30 January 2007

Blogrolled

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.