the eastern regions of the EU. There’s lots going on but the European Union seems destined to a future of global irrelevance. It’s not surprising, then, that the so-called populists get all the attention.


Down with Article 13, which is now Article 17!

Saturday, 23 March, 2019

The EU, despite its enormous bureaucracy and budgets, has singularly failed to produce an Apple, a Google, an Amazon, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Microsoft, an Adobe, a Whatsapp, a Reddit, a Procore, a Wikipedia…. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Despite its enormous budgets and bureaucracy, though, the EU is very good at one thing when it comes to technology: the shakedown. If it’s not European tech and it’s really popular, fine it. That’s the thinking in Brussels, and this has turned out to be a rather nice little earner over the past decade.

The latest scam is a proposed reform of EU of copyright law (PDF). Brussels claims this would force internet platforms to share revenues with artists by forcing the likes of Google and Facebook to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and removing copyright-protected content from YouTube or Instagram. The platforms would have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, publishers and journalists to use their work online. To do this, the platforms would have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material, but these algorithms might not see the joke in Hitler’s comments about Boris Johnson. And the filters are seen by many as the thin end of an EU wedge to throttle free speech and impose Brussels-like dreariness upon a creative continent.

The European Parliament is set to have its final vote on the proposals next Tuesday and protests against the legislation are scheduled across Europe today. The demonstrations are being organized by the Save Your Internet campaign, which has labelled the legislation “a massive threat to the free exchange of opinions and culture online.” So, sign up, hit the streets and sing along.


Spoiled brats blame Trump for Europe’s failings!

Saturday, 16 February, 2019

“Spoiled for 70 years with an American security blanket, and for the past 20 by a common currency that artificially boosts its export market, Germany has most overreacted to Trump’s unorthodox views concerning NATO and trade. Yet Trump is not to blame for the fact that Berlin’s Nord Stream 2 project is a blatant violation of E.U. competition rules and an abject moral and political betrayal of its Eastern European allies. Trump is not to blame for the pathetic state of the German military. And Berlin has the gall to complain about Trump’s hasty retreat from Syria, despite not having committed a single soldier to the mission.”

So writes James Kirchick for The Brookings Institution in a piece titled Blaming Trump for their problems is the one thing Europeans can agree on. Kirchick has nothing but righteous contempt for Europe’s effete elites:

“In response to Russia’s blatant violations of the INF treaty, which puts the strategic stability of Europe at grave risk, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reflexively called for a global disarmament conference. ‘The minister and his cabinet,’ writes Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations, ‘are detached from military realities.’ You could say the same about Germans generally, 55 percent of whom believe the United States is a threat — twice as many as those who view North Korea as one.”

The absurd Maas and his sycophants will spend this weekend declaiming their mantras at the annual Munich Security Conference but their bleatings are pathetic and transparent. James Kirchick nails it here:

“But as long as Trump remains in the White House, expect most European thought leaders to continue using him as an excuse to avoid contending with the continent’s serious, systemic and structural problems, or pretend that these challenges are somehow the fault of the ogre in the White House. After all, Europeans can agree on so few things these days.”

The sting is in the tail there.


Why did the Airbus A380 fail?

Friday, 15 February, 2019

That was the question posed yesterday by Daniel Thomas, “Business reporter, BBC News.” Despite typing more than a dozen paragraphs and providing two infographics, Daniel failed to deliver anything that resembled an answer. The truth, perhaps, is too unpalatable because the simple fact is that the Airbus A380, a prestige project of European state capitalism, couldn’t survive in the free market. That’s why it failed.

Airbus A380


Jupiter Falling: We Get Fooled Again and Again

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

Last year, the European elites warned the “deplorables” of France, les sans-culottes, and their better-off relations in la bourgeoisie, that if they didn’t vote for the elitist candidate, they would have to endure le deluge. So, they did and thus was M. Macron elected president. He said he wanted to rule as a ‘Jupiter’, above the political fray, but les gilets jaunes have brought him down to earth, sharply.

All of this was foreseen in 1971 by the political savant Roger Daltry, who doubled as a vocalist for The Who. Peering into the 21st century, and anticipating the handover of power from the hapless Hollande to the oleaginous Macron, Daltry said: “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

“There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
The parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight”


European Elites And African Babies

Monday, 22 October, 2018

Why are European elites worrying about African babies? Ross Douthat claims that the angst is being driven by what he terms “Macron’s Law,” which postulates that with wealth and education birthrates fall — and fall, and fall. In Fear of a Black Continent, he examines Western-supported population control efforts in the developing world:

“So why are they creeping back into the discussion? For three reasons: Because African birthrates haven’t slowed as fast as Western experts once expected, because European demographics are following Macron’s Law toward the grave, and because European leaders are no longer nearly so optimistic about assimilating immigrants as even a few short years ago… This trend would have revived a certain kind of population-bomb anxiety no matter what, but the anxiety in Europe is a little more specific than that – because over the same period, Europe’s population is likely to drop by about one hundred million. (Western Europe’s leaders are a vanguard here: Neither Macron nor Angela Merkel nor Theresa May have any biological children.) In the late 1990s Europe and Africa had about the same population; a hundred years later there could be seven Africans for every European. And the experience of recent refugee crises has demonstrated to European leaders both how easily populations can move northward, and how much harder assimilation may be than they once hoped.”

Bottom line: “But focusing on European fertility has at least one moral advantage over Macro’s finger-wagging at African babymaking: It’s the part of the future that Europeans actually deserve to control.”


Day of reckoning in Sweden

Sunday, 9 September, 2018

The polls have opened in Sweden’s general election and pundits predict that neither the governing Social Democrats nor the Moderate Party is likely to win a majority. The big story, of course, is the rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD), who may end up taking second place, which would be a huge shock for the Swedish and European establishments. SD leader Jimmie Åkesson says that Sweden had become “an extreme country in many ways, not least when it comes to immigration” and that his plan to take in fewer migrants should be regarded as “normal politics in the rest of Europe”. From Brussels to Berlin, from Rome to Madrid, all eyes will be on Stockholm tonight.

“Everything I read about the Swedish Social Democratic government of the last century suggested an organization that was driven by one single, overarching goal: to sever the traditional, some would say natural, ties between its citizens, be they those that bound children to their parents, workers to their employers, wives to their husbands, or the elderly to their families.” — Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia

UPDATE: The Swedish election has left the two main political blocs almost tied. With all ballots counted, the governing centre-left coalition is marginally ahead of its centre-right Alliance rivals, with around 40% each. The Sweden Democrats (SD) won about 18% of the vote, up from 12.9% in the previous election. A lengthy battle to form a working coalition now looks certain.


A German writes about Germany and Trump

Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Jochen Bittner, a political editor with the German weekly Die Zeit, addresses the enormous hypocrisy of Europe and, especially Germany, in a New York Times op-ed titled What Trump Gets Right About Europe. Snippet:

“Mr. Trump’s anger at America’s allies embodies, however unpleasantly, a not unreasonable point of view, and one that the rest of the world ignores at its peril: The global world order is unbalanced and inequitable. And unless something is done to correct it soon, it will collapse, with or without the president’s tweets.

While the West happily built the liberal order over the past 70 years, with Europe at its center, the Americans had the continent’s back. In turn, as it unravels, America feels this loss of balance the hardest — it has always spent the most money and manpower to keep the system working.

The Europeans have basically been free riders on the voyage, spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.

The European Union, as an institution, is one of the prime drivers of this inequity. At the Group of 7, for example, the constituent countries are described as all equals. But in reality, the union puts a thumb on the scales in its members’ favor: It is a highly integrated, well-protected free-trade area that gives a huge leg up to, say, German car manufacturers while essentially punishing American companies who want to trade in the region.

The eurozone offers a similar unfair advantage. If it were not for the euro, Germany would long ago have had to appreciate its currency in line with its enormous export surplus.”

What sort of lives do people/nations, who pose as being moral, lead? Jochen Bittner has posed the question and answered it, too.

Language note: The word “hypocrite” came to English from the Greek hypokrites, which means “actor” or “stage player.” Hypokrites is made up of two words that translate as “an interpreter from underneath,” and that makes sense when you know that actors in ancient Greece wore masks to represent the characters they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

Hypokrites took on an expanded meaning to refer to anyone wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they were not, and this meaning was imported into medieval French and then into English, where it appeared with the spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to those who pretend to be pious to deceive others. By the 16th century, hypocrite had gained its initial h-.


When A. A. Gill visited Monte Carlo

Sunday, 21 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2001, actually, and he wasn’t impressed. But, first, some background. A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London on the morning of 10 December 2016, at the age of 62. He was born Adrian Anthony Gill and he was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29. He followed an Alcoholics Anonymous “12-step plan” to recovery and, in tribute to the fellowship, began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. From “Monte Carlo”, which he visited to watch the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 motor race, a snippet:

“Monte Carlo is a money puddle. A cash delta. It is as if all the wealth from the rich northern European pasture has run down the Continent and found its way here, to form a sort of mangrove swamp of avarice before running into the Mediterranean. Maybe swamp is the wrong term. Maybe some of you like swamps. Perhaps sewage outlet would be a better description…

…As a human being there are many, many things you can feel ashamed of. Things that will leave a metallic taste in your mouth, make you promise to do better. Try harder. Reorganise your priorities. And physically and symbolically, every single one of them is here for one weekend a year.

Monte Carlo is a gaudy parable. A speechless Sermon on the Mount. But no one’s listening. And they couldn’t even here if they were. The noise has reached concrete-splitting levels. It’s the roar of selfishness, greed, vanity, avarice, addiction, lust and pointless stupidity. On the giant screen above the slurping ashtray, shimmering in the petrol haze, the start lights are flashing. Red, amber, green. And they’re off.”

A. A. Gill


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.