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.