Another Europhillic post

Against all my predictions, Sunday’s elections in Greece were not an unmitigated disaster. While Europe winced in fretful anticipation, the Greek people handed victory to New Democracy, a centre-right, pro-bail out party.

I’m not going to start hypothesising about what this means for the future of the euro, because I have not got a clue and ‘renegotiation’ is an almost comically vague idea. But let us consider the purely political ramifications of this somewhat unforeseen result.

Domestically, the result shows that Greece does not really want to go for extremism. It rejected the far-left (albeit by a small margin), because the people saw through the empty promises and meaningless rhetoric. Instead they chose the party which they felt was being open and honest with them. They also rejected the far-right, which normally does well in this kind of climate. What does that say about modern politics in times of crisis?

Internationally, Greece gave Europe a thumbs-up. By recognising the need to stay in the euro, the country also effectively reinforced its consent for European integration. They believe that they are stronger within the Union than not, which is probably true. The Greek economy is dependent on European tourism, although leaving the euro may have given the country the options of devaluation. It is improbable that Europeans will want to travel to Greece when they hold it responsible for a financial disaster, so maybe the argument is mute.

However, I’m a natural Europhile and I genuinely believe that Europe will help solve Greece’s problems. An exportation of the German economic model will no doubt raise living standards, although that will obviously take decades and the Mediterranean way of life may be hard to change. But the ring of debt-ridden countries need to change, full stop. Just look at the banks in Spain, or Italy’s bizarre labour laws, and you will see why.

But my real question is this – why does political integration require the economic kind? Now that the euro exists it must be preserved, but most people would probably now agree that it was a flawed idea. Many have now taken this to mean that Europe itself is unworkable and should be avoided like the plague. This simply isn’t true. Taken generally, the EU has done nothing but good – it limits members’ carbon emissions, protects human rights and funds research into drug development, while being a much more efficient implementer of sanctions than the Russia/China dominated UN.

Admittedly, it could do more. While fostering democracy in individual states, it has yet to democratise itself. It has not taken actions against the dodgy regime in Belarus, or managed to improve the state of civil liberties in Turkey – once a potential member. But these problems are not due to complete incompetence. The EU simply hasn’t got enough power. As anethemic as the prospect is to the British right-wing press or the French isolationist instinct, if we want Europe to be successful, we are going to have to allow it to be so.

The Euro, Hollande and a strange British fixation

The euro has been in turmoil, on and off, for two years. We have become accustomed to doom-saying headlines, citing bond yields and sovereign debt, interest rates and double-dip recessions. At the beginning of these multiple crises, Europe was united. ‘Merkozy’ – the unfortunate Merkel-Sarkozy duo – expressed oodles of solidarity. Austerity was imposed – the banks took no notice.
The situation yo-yoed for some time. There were bail-outs in Ireland and Portugal – and multiple ones for Greece. We saw Italy loose it’s elected (if sleazy) government, which – along with Greece’s – was replaced with technocrats. In Spain a right-wing government came to power. Cuts in public spending became the order of the day.

But then things began to change. In Greece and Spain, people began to protest against the austerity programs enforced by Germany in return for cheap money. Anti-Europe sentiment has risen, as the solution has become more and more about integration. In Greece’s recent elections, no party won enough seats to form a government – but those who did well were those who pledged to renegotiate the terms of the bail-out agreement, and a neo-Nazi party did scarily well. A new election is now scheduled for mid-June, and the markets remain jumpy. Many hope that Greeks have now expressed their anger and will vote for pro-bail-out parties, but this is not guaranteed.

Meanwhile, in France Mr Sarkozy lost power to Francois Hollande – a Socialist. He was inaugurated with a promise for growth. He intends to achieve this by instigating a ‘growth pact’ to run alongside the euro-zone’s fiscal compact, comprising of measures to boost output and create jobs. The two agreements, on the face of it, will have to contradict each other. I feel inclined to explain the concept of aggregate demand here, but I’d be terrible at doing so and it would be very dull. Suffice to say, boosting output while keeping one’s fiscal situation on the right path is a tough call. Growth is needed to rectify the deficit, but more spending is needed if we are to grow. I can only wish Mr Hollande luck, especially as Mrs Merkel remains stone-faced and intransigent. With the Merkozy partnership gone, it will indeed be interesting to see what happens. A disagreement between Germany and France, who have so far acted together as Europe’s bank, could be what really ends the era of the single currency.

Along with all the hoo-haing in Europe, we in the UK have been subjected to David Cameron. Let’s ignore the shenanigans about the Levison Enquiry (it really is about time that ended) and the pasty tax. What has really got up my nose recently is the PM’s insistence that the UK is somehow not in Europe. And as ridiculous as that is, it is only symptomatic of a wider feeling prevalent in a majority of the public that ‘we’ do not belong to the Continent. I mean, come on – if we are not European, what in God’s name are we? It is about time that the British accepted that we are not important enough anymore to do without belonging somewhere. The Channel is a paltry fifty-odd miles wide – it hardly constitutes an ocean.

Now I’ve expressed my Europhillic views, I’ll sign off to go and check the euro is still in one piece. I have a feeling that its days are numbered and its impossible to tell if the final moments are indeed upon us or if the politicians have put off the day of reckoning a bit longer.

When the spark fades

Nick Clegg and David Cameron have been remarkably chummy for more time than many of the media thought was possible. The coalition survived budget negotiations, the thrashing of the Lib Dems at local elections this year, even general clashes in ideology. However, Cameron’s appalling performance at the latest European summit (a whole other story of failing politicians) has finally exposed some rather deep cracks in the facade of political unanimity.

In my opinion, the fault lies squarely on Cameron’s too-well-fitted suit shoulders. The Euro has been lurching from crisis to crises without the European leaders deciding to carry out what was really needed, namely treaty change. This week, finally, it looked as if they might just attempt to rewrite the current Lisbon Treaty and secure the financial regulation that the markets are so desperate to see implemented. They may have saved the Euro by now, if Cameron had not been such a fool.

In recent years Cameron’s backbenchers have been getting more and more agitated about Europe (and, one could say, more and more delusional). They have no doubt been quietly waiting for a nice, juicy crisis to make themselves heard. This they did, when 81 of them defied a three-line whip and voted against Mr Cameron and in favour of an EU in-out referendum last month. Incidentally, this farcical idea did not, thank god, pass. However, Cameron found himself in the bizarre situation of not being able to negotiate at the summit, having pledged not to agree to anything before he even got there. At this point, I had my head in my hands, fully expecting him to leave the EU altogether and overturn the ECHR – you never know with these Tories. Ironically, Cameron himself is not that much of a Eurosceptic. What we have witnessed, then, is a party leader submitting to some old-fashioned, nagging and irresponsible men a few rows behind him.

Why does it matter, you may ask? Well, instead of a change to the Lisbon Treaty, about which Britain could have had a say, there will now be an ‘accord’. This will mean, possibly, that the 26 other EU countries will all come to an agreement by themselves while Britain is rightfully ignored. Oh, yes – well done Cameron! As a half-French, half-English girl I have one question – why do the Brits think that they are not really Europeans? I would advise a quick look at the map; we very clearly are in Europe. Accept it. Move on. Grow up.

No longer bons amis?
Having successfully enraged an entire continent (impressive really) Cameron probably returned to London for some light relief – and possibly to lap up some praise from the aforementioned old men. To start with, he seemed to be getting both, and happily played the darling of Little England. No one, apart from some pesky Labour supporters, made much of a fuss. Then, Nick Clegg himself broke coalition ranks. Not subtlely either – no, Clegg went on national television to express his disappointment in the summit’s conclusions.

Any politics student will tell you that this breaks the convention of collective responsibility. Any political analyst will tell you that the coalition looks rather shaky. Any Liberal Democrat will be at once elated and jibbering with fear (ponder that image, if you will). That is because Clegg has finally stood up to Cameron and defended Europe like a true Liberal. Here, surely, is reason to cheer. However, there is a flip-side. With the Lib Dems currently polling at a lowly 10%, should the coalition break up and an election be called, they would win nothing like the power they have now.

Luckily for them, the coalition may manage to squeeze some polyfilla into those cracks. Nick Clegg, having landed an important punch, will probably decide he has done enough for now and start mending fences. And even the Tories know that a general election now would freak out the very markets they are supposedly protecting from Europe. So, for now, the coalition will grit its teeth and carry on – maybe lacking the fake smiles and hearty back-slapping. We’ll miss it.

Terrorism and multiculturalism – a frought war

I am currently in the depths of rural France, which is why I haven’t posted for a while. However, not much has happened for me to write about and I am very much missing my Economist subscription (incidentally there was a very good round up of the Arab uprising in last week’s edition). ‘What?’ I hear you ask, ‘a lot of news-worthy stuff has happened this week.’ Yes, I know, the attacks in Norway have dominated the headlines but it is nearly impossible to analyse the actions of a crazed, hateful far-right activist.

What is interesting, however, is watching the various reactions to the news. One particular moment stands out in my mind. I heard the story break on French radio. Although I am not fluent in French, I could tell that the details were sketchy. No one knew who had carried out the atrocities, or, more importantly, why they had done so. Someone I was with said that it was a terrorist attack and someone replied ‘No, they say he is Norwegian.’ The comment made me realise that, in the West, terrorism has become directly associated with Islamic jihad. The two, although connected, do not go hand in hand. It is sad that we seem to think that they do.

Terrorism, as described by the Oxford Dictionary, is the ‘unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims’. It has no relation to a specific group at all. In the case of Norway, the attacks were indeed an act of terrorism. The perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, was protesting against his country’s tolerance of multiculturalism and Islamic integration. He published a document on the internet, which he called his manifesto, hours before the attack. In the 1500 pages he outlines his plans and motives, proving to hold extremely far-right views. It is, therefore, no surprise that he targeted a youth camp for members of the ruling Norwegian Labour party, which is a left-leaning party. In yesterday’s Sunday Times (which I managed to get at the local news agents, much to my surprise) it was reported that Norway’s top intelligence official believes that Breivik had plastic surgery to look more Aryan – the ethnicity that the Nazis deemed to be superior. This has not been confirmed, but his friends have suggested that he had surgery in the United States on his chin, nose and forehead in order to achieve Aryan proportions. These rumours highlight Breivik’s far-right views.

What he hoped to accomplish is anyone’s guess, but his actions have shaken a country which prides itself on its peace and stability. The same is true for the rest of Europe which has been equally stunned by an attack on a country by one of its nationals. Experts, including the BBC’s Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt, believe that European governments will now direct their intelligence agencies to re-examine far-right extremism. It is hoped, however, that Anders Behring Breivik’s attacks, which killed 77 people, will not open up a torrent of anti-multiculturalism, which is a quality I think needs cherishing.