07 July 2007

Top 3 politicians' songs on YouTube

1) Ségolène Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy

2) Gerhard Schröder

3) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

FIFA: Bulgarian capital is just east of Kraków

First of all, let me warn you: this time it's going to get personal. Unlikely as it may sound, I used to be quite a footballer when I was younger. I played for Slovan Liberec, the only Czech team to claim the league title twice after 1990 except of Sparta Prague. Our famous post-2000 moments include trashing AC Milan 2:1 or wiping out the floor with Olympique Lyon 4:0.

Because I was lucky enough to play for this very elite club and be in a team with older boys, I happened to be in the wider nomination of the Czech U-14 national squad. I got to play at two tournaments, I believe. Anyway, my not-so-promising football career had to come to an abrupt end when I got a scholarship in England aged 15.

So it is with great nostalgia that I follow the fortunes of the mighty Czech team at the U-20 World Cup in Canada these days. Most of the players I remember from our encounters in the junior leagues or from the national team. Tonight is the last match in the group for Czechia; after a lucky draw with the Argentines and an unlucky draw with Asia's reigning champions, North Korea, we are bound to beat Panama and advance to last 16.

Today I was struck by an article about Polish supporters on FIFA's championship-devoted news site. The 800 000-strong Polish Canadian community rallied behind the Polish side, emboldened by the initial 1:0 victory over Brazil though somewhat disappointed after the crashing 5:1 loss to the USA. Bet FIFA coverage would disappoint them too: "Die-hard footie fan Krzysztof was born in a small village east of Krakow, close to Gdansk and Sofia." Next time ask Krzysztof's two-year old daughter, please!

Meanwhile Slovan Liberec are getting ready for their tomorrow's cup match against the opposition from Kazakshtan. Uff. The Russian airline which was supposed to organise the transfer to Kostanay brought a plane which is not up to EU standards and isn't allowed to take off. No suitable plane available. Classic. Now our team will only make it to the steppes 12 hours before the kick-off; lot of time to adjust to the time diffence. Such a pity we have to play European cup games against Asian teams...

05 July 2007

Serbia owed justice in Kosovo

The article "Serbia owed justice in Kosovo" appeared in The Japan Times on Monday. I could not possibly agree more with the writer: Serbs are no villains and Kosovo should remain Serbian.

Here are some good points made by Gregory Clark, the author; but if you can, try to read the whole thing.

1) 1 million of Serbs were killed by the Croats and Bosnian Muslims, who sided with the Nazis, in WWII.

2) There was no backlash against the Croats and the Muslims after WWII; instead, Yugoslavia was created.

3) British and US intelligence services sent the jihadists, hardened by the 1980s Afganistan experience, to help the Muslims in Bosnia. The same support was received by the terrorists from the "Kosovo Liberation Army".

4) There was no ethnic cleansing in Kosovo orchestrated by the Serbs.
"Even more extraordinary was the way Serbian attempts to prevent or retaliate against those KLA attacks were denounced as the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovo's Albanians (ironically it was the KLA that invented the term, to describe its plan to drive out the Serbian minority). The U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization move to bomb Serbia into submission followed soon after, even though it was the KLA, not Belgrade, that violated a 1998 ceasefire organized by the U.S."
5) Not 500 000, but 10 000 Albanians were killed during the "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo.

6) Hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Gypsies and Jews had to flee from Kosovo after 1999; just like it was the case when Franjo Tudjman's Croatian regime, flying the old WWII Croatian fascist flag, expelled Serbs from Krajina.

What they didn't say at Kennebunkport
Another Asian paper, The Asian Times, has a very amusing feature on the Bush-Putin summit. The imagined dialogue between the two presidents is pretty close to what they would have said had they been absolutely honest with each other. Great read.

Jihad Mickey killed off by Hamas TV

On Friday the Hamas al-Aqsa TV aired the last episode of its controversial children's show, "The Pioneers of Tomorrow". The star of the programme is Farfour, a Mickey Mouse lookalike who talks like Osama bin Laden. I already wrote about the earlier episode in which Farfour was reprimanded for using the English language.

In the scene above, Farfour's grandfather hands him a key and what is presumably a deed to the family's former land in Israel. Farfour is then caught and interrogated by Jews. When Farfour refuses to give up the documents, his interrogator beats him to death.

Europe sexed up
On a lighter note, the European Commission is now set not to oversleep the new media age; it launched its own channel on YouTube recently. One of the clips has already been viewed by two and a half million people; I am sure you will love it too.

26 June 2007

Choose your Brown's Cabinet

Though Brown's Cabinet will have to do without some "talents", the new prime minister has a lot to choose from on his own benches.

Don't think so? Try to put together your own Cabinet; the comments from the experts from the Fisburn Hedges consultancy are rather spot on!

I bet Iain Dale is pretty close with his predictions.

25 June 2007

Support Sir Salman - now is the time!

The petition to back Tony Blair's decision to honour Salman Rushdie with a knighthood is finally on the 10 Downing Street website. It was submitted by Daniel Finkelstein, The Times chief comment editor; I wrote about it few days ago.

Here is the wording of the petition again:
"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to accept our congratulations for recommending to the Queen that Salman Rushdie receive a knighthood."
I was very proud to become the 13th signatory today; I urge you to sign too (if you are a UK citizen/resident). Otherwise register your support for Sir Salman in the comments!

It is more important than ever that we do use this tool of direct democracy to express our support for Rushdie and free speech. Why? Because Minhal Master, a communications secretary of the World Federation of Khoja Shi'a Ithna-asheri Muslim Communities, has started a counter-petition to revoke Rushdie's knighthood. Bad enough that we are losing to the Islamists in southern Afghanistan. But we can never let them win in our own backyard. We are all Salmans now!

23 June 2007

Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States

Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States is a new cartoon on the US Comedy Central channel. Essential viewing for anyone who cannot kick back without politics.

Wikipedia provides a good review of the programme:
"Lil' Bush takes place in an alternate reality version of modern times, where George H.W. Bush is president and George W. Bush ("Lil' Bush" on the show) as well as other major modern politicians (many of them members of real-life George W. Bush's staff) are all children attending Beltway Elementary School. Issues the current Bush Administration is involved in---for example, the Iraq War---are transferred to the elder Bush, but feature the younger Bush interacting with them in various ways. Also, just as George Bush's father is president, the parents of the other kids (Lil' Condi's mother, Lil' Rummy's father and Lil' Cheney's father, who is represented by Darth Vader) are members of the elder Bush's cabinet."
Are you tempted? Then check out the rest of the episodes and extras in here.

The inconvenient truth about Václav Klaus

The Economist's Edward Lucas complains about the dullness of political leaders in the post-communist space (again). The Czech president Václav Klaus is anything but dull, though admittedly he does not make a good listener:

"Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, by contrast, is exactly the same whether you have known him for ten minutes or 20 years: abrasive, forceful,well-informed and magnificently dismissive of views other than his own. If you have a Nobel prize for economics, he may give your views a marginally more polite hearing. Otherwise, thicken your skin."

To be fair, only a week before Lucas's article came out, Klaus, who is often called "Professor" by his supporters (he holds a Professorhip in Economics at the Prague University of Economics and is a prolific writer), conducted what would qualify as a "listening excercise": he answered to the reactions on his article from the Financial Times, "Global warming: truth or propaganda?" The centrepiece of Klaus's argument is that any imposed action designed to slow down global warming is restricting one's freedom and is therefore undemocratic:

"As someone who lived under communism for most of his life, I feel obliged to say that I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism. This ideology wants to replace the free and spontaneous evolution of mankind by a sort of central (now global) planning."

Klaus has certainly a lot to say on the subject: his new book called "Blue, not Green, Planet: What is Endagered - Climate or Freedom" has just been published. He makes some interesting points - for example that it is hard to put a cost on the damage the climate change will have caused, as the Stern Report did, because the changing economic parametres will make the today's number illusory in just a couple of years. A good review of his book is in Reflex magazine, unfortunately in Czech. I will restrain from making any further comments myself, because I am not an expert on the climate change (even less of an expert than Klaus, who called himself an "informed layman").

But climate change is just one of the Klaus's crusades: he is a prominent critic of the European integration stretching beyond inter-governmental cooperation. He also coined the term "NGOism": unhealthy meddling of the civil society groups in politics. All three issues - climate change, Europe and proliferation of pressure groups - have a common denominator: they are undemocratic in Klaus's opinion.

Strangely, these excesses haven't hurt his public approval ratings too much. They remain consistenly high (around 75%), largely as a result of his populist stunts. Recently he headed the opposition against the modernist design of the new National Library building. The President, who resides at the Prague Castle, also cashed in on the court dispute between the state and the Catholic Church over St Vitus Cathedral, the Prague Castle's landmark.

Perhaps it would be better if our president was dull. No embarrassing news would come out, because there wouldn't be any. Then again, it is the government headed by the prime minister, not the president, who determines the actual policy. So the president is a mere prominent participant in the public debate. Moreover, with the Kaczyńskis in the neighbouring Poland on roll, one doesn't even have to feel embarrassed anymore.

But who knows, Klaus may win the climate change debate in the end. All he has to do is to change his strategy: stop blaming the socialists, blame the Martians! Expose what a menace Al Gore is. Frank Luntz, the GOP pollster, spotted that Gore was born exactly nine months after the alleged UFO landings in Roswell, New Mexico, in July 1947. Is this the ultimate Inconvenient Truth?

22 June 2007

Whatever happened to the single market?

The French delegation apparently managed to had changed the Reform Treaty's draft without anyone noticing, even though the document was circulated by the German Presidency on Tuesday. The clause "The Union shall establish an internal market where competition is free and undistorted", which was in the original Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (Article I-3 (2)), was replaced by "The Union shall establish an internal market".

That could be interpreted as a sop to the French voters, who are believed to have rejected the Constitution mainly on the grounds that it was paving a way for a liberal, "Anglo-Saxon" Europe. However, it could also be that Sarkozy wants to change the EU law so the Commission couldn't take the French government to the European Court of Justice over its pursuit of subsidising national industrial champions and protecting them from "hostile" mergers.

While the French amendment remains in place, the British are keen to explain that it will have no effect. If it will have no effect, why not change it back?

The EU desperately needs a much clearer commitment to creating a real common market. The "four freedoms"- free movement of goods, free movement of labour, free movement of services and free movement of capital - are not being upheld at the moment.

Not only there is restricted access to labour markets for the citizens from the new member states, but there are also plentiful barriers to an effective common market in services. The watered-down services directive is a good example of politicians' unwillingness to live up to the promise made by signing the Single European Act in the Hague 20 years ago: to create a single market.

Who is Javier Solano?

Number 10 Downing Street refers to the "EU Commission President Javier Solano" in a news item on its website. Just how did that happen?

(For those who don't happen to be EU geeks: Javier Solana is the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Commission President is José Manuel Durão Barroso.)

There is some excellent reporting on the ongoing European Council summit by Ben Brogan on his blog. Mind you, what he writes needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as The Daily Mail, his employer, is staunchly Europhobic. Mark Mardell, the BBC's EU correspondent, is equally brilliant.

The issue surrounded by most controversy so far (except of the Kaczyński's faux pas) is Sarkozy's half-spoilt attempt to change the EU's competetion law. I will write a post on it later.

21 June 2007

Support Sir Salman

Salman Rushdie was awarded a knighthood on Saturday. Britain's decision to honour Rushdie enraged the Islamic world; the harshest disapproval came from Pakistan and Iran.

The Muslim protests reminded the world of the storm which followed after the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran pronounced a fatwa (death sentence) on Rushdie over alleged blasphemies against Islam in his iconic 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie has had to live under police protection ever since.

Pakistan's religious affairs minister Ejaz ul-Haq endorsed retaliatory measures on the offenders (Queen?, Britain?, all Westerners?) yesterday: "If somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet then it is justified."

Daniel Finkelstein, the chief comments editor of The Times newspaper, submitted a petition for the Number 10 Downing Street website that reads:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to accept our congratulations for recommending to the Queen that Salman Rushdie receive a knighthood.
The e-petition will appear here as soon as it is approved by Number 10. I will sign. It is important that we all show our solidarity with Sir Salman, who is not only an excellent writer but also a symbol of free speech. We must show the Islamists that the West will not surrender to blackmail and compromise its values.

Failed States Index 2007

Foreign Policy has published its annual Failed States Index. Sudan tops the list, closely followed by Iraq, Somalia, Zimbabwe and Chad.

There are three European countries in top 60: Moldova (48th place), Belarus (51st) and Bosnia (54th). The aspiring NATO member Georgia is on 58th place.

By the way, my friend Ecaterina Sanalatii has just started blogging for Transitions Online on Moldova, check it out.

18 June 2007

Labour Party deputy leadership candidates' views on Europe

The British Labour Party (now with its own channel on YouTube) is in the process of choosing the new party leadership. Gordon Brown is to become the new party leader unchallenged, as the Blairites did not manage to persuade David Miliband to run.

Brown is now touring the country with his "Gordon Brown for Britain" campaign, trying to build up a momentum before the start of his premiership. Interestingly, his campaign blog is written by Oona King. King used to be a Labour MP for Bethnal Green, an East London constituency predominantly inhabited by Bangladeshi Muslims. At the last general election in 2005, she got ousted from her seat by George Galloway, a former Labour MP and a founder of the Respect party. The whole affair was seen as particularly nasty because King, who is black and Jewish, had a little chance to shield herself from Galloway's attacks pandering to radical Islam. Nevertheless, George Galloway MP now works as a presenter for Channel 4's Big Brother, having previously been one of the contestants on the celebrity version of the show.

Paradoxically, Brown seems to have a clearer vision for Africa then for Britain. It was rather amusing to watch his last speech, where he got all worked up about providing free education for children in developing countries. Yet the banner "Gordon Brown for Britain" rather begged for outlining Brown's reforms of the British malfunctioning state education system. His policies on Europe are also a subject of much speculation among the commentators. A good analysis of Brown's probable strategy for the upcoming European Council summit is on Benedict Brogan's blog, but noone can effectively read the Chancellor's mind.

Thanks to a pamphlet produced by the resurgent Labour Movement for Europe, the deputy leadership candidates' positions on the European Union are somewhat less mysterious. The electoral process is rather complicated, with three different colleges (members, MPs and MEPs, trade unions) selecting the deputy leader and voters required to rank all the candidates according to preference.

The front runner Alan Johnson calls for a "social Europe"; so does the backbench surprise Hilary Benn (no, he is not a woman) who acknowledges that "only by working across Europe we can tackle international crime". Does that mean he supports the controversial data-sharing deal which would enable the national police forces to search the DNA databases of other EU states? Harriet Harman believes "we need improvements to internal decision making procedures to agree better priorities quicker" and Peter Hain, the former Europe Minister, welcomes the institutional reform. Hazel Blears, condemned to damnation for her consistent support of Tony Blair, reiterates her support for Turkey's membership bid and demands a more efficient common foreign policy.

Harman is happy to see the EU rebranded as an Environmental Union, a term first used by the Environment Secretary David Miliband; all other candidates also play up the EU's environmental credentials. The chief purpose of that is to bash the Conservatives, still not at ease with Europe.

Alan Johnson picks up on William Hague's efforts to create an alternative to the European People's Party-European Democrats in the European Parliament. He accuses Cameron's Conservatives of allying with "a rag bag of deranged right wingers from Eastern Europe". A rather unfair accusation if you ask me. (The Conservatives' newly launched Movement for European Reform consists of the British Conservatives, the Czech ruling Civic Democratic Party and the Bulgarian Union of Democratic Forces, which failed to get a single MEP in the last month's European elections in Bulgaria).

However, it is unlikely that Europe will play a big role in the deputy leadership election. The hottest topic seems to be re-connecting with the disenchanted and demoralised party base.

15 June 2007

Obama Girl

Don't expect any serious analysis of the 2008 presidential race. The excuse for posting this music video featuring a hot girl "who's got a crush on Obama" is that it's already been viewed by over half a million people on YouTube. Compare that to the popularity of an average broadcast on Obama's official YouTube channel, usually seen by mere 3000 people. The voters simply prefer to hear it from someone else; over 3 million have watched another YouTube video where Hillary Clinton is depicted as a Big Brother from Apple's famous ad. No reason to think that Team Obama may be behind this...

Hat tip: Guido Fawkes.

14 June 2007

Fifty ideas for Brown's Britain

The Charlemagne column in last week's edition of The Economist complained about the static intellectual debate in Brussels. The think tanks there are apparently too dependent on the Commission's funding to come up with bold, challenging ideas. That certainly isn't true about London, where think tanks churn out radical proposals which often make it to parties' election manifestos.

New Statesman magazine asked five influential left-wing institutions to put down 10 policy suggestions for Gordon Brown to pursue during his premiership. It is certainly worth a read.

Let me just list some of the most interesting ideas mentioned. Demos believes that retirees should be used as teaching assistants. This system is already being used in the USA, and I am personally a big fan. Not only it helps contain the unruly pupils, but it also gives the elderly a sense of participation and inclusion in the society. The Fabian Society (finally with a new website) urges Brown to sign up to the EU mini-treaty and to scrap the ID cards scheme. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calls for making voting compulsory. That would have to be accompanied by the introduction of proportional representation: "make citizens vote, but make votes count". Compass, a grass-roots Labour "renewal" movement, would solve Britain's housing crisis by taxing the land. It would also ban advertising to under-12s (how?) and "control media ownership" (how?). The Social Market Foundation would give up the British rebate in return for the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Talking about the think tanks, some more have gone blogging. The Brussels-based Centre for Economic Policy Research has just started its Vox blog, which is looking really good. Then there is the World Security Institute, Brussels blog and the blog of the Centre for European Politics at the Royal Holloway university in London. A new think tank the Atlantic Community encourages the readers to participate in the debate and shape the think tank's research.

13 June 2007

The Daily Telegraph goes pro-European

I almost choked on my cornflakes when I read the paper this morning. Except I didn't because I read news online. And as I am sure my readers are dying to know, I don't usually have cornflakes for breakfast! But it just sounded as such a cool way to start a post with. I am a fast learner.

Anyway, to the point. The Daily Telegraph, a staunchly Eurosceptical outlet, published a comment piece yesterday entitled "Surely we don't want to be run by Malta". The article makes a case for replacing the current rotational presidency of the European Council with a permanent president, a provision included in the original EU Constitution. I never thought that such a "blasphemous" article would appear in The Telegraph, even though it doesn't represent the paper's official position. Perhaps I am getting too old:)

The author of the piece is Roland Rudd, the chairman of the Business for New Europe (BNE). Rudd founded the BNE in March 2006, after the failure of the Britain in Europe coalition, in which the European Movement UK was much engaged. The BNE supports "positive and constructive engagement with the EU as the only sensible approach and as vital to our national interests." It has lobbied for easing entry restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, as well as for relaxing red tape measures and introducing the EU services directive. The details of the BNE's position are described in a policy brief jointly published with the Centre for European Reform think tank.

Finally someone to counter the charges of the Eurosceptical Open Europe think thank that the EU is anti-business.

12 June 2007

Did Albanians steal Bush's watch?

Yet another soon-to-be-famous YouTube moment. 300 000 people so far have watched George Bush being stripped off his watch by the crowd of cheering Albanians in the village of Fushe Kruja.

The excited villagers tried to shake Bush's hand or at least touch him, while chanting "Bushie, Bushie". As Bush re-emerged from the crowd, it was clearly visible that his watch was missing. According to the Albanian authorities, the watch fell off and was returned to one of Bush's bodyguards.

The American version sounded more believable: "He took it off," said the White House spokesperson. Certainly didn't look like that on YouTube, or did it? "I'm not going to change what I'm saying. I was told that he took it off about the one-minute mark."

Noone would have expected the White House to admit what really happened just five years ago. But with the arrival of YouTube it seems almost counter-productive to lie in order not to embarrass one's ally. YouTube is a new power in politics.

Will China overtake America?

There is a superb debate on this perennial issue on Gideon Rachman's brilliant blog. Rachman is the chief foreign affairs commentator of The Financial Times and served as the Asia correspondent in the early 90s, so he has got a firm grip of the subject.

"The reason that China will eventually be the world's largest economy is that its population is roughly four times that of the United States. Predictions that Japan would over-take the US, popular in the late 1980s, were always implausible. The difference in population size would have meant that the average Japanese would have had to become more than twice as rich as the average American for Japan to surpass America – and that was never going to happen.

By contrast, if you want to argue that China will never overtake the US, you would have to believe that China cannot achieve a GDP-per-capita of just 25% of American levels. And yet there are several examples of Asian “tiger economies” that have already got to that level and well past it – Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore (the latter, admittedly a micro-state) - some of them managing tricky transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, without stopping growth.

My colleague Martin Wolf points out that if China were to achieve the GDP-per-capita levels of Portugal – the poorest country in western Europe – its overall GDP will be larger than that of the US and the European Union combined."

So it looks inevitable that the West will cease to dominate the world; in economic and consequently in military terms (in line with Niall Ferguson's empire theory). The real question is how much it will matter to an ordinary European or American. How much will the Chinese regime and society have changed by that time? How much will the Chinese attitude towards Taiwan have changed by the time the US will no longer be able (or willing) to guarantee its independence?

11 June 2007

UNSC Resolution 1244 on Kosovo: conveniently forgotten

George Bush visited Albania yesterday. His visit was an apparent gesture aimed at boosting the Albanian confidence prior to concluding the final deal on the future status of Kosovo.

He outlined his "strategy" for resolving the stalemate: "One, that we need to get moving. And two, that the end result is independence. And we spent a lot of time talking about this issue, here." Bush said he does not support the idea of "endless dialogue on a subject that we've already made up our mind on. " Perhaps someone should inform Mr Bush that a genuine dialogue is led by two sides and it is not enough for only one of them to make up its mind to reach the conclusion.

Let me remind Mr Bush of this clause from the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosovo, which was adopted on 10 June 1999:
"Reaffirming the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the region, as set out in the Helsinki Final Act and annex 2,"
The resolution placed Kosovo in hands of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and stationed the NATO-led KFOR troops in the province. The resolution was supported by all veto-wielding countries in the UN Security Council - including the USA, Britain and France.

One would expect them to keep their word. But perhaps that would be too foolish knowing that they had bombed Serbia without the UN approval. The USA was trying hard to secure the Russian and Chinese support for the intervention, but without success. Yet the attack on Serbia went on anyway; the UN blessing suddenly wasn't "needed." Quite strange - why would anyone make so much effort to get something one did not need anyway? Why had the USA even bothered to attempt to win over Russia and China when the USA had made up their mind already?!
Footnote: The Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was hit during a NATO air strike. The odds are that it was deliberate, or so claims The Guardian.

One question at the press conference in Tirana clearly baffled Bush: "Yesterday you called for a deadline for UN action on Kosovo. When would you like that deadline set?" Bush: "... First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline. I thought I said, time -- I did? What exactly did I say? I said, "deadline"? Okay, yes, then I meant what I said. (Laughter.) The question is whether or not there is going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about. We believe Kosovo ought to be independent." I beg your pardon?

08 June 2007

Remembering Jerry Falwell: Tinky Winky is gay

Falwell, the outspoken leader of America's religious right, died last month. Now he is looking down from the heavenly heights and I bet he is pleased with the recent Polish authorities' decision to examine whether Tinky Winky, a character from the BBC's show for children, is not promoting homosexuality.

Falwell himself launched an attack on embattled Tinky Winky 8 years ago: "He is purple - the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol." Classic.

The Financial Times now gained access to a secret report compiled by the Polish Intelligence Agency (Agencja Wywiadu), which lays bare the moral decay among the animated TV's stars. Krteček (a popular Czech cartoon character) is apparently gay; so are the Smurfs. Winnie the Pooh stands accused of collaboration with the Communist secret services; his faithful if somewhat deviant friends come out much worse. Only Bob the Builder seems to be clear so far. The way to go, Poland.

07 June 2007

Amato Group gives the EU Constitution a facelift

A 16-strong Action Committee for European Democracy, the so called "Amato Group", published its draft of a new EU treaty on Monday 4 June. The Committee, which is not an official body and consisted of "private citizens", started its work in September 2006. The document's rationale is desribed here (3 pages); explanatory memorandum is available here (6 pages). The Committee's work is also summarised in the EUobserver or in more detail on Wikipedia.

The Committee included both vice-chairs of the Convention on the Future of Europe: Giuliano Amato and Jean-Luc Dehaene. They certainly deserve our admiration; not least because they managed to cut the size of the original text from 63 000 words to 12 800 and keep almost all substance in.

The European Commission was represented by the communications supremo Margot Wallström and Danuta Hübner who presides over the regional policy portfolio. Sandra Kalniete, their short-term colleague from Latvia, took part as well. From the Prodi Commission, there were Michel Barnier of France, António Vitorino of Portugal and Chris Patten of Britain. Three former prime ministers sat on the Committee: Wim Kok of the Netherlands, Costas Simitis of Greece and Paavo Lipponen of Finland. From the ex-ministerial rank, there were Germany's Otto Schilly, France's Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Hungary's János Martonyi. Íñigo Méndez de Vigo from the European People's Party was the only representative of the European Parliament and Stefan Collignon the only representative of the academia.

Hat tip: Samuele Pii of the European University Institute in Florence.

05 June 2007

Czech defence minister records a song for George Bush

Air Force One with George and Laura Bush aboard landed at the Prague Ruzyně airport yesterday. Bush has come to broker a deal on the controversial US radar base to be located in the Brdy mountains. But I don't intend to write about the radar and the relations with Russia. I will just say that I am in favour of hosting the base.

I am here to highlight the effort (still searching for a suitable adjective) made by our defence minister Vlasta Parkanová to make President Bush feel welcome. Together with Jan Vyčítal she recorded a song for Bush: "Good day, the Star-Spangled Banner". The melody is based on a legendary song by Jaromír Hnilička, "Good day, Major Gagarin". Vyčítal's text has also got a lot in common with Hnilička's iconic celebration of the Socialist bloc's victory in the space race.

Parkanová commented: "I wanted to lighten up the negative campaign, which is accompanying the radar debate. And I also wanted to give President Bush an unconvetional gift." Tick. Though the negative campaign - "The No to the Bases" initiative - only managed to muster 700 protesters today. I guess the rest have already gone backpacking to Rostock.

To listen to the song (artistically pretty good in my opinion) click here. The English version was apparently recorded too, so a lot to look forward to!

19 May 2007

Mickey Mouse on Hamas TV

That's who we are up against. Hard to disagree with what George Bush said right after 9/11: "This crusade, this war on terrorism is gonna take a while."

17 May 2007

Reference to God in the EU Constitution

The EUobserver reports that Angela Merkel "voiced regret there will be no reference to Christian roots in the revised EU treaty". May I express my utmost sympathy for Frau Merkel. No, really, I mean it. Although my Facebook profile describes my religious views as "devout atheist", I would sincerely welcome a mention of God in the EU Constitution.

European culture is based on Roman law, Greek philosophy and Judeo-Christian tradition. That is where our values are derived from. Turkey and Morocco have different sets of values, because they have been born out of different foundations. I am not denying there has not been a lot of mutual influence across the centuries. But there is still a clear cultural border between Europe and Asia Minor (Turkey), northern Africa or the Middle East.

If the God is mentioned in the forthcoming document's preamble, it will not only be a victory for those who believe in God, but also for those who are not afraid to acknowledge that it is an undisputable fact that Christianity had been instrumental in forming our society.

09 May 2007

Inherent unfairness of the first-past-the-post system

I recently reported that I took part in local elections in York. It turns out that at least 52 fellow students were denied the experience, as the University forgot to put them on the electoral register. In Scotland, over 100 000 ballot papers were spoilt due to the voters' difficulties with understanding the new voting machines and the "complex" electoral system used to elect the Scottish parliamentarians.

Yet Polly Toynbee in The Guardian delivers a merciless verdict on by far the worst form of voters' disenfranchisement: the first-past-the-past (FPTP) electoral system used to select the local councillors as well as MPs.
"In yet more councils results and votes were wildly out of kilter: in Brentwood the Tories won 11 of 13 seats on 37% of the vote. In Sunderland Labour won 75% of the seats on 43% of the vote. In Eastbourne the Lib Dems got fewer than half the votes but 20 of 27 seats. So why bother to vote? Most voters didn't and their cynicism was often a rational response. Tories may puff themselves into artificial indignation over the West Lothian question (Scottish MPs voting on English issues), but like Labour they ignore this far greater voting swindle."
I cast my vote for a Labour candidate. As she did not get most of the votes in my ward and thus did not make it on the Council, my vote was for nothing. At least I thought that she may have won. But what if you live in a ward/constituency which has always been (and always will be) held by the party you don't support? You simply don't bother to vote anymore. And not because you don't care about politics. As Toynbee says:
"It makes sense: where there are more parties, where every vote counts and where no constituencies are a foregone conclusion, more people bother to vote."
Toynbee appeals to the Conservatives to endorse the Proportional Representation (PR):
"Opposing proportional representation is a no-brainer for the stupid party; the Conservatives are now at a massive disadvantage under the present system. On these results they are still unlikely to win outright in a general election, but they might if votes were fairly apportioned. As it is, they still have mountains to move in the north and in the cities. They would be wise to start campaigning for PR now while they are ahead, for if Brown does well and Labour surges forward, it will look like a loser's bleat later on. Only Tories in mainly Labour Wales get the message: they put PR for local elections into their manifesto."
However, the Tories are most probably not going to listen to Toynbee's advice. Funnily enough, the Conservatives were recently told by one of Cameron's key advisers to "ditch Churchill" and instead embrace Toynbee's left-wing social agenda. I guess that doesn't apply to the constitutional reform.

So why are the Tories so reluctant to open the door to reform? Firstly, they are unlikely ever to get over 50% of the national vote. Therefore, they are worried that the use of the PR would inevitably translate into a permanent Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster and condemn the Tories to eternal oppositon. Yet they are forgetting that with the introduction of the PR, other parties like the Greens or the British National Party would most likely obtain Westminster seats and mix the cards. Secondly, one gets the feeling that in some quarters the FPTP is portrayed as an essential component of British democracy, in direct opposition to the European PR systems which are commonly dismissed for producing weak governments. And it goes without saying that the Conservatives' first and foremost task is to conserve all "ancient British institutions". Sadly, that doesn't seem to include civic equality.

04 May 2007

British Eurosceptics portray Quisling as a father of Europe

One gets used to the constant attacks on anything European by the British media. The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph or Rupert Murdoch's The Sun and The Times put a negative spin on anything associated with the EU. So it came to me as no surprise that this week's Spectator had an article entitled "Quisling invented the EU". After all, the Speccie is still as Eurosceptical as ever even though its former editor and Tory MP Boris Johnson is now fully concentrating on pursuing his frontbench career in the Conservative Party. Name another country where a leading politician could lead the redaction of an influential weekly political magazine. So much about the fabled British democracy.

The article basically states that Vidkun Quisling, who ruled Norway under the German supervision during the WWII, called upon Britain to initiate a British-German union as a core of a united Europe in order to prevent the war. Hence the federalist claim that the European Union has ensured lasting peace in Europe is supposed to be rebutted.

The piece concludes: "But the idea to which Quisling gave his name - that it is better to collaborate than to sit carping on the sidelines - has had a better fate. Not only does it carry the day among British pro-Europeans now..." What a demagoguery. Of course Britain should not have collaborated with the Nazi Germany. To use that argument to say that Britain should not "collaborate" with any Europeans now is ridiculous.

So who is the author of this blatant propaganda? Certain historian by the name of John Laughland, PR Man to Europe's nasties regimes, as David Aaronovitch desribed him in the Guardian. Aaronovitch fully exposes Laughland's ideas; my personal favourite is that Viktor Yuschenko got in power with the help of "druggy skinheads from Lvov". As far as Laughland's European outlook is concerned, Aaronovitch writes:

"Laughland is also European Director of the European Foundation (patron, Mrs Thatcher), which - judging by its website - seems to spend most of its time and energy sending out pamphlets by arch-Europhobe Bill Cash. A synopsis of one of Laughland's own books, however, notes his argument that, 'Post-national structures ... and supranational organisations such as the European Union - are ... corrosive of liberal values (and) the author shows the ideology as a crucial core of Nazi economic and political thinking.'"
Time to have a laugh? Not until we have won over the hearts and minds of the British people.

UPDATE: Oliver Kamm examines Laughland's article in depth here.

03 May 2007

I, Tomáš Ruta, a citizen of Europe

I have just returned from the polling station. Yes, I am now in York and yes, I have not got a British passport. But as an EU citizen, I am now entitled to vote (or indeed stand) in local or European elections in any EU country where I reside.

What a satisfaction after what happened in my General Studies class shortly after I came to Britain three years ago. The teacher in my £12 000-a-year London school asked us who we would vote if there was a general election today. When I put my hand up for the Liberal Democrats (mind you, that was three years ago) - and was the only one to do so - he told me: "you don't have a vote". He was Irish.

I cast my vote for the Labour candidate and my fellow School of PEP student Grace Fletcher-Hall. She is one of 4 candidates competing for the Heslington campus ward. There are 22 wards in York, which have to turn in 47 councillors. The candidate with most votes in each ward gets elected (if there are more seats allocated to a ward then the candidates with most votes succeed). The Council is now dominated by the Liberal Democrats, who at the moment hold the Heslington ward as well.

The use of the majoritarian system means that the Conservatives have virtually no councillors (and MPs) in big northern cities like Manchester, Newcastle or Sheffield. Surprisingly not even in York, which has not got much old working-class stigma attached to it. Michael Heseltine, Thatcher's challenger, has been in charge of re-building the Tory relationship with "the north" since David Cameron took over the party leadership in 2005. We will see how successful he was when the results from local elections across England are published tomorrow.

02 May 2007

JEF answers to Merkel

As a proud member of JEF (Young European Federalists), I am publishing our press release concerning Angela Merkel's efforts to rescue the European Constitution:

In reply to the letter sent out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to her 26 European counterparts, the Young European Federalists (JEF Europe) take a stand on 12 questions concerning the future of the Constitution.

In their open reply letter, available on www.jef.eu, the Young European Federalists underline both the advantages of the current version of the Constitution and the most urgent needs for further improvement. They strongly urge for the parts I and II of the current text to be upheld in their entirety while including new topic fields, in which the Union has progressed over the past months.

JEF Europe’s president, Jan Seifert, commented on their initiative: "We take this questionnaire as an opportunity to speak out symbolically and publicly as an organisation representing 35,000 young political activists who are concerned about their European future. The consultations on the future of the Constitution must be taken out of the closet and into the public thereby involving the interested civil society and parliamentarians. Unfortunately, the German presidency has not yet dared to do so. It is now high time that Chancellor Merkel’s ministries get actively involved in preparing her proposed civil society hearing together with the European Parliament.”

Seifert added: “The European Constitution was a long necessary step forward in terms of institutional changes and one that provided for wider legitimacy thanks to the Convention method preparing it. We are concerned that Europe is falling back to the disastrous Nice-style IGC negotiations, hence giving way for deadlocks, ill-suited compromises and above all excluding the citizens in the drafting procedure. Instead we call for a second mini-convention to review the text where necessary and then put it up for a European consultative referendum in 2009”.

The Young European Federalists have for long condemned the fact that a tiny minority of states keep the whole Union from progressing further. By lobbying for the abolishment of the unanimity principle for further treaty changes they support the idea that states who cannot agree on new steps can join the Constitutional Europe later.

18 April 2007

Vote for Sarkozy

I am backing Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential election. I have been following the campaign closely, thanks to the brilliant reporting by Tim King in the Prospect and Charles Bremner, The Times correspondent in Paris. The Times gave support to Sarkozy (as did The Economist) in the leader published today: "He understands the need to repair relations with America, tackle the extremism and alienation of immigrant ghettos, cut taxes and get a sluggish economy moving." Best chance for France.

There is a good summary of the candidates' position on the European Union on the Deutsche Welle. Sarkozy favours a "mini treaty" instead of the Constitution, and would avoid another referendum. Royal supports the referendum, but is even more unclear on how the treaty should actually look like. At least she tells us it should be drafted by some sort of a participative process. Bayrou is by far the clearest: he wants a short document, as federalist as possible, to be submitted to the electorate in a referendum.

And what has been Chirac's record on Europe? Aleksander Hall got it right in Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza: "Jacques Chirac wanted power for France. This is no doubt about why - despite his initially Eurosceptical stance and his moves to hinder Spain and Portugal on their path to Europe - he eventually converted to the 'European faith.' He tried to use Europe to boost France's position in the world... Chirac wanted the EU to become a political power in its own right. That was the right path. However, if you take a closer look at France's policies under Chirac you have to ask yourself exactly what role he had in mind for united Europe in the world. Sometimes you get the impression that it was to play the role of a counterweight to the US rather than a bastion of Western civilisation that would be the second great pillar of the West alongside America." I could not say it any better.

P.S.: I analysed Bayrou's position on Europe and the situation in France after the failed 2005 referendum in my first ever post on this blog.

17 April 2007

Scrap the CAP - and what next?

My grandma who lives in the countryside recently asked me why it is that all the young and talented people leave the countryside nowadays. Few farmers survive where there used to be huge farming cooperatives giving employment to everyone in the village only 15 years ago. The reality of rural life has changed completely. The schools in the countryside have disappeared. Most of the people left commute for work to towns (not a big problem in densely populated Czechia).

I had to retreat to the politician's answer: it's the economy, stupid. The communism did not collapse because people were hungry for democracy. It collapsed because we wanted to be a "rich nation" again. We wanted to eat hamburgers, watch Hollywood films and go for expensive holidays abroad. But to consume, people needed money - so they migrated to towns where they could reach higher-paid jobs in the 1990s (wage equality prevented that under communism). The wages in the agricultural sector have stagnated and the hard work barely makes more than the national minimum wage today. Poor incentive for the young to take up farming.

The politicians have done little to reverse the trend. The gradual shift of labour from agriculture to the robustly growing, previously almost non-existent services sector has boosted the economy. Petr Pávek of the Green Party has fiercely criticised the successive governments for discrimination against the countryside. The maverick mayor of Jindřichovice pod Smrkem, a little village in northern Czechia, even accused the political representation of the systematic liquidation of the countryside as he rightly pointed out that the villages and rural towns get disproportionately less funding from the state coffers than the urban areas. There is also no strong countryside or agricultural lobby inside any major political party (with the exception of the perennial outsiders, the Communists). Strana venkova (the Countryside Party), despite my grandmother's support, will go down to history as a party which did not make any history (dissolved itself before gaining a single parliamentary seat).

As a matter of fact, there would be even less farmers if it was not for the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and its subsidies on which the vast majority of family farms is dependent. Yet the CAP has endured a lot of criticism, and not only because it is deemed unfriendly towards the developing countries. The high import tariffs on agricultural produce combined with dumping of the EU surpluses on the Third World in the past ruin the farmers in the developing countries. The Economist however surprised many when it revealed how the celebrated Fair Trade scheme actually harms the African farmers too.

France is seen as the main obstacle to reforming the CAP (and thus to the success in the WTO Doha Round of trade talks) - the only presidential candidates who oppose it are José Bové, a hardly credible anti-globalisation crusader and organic farmer, and the centrist surprise François Bayrou. Bayrou, who is a farmer himself and his tractor-driving skills have done him well in the campaign, is quoted stating: "We have assassinated the African farmer. And this policy will be changed, so that we cannot be held responsible. We cannot let the African countries die of hunger.” Yet to call this a wind of change coming from France would surely be an overstatement.

What may do for the CAP rather than the plight of the African farmer is the CAP's apparent unsuitability in the enlarged EU. The Polish farmer's subsidies have to be "topped up" by the Polish state to the EU level already. The Romanian farmer's hand is wide open and possible Turkey's accession would not lower the CAP spending either. Furthermore, the CAP is raising the price of food for the consumers. Everyone has to eat - so it hits the poorest the most.

So what would we be the consequences of downsizing the CAP? Inevitably, the jobs would be lost - in places where it is difficult to replace them. The development of a "rural development policy" has long been viewed as a viable alternative to the CAP. The farmers would simply swap the current role of a food producer to the "protector of the environment". But I have to agree with Tim King, who writes the excellent Prospect blog on the French election, that such a transformation would come uneasy; the mentality of the people who have not given up till now is likely not to be very welcoming of such changes: "Farmers want to produce food to feed the masses, a virile, status-rich occupation, not receive a monthly cheque from a computer in Brussels for titivating a few hedgerows – for farmers are as much seduced by rural nostalgia as townies..."

Yet there is little choice. The cost of subsidising the farmer is too high to be sustained. The EU, striving to become the most competetive economy in the world according to its Lisbon Agenda, cannot afford to spend 44% of its budget on the agricultural subsidies. Research and development deserves more resources, as do the student exchange schemes like Erasmus. The ever closer cooperation in justice and home affairs also needs to be backed financially. Especially Frontex, the EU border protection agency, should get more money: it does bring concrete results.

Many farmers will of course survive as the locally produced food is becoming ever more popular (and expensive), or switch to biofuels. Ecotourism is on the steady rise too. But the key to keeping the countryside alive is encouraging the entrepreneurial activity there (although the early 1990s vision of people moving from towns to the countryside and working home from their computer has not materialised). Perhaps it should be the rural businessmen instead of large multinationals like Hyundai or Toyota who should get the tax incentives? I know a guy who lives in a little village and employs significant amount of local people in his company manufacturing swimming pools. And there are more success stories like that. Together with the ever improving infrastructure, developments like this could help make the countryside attractive for young people. There is a life after CAP.

16 April 2007

Wolfowitz should not lose his nerve: he is the one to demand an apology

Paul Wolfowitz has faced the pressure to resign from his position as the World Bank's President after it came out that he fixed a rapid pay rise and promotion for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. The Wall Street Journal proves that the current furore is just a smear campaign against Wolfowitz. Check it out. Worryingly, the media seemed happy to sink Wolfowitz for his "neo-con legacy", without checking the facts like the WSJ did.

By the way, the absurdity of the term "neo-conservatism" was laid bare by one of supposed fathers of the ideology, Richard Perle, in an interview for the Foreign Policy recently.
It is a term that is applied almost at random. I’ve seen it applied to Dick Cheney to Don Rumsfeld and to Condi Rice. Those are examples where it clearly is wrong. To some people, it’s synonymous with supporters of the Bush administration or with important people within the administration. In some cases, particularly in the Middle East, it’s a code word for “Jew.” It’s frequently described as a movement, which it isn’t, or as an organization, which it isn’t. It’s associated somehow with Leo Strauss, which I think is wrong. It’s mindlessly pejorative; it implies that there is a group of people who all think the same way on one or more topics. It’s a term that is almost without meaning and is therefore not very useful.
I doubt the commentators like The Independent's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown or The New Statesman's Ziauddin Sardar knew that Wolfowitz, the "neo-conservative oil-and-Muslim-blood-thirsty Jew responsible for Iraq" had an Arab girlfriend.

02 March 2007

What drives you to participate in the Euroblogosphere?

Myra von Ondarza from the University of Hamburg, Germany is conducting a study on the motivational processes of Eurobloggers from a social, political and psychological point of view. SHE NEEDS TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK! It would be great if you could fill in this questionnaire; it only takes about 15 minutes.

As soon as the data is evaluated, you will be able to read a summary of the results on the University website. That should be around April. Can't wait!

13 February 2007

Beckham to captain the Europe XI against Manchester United

The Times reports that the EU is going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome by staging a football match on 13 March: the Europe XI led by David Beckham is going to take on Manchester United, who are currently sitting at the top of the English Premiership table. The match is to be played at the famous Reds' stadium, the Old Trafford. Marcello Lippi, the coach of the last year's Italian World Cup winners, has been entrusted with managing the Europe team by Michel Platini, the French football legend and the newly elected president of the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). In my opinion, an ad-hoc Europe team is a very good way of cementing European identity, especially in Britain.

The article also states that "Mr Lippi and Mr Roxburgh [assistant coach] have been given permission by UEFA to approach players from the 52 nations affiliated to the organisation." The problem is that out of those 52 national football associations, some are not in Europe - Israel, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey. Yet they are still affiliated to the Union of European Football Associations. That allows their clubs to compete in the European cups, and their national teams to play against more attractive opponents. The UEFA is happy to maintain this state of affairs, because the more national associations it has under its wings, the bigger its clout inside the FIFA, the global body governing football. However, there are serious implications of the UEFA's opportunistic policy: it gives an argument to those who would like the EU to enlarge forever, beyond Europe: "they play football with us, they are in the same cultural sphere." (For an explanation of the concept of the European Public Sphere, read an excellent article by Matteo Garavoglia on Le Taurillon.)

Let us hope that Lippi will only choose players from the current EU states, and other European nations. Indeed, should he include non-EU European players in his squad, it would boost the idea of European unification, which I described in this article for Le Taurillon.

No doubt that Chelsea's Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine and Arsenal's Alexander Hleb of Belarus will get the nomination. Shevchenko's inclusion in the EU team would confirm the new pro-EU course of the Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukhovich. Yanukhovich was famously ousted by the "Orange Revolution" in 2004. Shevchenko stood up for him in the media, while Yanukhovich's archrival Yuschenko was supported by Ruslana, the winner of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest. Hleb's inclusion would give a signal to the people of Belarus that there is a European future for them, shall the Lukashenka's regime crumble.

10 February 2007

The Battle of Strasbourg

The Battle of Strasbourg has long been raging, escalating once in while. Recently the One Seat campaign collected one million signatures in support of its proposal that Brussels becomes the sole seat of the European Parliament.

Yet the French government threatens to use the veto power in the European Council should the matter be raised there. That epitomizes the current French approach to Europe; but France should realise that unlike in de Gaulle's era, exercising the veto power comes with a price today. By stubbornly refusing to give up Strasbourg, France loses the potential to build consensus on more important issues. France gets the bad image, France appears to be holding everyone back. And not just in this case - France's objections are cited as one of the primary causes for the continuous failure of the WTO Doha Round talks.

Richard Corbett MEP (Party of the European Socialists) came up with a very good solution to the stalemate in his article for the EUobserver: Strasbourg should host the quarterly European Council summits. France would lose no prestige and the end would be put to a ludicrous travelling circus which costs the taxpayer 200 million euros every year. The Eurosceptics would lose an easy target, too. EuropaWorld's Peter Sain ley Berry, also writing for the EUobserver, made an interesting comment on Corbett's idea, which I shall quote in full:
As to its seat, Parliament has the remedy in its own hands. Treaty or no treaty, all parliaments are sovereign. They can meet wherever they want. If 785 members, or even a large body of them, refuse to make the journey to Strasbourg, then that is it. Finis! Parliaments have set up shop in tennis courts before now, and to mighty outrage. But the truth is parliaments always win.
Bearing in mind that an increasing number of parliamentarians do not bother to turn up to the sessions anyway, and that the political groups in the Parliament are closely connected to the national governments which have to observe the terms of the Treaty, such a revolt seems unlikely ever to take place. It is hard to imagine an act of collective political heroism happening today.

Good luck to Kosovo

David Frum from the National Review links to a hilarious music video made by 4 US soldiers serving in Kosovo. The parody of the Beach Boys also criticises the US foreign policy in the region.

We'll kick some ass - then we'll see how it goes
And then we really don't know ...
Good luck to Kosovo!

Everytime we go to to little places like Kosovo
We never really know, what happens after we go
Tough luck for Kosovo!

02 February 2007

Europe in 2007: think tanks' predictions

The European think tanks have published some interesting analyses on the big issues facing the German European Council Presidency in next half a year. Let' s have a brief look at what they have come up with.

The London-based Open Europe, which advocated the British withdrawal from the European Union, has produced The EU in 2007 report. It analyses how the French presidential election will influence the talks on the resuscitation of the European Constitution. It also focuses on the handover of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown, timing of which may be crucial for the Treaty's fortunes in the UK. The authors also spent a couple of pages on condemning the euro, a daily exercise for the institute's researchers. Open Europe and other Tory-leaning British think tanks are the subject of a leader in The Times today: the newspaper applauds them for uniting the conservative movement in a manner not dissimilar to the US right-wing think tanks, but criticises their research as beyond the general consensus.

Another British institution, the Europhile Centre for European Reform (CER), presented a policy brief named What to Expect from German Presidency. It was written by rather good-looking Katinka Barysch, whom I had a pleasure to meet at the Turkish Embassy last year. She says that the expectations for the German Presidency are unrealistically high, not least because Germany was preceded by two small states in the function - Austria and Finland. Angela Merkel cannot even count on full support for her European agenda from her grand-coalition cabinet, especially on the environment issues. Jan Seifert dealt with the domestic issues prone to hinder Merkel's European performance here.

Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) from Madrid came up with a working paper entitled New Governments, New Directions in European Foreign Policies? It examines the prospects for change in the foreign policy direction in Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. I hope to add an analysis on the new course of the Czech foreign policy as soon as possible.

30 January 2007


Recently I started posting more frequently on The Voice of Europe. As a result, I got listed by several top Eurobloggers. First I was blogrolled by DJ Nozem, then my blog appeared on Erkan's field diary. Legendary Nosemonkey, famous for starting the Europhobia blog, added me in his "newish EU blog roundup" on 25 January. But most rewarding of all was to be noticed by A Fistful of Euros blog, which was selected as the Best European blog by E!Sharp magazine. Thank you all very much; I will do my best to continue sharing my insight on what constitutes the big challenges for Europe and wider world, and how we should respond to them.

25 January 2007

An article on Le Taurillon

My article on the reframing of the EU Enlargement has been published on Le Taurillon, the online version of Young European Federalists' The New Federalist magazine. I have made some small changes in the text, but the idea remains the same: the European Union enlargement should be presented as the process of European unification, because that is what it is.

Czechia: no longer "the biggest non-governmental organisation in Europe"

The June general election landed my homeland in the worst political deadlock imaginable. The lower chamber was divided into two blocs of equal size; the winning Civic Democrats (ODS), Christian Democrats (KDU - ČSL) and the Greens stood against the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and the Communists (KSČM). As the prospects of reaching any settlement were rapidly fading, Oldřich Průša aptly dubbed Czechia "the biggest non-governmental organisation in Europe".

Seven and a half months on, we finally got a government. The prime minister Mirek Topolánek is heading a cabinet consisting of his Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and Greens. Topolánek only survived the parliamentary vote of confidence because two Social Democrats, Vít Pohanka and Miloš Melčák, voted with the coalition deputies.

Václav Klaus, the president, has been criticised for overt intervention in the coalition negotiations. Klaus, who still wields a considerable leverage in the ODS which he founded, was pressing hard for the grand coalition between the Civic and Social Democrats. Yet there was a very little convergence in parties' manifestos: the ODS advocated the flat tax, the Social Democrats were promising more social benefits. The very heated campaign had created unbridgeable personal animosities.

Despite all that, Klaus, with his eye set upon re-election (the president is chosen by a common vote of lower chamber deputies and senators), concentrated on undermining Topolánek, who refused to ally himself with the ideological opponents. Klaus wanted Pavel Bém, the popular mayor of Prague, to overthrow Topolánek and create a "grand coalition", which would guarantee that Klaus regains his post in the presidential election. Yet Topolánek outmanoeuvred Klaus eventually, securing conditional support from the two Social Democrats.

The new government will not have an easy ride. It will have to rely on the support of two deputies who are still technically members of the ČSSD. Moreover, right from the start, scandals are emerging. The failure of Topolánek's marriage has long been filling the pages of tabloids. Jiří Čunek, the Christian Democrat leader, stands accused of political corruption and sexual harrassment. The culture minister Helena Třeštíková resigned before spending a single week in the function.

From the beginning, it was clear that the best solution would be a snap election. However, the Social Democrats, likely to lose out, always blocked this option. Now with the government confirmed in function, the constitutional path to a new election is even more complicated. The weak government will probably have to muddle along all the way.

16 January 2007

The EU Enlargement: Reframing the Issue

I believe that all European nations have an undeniable right to become a part of a united European state ultimately. West Germany did have a moral obligation to unite with East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell. The German re-unification has not brought the West Germany economic gain, yet noone would argue that the re-unification should not have taken place. The West Germans felt solidary with their brothers in the East, as a result of having a common identity. There was no way that arguments about the difficulties arising from the transformation of the East German economy and society would prevent the Wiedervereinigung from happening.

There are however signicant differences between the European Union enlargement process and the German re-unification. Firstly, mutual identification between East and West Germans was much higher than there is among Europeans. Secondly, the German re-unification was a one-off act, whereas the European Union has been enlarging ever since it was created.

Therefore, it is not possible to “unite Europe” immediately, because there would be little popular support for it. In my opinion, the middle-aged people, unlike their parents, have a little appreciation for Europe in general because they no longer see the Union as something which guarantees peace in the Continent. In addition, the “Generation Erasmus” still needs time to fully assert itself.

Moreover, it would be highly impractical to perform the enlargement at once. The transition of East Germany has showed us that a hasty enlargement can cause more harm than good. The relations between the “Ossis” and the “Wessis” are tense; with the Westerners wary of subsidising the East and the Easterners fed up with being treated as second-class citizens. Politics of fear is being employed as we speak to scare the ordinary people by the imaginary hordes of Polish plumbers; Lithuanians are alienated by not being allowed into the Eurozone on a technicality, Czechs are angry at being refused an early entry to Schengen. As a result, we are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Europeans.

We must learn from our mistakes in the past in order to conduct a better enlargement process in the future. One of the main problems with the enlargment is the very word itself. Indeed it triggers a feeling that we are “adding something extra” to what already was a fully functioning body, complete with all its parts. Every enlargement is therefore seen as an unnecessary step likely to worsen the current state of affairs, rather than as an opportunity for everyone. I therefore suggest that the term “enlargement” is replaced by the word “unification”: we are not enlarging Europe, we are unifying it! This will consequently make the accession process viewed much more positively, with the uderlying assumption that it is in fact necessary for Europe to be unified.

Reframing the issue would bring real world advantages for Europe. First of all, Europe would be no longer able to avoid defining its own borders. No more time would be wasted by endless talks on whether a country X should be ever allowed to start the accession negotiations. All European countries would be given a clear signal that if they work hard, they will make it one day. Needless to say, this approach would make the European “carrot” much more effective. Nowadays it does not function too well in countries like Serbia or Ukraine, where the prospect of the EU membership appears to be too illusive. Even bolder would be to integrate all the European countries, both the EU members and candidates, into a common, visa-free body of sorts. However, for the time being, that remains a utopia.

03 January 2007

The Baddie of the Year Awards

I compiled the list of the worst wrong-doers in the political arena in the past year. By no means is the list exhaustive or complete; it rather constitutes a random collection of my thoughts.

The "Baddie" goes to the Myanmar junta. The clever generals know that no news about Burma (Myanmar) is good news for them. But the international community cannot let the situation in Burma be forgotten. We have got the moral duty to act in a way which will lead to the end of the military regime which does not tolerate any political opposition and uses forced civilian labour, to name just the two from the long list of its sins. The EU has done its bit by imposing an all-round embargo on the country, but is that enough? How long will the opposition leader and the Sakharov Prize holder Aung San Suu Kyi have to rot under house arrest before the decisive change takes place?

The first runner-up is the Shia axis in the Middle East. Iran, in its quest to become a regional superpower, is orchestrating the show, arming the Shia militia in the southern Iraq (though it is not so close to the gunmen of Muqtada al-Sadr in the Baghdad area), Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and propping up the ailing Syrian economy with its petrodollars. The West shows signs of giving in: Tony Blair was the first to break the line and call for a cooperation with Iran on Iraq, the Iraq Study Group in the US Congress recommended the same. But that is exactly what we should not do: the ruling cliques in Damascus and Tehran are growing desperate as their populations are getting ever warier of the consequences of being international pariahs. To give Ahmadinejad a helping hand when his domestic support is crumbling would be unwise.

The second runner-up is the United Nations. UNreformed, it stumbled on last year. Its new Human Rights Council is no less a sham than the Human Rights Committee it replaced: the worst abusers such as China or Tunisia still secured their places in the new body. The violence in Darfur escalated to the heights only seen in 2004. Moreover, the Arab janjaweed militia, supported by the central government in Khartoum, are taking the conflict across the border: their aim is to overthrow the government of Idriss Déby in the neighbouring Chad. What matters to China though is that it gets the preferential access to the rich Sudanese oil resources. The UN has irresponsibly restrained from involvement in Iraq and instead smirked as the Allies were struggling. The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) Soren Jessen-Petersen, a personal friend of Ramush Haradinaj who is now being tried for the war crimes against the Serbs in the Hague, had to be withdrawn for being biased towards the Albanians and for mismanaging the Kosovar economy; yet for example the UNMIK-published school textbooks still have a distinctly anti-Serbian tone.

Those who just did not make it:
Jiří Paroubek, the leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party for his continuous refusal to enable a snap election which is the only satisfactory way to resolve the Czech electoral deadlock: we have been without a proper government since June.

Václav Klaus, the President of Czechia, for clearly being the only person who after reading our Constitution concludes that it creates a presidential system; and for his stubborn Euroscepticism.

The Slovak electorate, for voting out the reformist government of Mikoláš Dzurinda which put the country back on track after the lost years of the Mečiar premiership.