mfioretti: europe*

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  1. Brexiteers have ostensibly got what they want: Brexit. They assumed we could dictate the terms; we can’t. They assumed we could just walk away; we can’t. They had no more plans for leaving than a dog chasing a car has to drive it. They are now finding out how little sovereignty means for a country the size of Britain in a neoliberal globalised economy beyond blue passports (which we could have had anyway). What we need isn’t a change of leader but a change of direction.

    May is no more personally to blame for the mess we are in with Europe than Anthony Eden was for the mess with the 1956 Suez crisis – which provides a more salient parallel for Britain than the second world war. It took Britain and France overplaying their hand, in punishing Egypt for seizing the Suez canal from colonial control and nationalising it, to realise their imperial influence had been eclipsed by the US and was now in decline.

    “France and England will never be powers comparable to the United States,” the West German chancellor at the time, Konrad Adenauer, told the French foreign minister. “Not Germany either. There remains to them only one way of playing a decisive role in the world: that is to unite Europe … We have no time to waste; Europe will be your revenge.”

    Once again, Britain has overplayed its hand. Preferring to live in the past rather than learn from it, we find ourselves diminished in the present and clueless about the future.
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  2. When in times past we have isolated ourselves from the Continent in the name of 'empire' or 'sovereignty,' we were soon sucked back in. This will inevitably happen again, given our power, trade, democratic values and sheer geography.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-31)
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  3. Brzezinski protégés remain influential in the US State Department, American think tanks and among European Atlanticists. Implicit in the Brzezinski doctrine: Russia is too important to leave to the Russians. With an economy smaller than California, Russia may not have the wherewithal to become “a powerful imperial state spanning Europe and Asia,” it does have a crucial asset. The country is the Land Bridge between industrial giant China and the EU. Linking these two enormous economies would create a Eurasian economic area and would make China and the EU less dependent on the United States, and thereby less dependent on the US dollar.

    Used by permission from Merics (Mercator Institute for China Studies)

    History has a way of defying the grandest of grand strategies. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), so-called free-trade agreements but conveniently designed to economically isolate Russia and China, are virtually dead. Their demise illustrates the stunning role-reversal of the American left and right. President Barrack Obama actively promoted the free-trade deals, while Trump and many of his voters are against. Not surprisingly, Obama has since been exposed as a closet hawk in liberal clothes.

    The mantra that Russia stole the US election will probably continue until the next election (or until evidence is found that it was the US government under Obama that interfered with the US election to help Hillary Clinton – see here and here). For now, the political establishment and its compliant media have succeeded in tainting Putin enough to forestall any plans President Donald Trump may have had for rapprochement with Russia.

    But is it a Pyrrhic victory? A recent article by Michael Hudson, Trump is Obama’s Legacy, explains how the political left, the former champions of the poor and the working class, sold its soul to the billionaire class while perfecting the art of political expediency. Not without irony, Hudson quotes Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotski to sound a warning: “Fascism is the result of the failure of the left to provide an alternative.”

    China, unperturbed by it all, is playing the long game. It is implementing the 13th iteration of its five-year plan and rapidly expanding the One Belt One Road. The giant network, probably the largest infrastructure project in the world today, will ultimately connect more than 60 countries with four and a half billion people. Nothing focuses the mind like a five-year plan, and thinking 10 or 20 years ahead to set priorities for the common good. Once the Russia bashers get over their tantrums, they should try to formulate a few five-year plans themselves. China could send some of its best and brightest economists to help them get started.
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  4. After World War I the U.S. Government deviated from what had been traditional European policy – forgiving military support costs among the victors. U.S. officials demanded payment for the arms shipped to its Allies in the years before America entered the Great War in 1917. The Allies turned to Germany for reparations to pay these debts. Headed by John Maynard Keynes, British diplomats sought to clean their hands of responsibility for the consequences by promising that all the money they received from Germany would simply be forwarded to the U.S. Treasury.

    The sums were so unpayably high that Germany was driven into austerity and collapse. The nation suffered hyperinflation as the Reichsbank printed marks to throw onto the foreign exchange market. The currency declined, import prices soared, raising domestic prices as well. The debt deflation was much like that of Third World debtors a generation ago, and today’s southern European PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

    In a pretense that the reparations and Inter-Ally debt tangle could be made solvent, a triangular flow of payments was facilitated by a convoluted U.S. easy-money policy. American investors sought high returns by buying German local bonds; German municipalities turned over the dollars they received to the Reichsbank for domestic currency; and the Reichsbank used this foreign exchange to pay reparations to Britain and other Allies, enabling these countries to pay the United States what it demanded.

    But solutions based on attempts to keep debts of such magnitude in place by lending debtors the money to pay can only be temporary. The U.S. Federal Reserve sustained this triangular flow by holding down U.S. interest rates. This made it attractive for American investors to buy German municipal bonds and other high-yielding debts. It also deterred Wall Street from drawing funds away from Britain, which would have driven its economy deeper into austerity after the General Strike of 1926. But domestically, low U.S. interest rates and easy credit spurred a real estate bubble, followed by a stock market bubble that burst in 1929. The triangular flow of payments broke down in 1931, leaving a legacy of debt deflation burdening the U.S. and European economies. The Great Depression lasted until outbreak of World War II in 1939.

    Planning for the postwar period took shape as the war neared its end. U.S. diplomats had learned an important lesson. This time there would be no arms debts or reparations. The global financial system would be stabilized – on the basis of gold, and on creditor-oriented rules. By the end of the 1940s the Untied States held some 75 percent of the world’s monetary gold stock. That established the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency, freely convertible into gold at the 1933 parity of $35 an ounce.
    It also implied that once again, as in the 1920s, European balance-of-payments deficits would have to be financed mainly by the United States. Recycling of official government credit was to be filtered via the IMF and World Bank, in which U.S. diplomats alone had veto power to reject policies they found not to be in their national interest. International financial “stability” thus became a global control mechanism – to maintain creditor-oriented rules centered in the United States.

    To obtain gold or dollars as backing for their own domestic monetary systems, other countries had to follow the trade and investment rules laid down by the United States. These rules called for relinquishing control over capital movements or restrictions on foreign takeovers of natural resources and the public domain as well as local industry and banking systems.

    By 1950 the dollar-based global economic system had become increasingly untenable. Gold continued flowing to the United States, strengthening the dollar – until the Korean War reversed matters. From 1951 through 1971 the United States ran a deepening balance-of-payments deficit, which stemmed entirely from overseas military spending. (Private-sector trade and investment was steadily in balance.)
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  5. The paper argues that such consumption-based emissions accounting is important to consider alongside the territorial, production-based emissions typically required to be reported by governments, since they highlight the links between local consumption and its global environmental consequences.

    The breakdown into regional data could also empower regions to implement more focussed mitigation strategies, the paper argues.

    The results show that people living in Eastern Europe, such as in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, have some of the lowest carbon footprints in the EU, with the per capita average in some regions just a third of that in several British regions and in Luxembourg.

    Carbon Brief explores the trends and drivers behind the data.
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  6. Globally, all major groups had more births than deaths.
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  7. So what can Theresa May do?

    The only way May could secure a good deal for the UK would be by diffusing the EU’s spoiling tactics, while still respecting the Burkean Brexiteers’ strongest argument, the imperative of restoring sovereignty to the House of Commons. And the only way of doing this would be to avoid all negotiations by requesting from Brussels a Norway-style, off-the-shelf arrangement for a period of, say, seven years.

    The benefits from such a request would be twofold: first, Eurocrats and Europhiles would have no basis for denying Britain such an arrangement. (Moreover, Schäuble, Merkel and sundry would be relieved that the ball is thrown into their successors’ court seven years down the track.) Second, it would make the House of Commons sovereign again by empowering it to debate and decide upon in the fullness of time, and without the stress of a ticking clock, Britain’s long-tem relationship with Europe.
    Barnier: Brexit deal will not be quick or painless – video

    The fact that May has opted for a Brexit negotiation that will immediately activate the EU’s worst instincts and tactics, for petty party-political reasons that ultimately have everything to do with her own power and nothing to do with Britain’s optimal agreement with the EU, means only one thing: she does not deserve the mandate that Brussels is keen to neutralise.
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  8. Leaders of Britain’s 27 EU partner countries have now thrown down the gauntlet: no discussions on a trade deal will take place until there’s progress on the UK’s divorce bill, the Ireland-UK border and the rights of EU citizens.

    We are told there is a document on the table relating to UK citizens living in Europe and those of citizens from other EU countries who live in Britain, but the UK is not prepared to sign. No reason has been given as to why.
    First EU response to article 50 takes tough line on transitional deal
    Read more

    The problem for our prime minister is that at every turn her head hits the hard wall of law and the role of the European court of justice (ECJ). Theresa May has cornered herself by insisting that the UK withdraw totally from the court and its decisions. Nobody explained to her that if you have cross-border rights and contracts you have to have cross-border law and regulations. And if you have cross-border law you have to have supranational courts to deal with disputes.

    Call it what you like, but in the end you need rules as to conduct, and arbiters for disagreement. Even the World Trade Organisation has a disputes court.

    For years the British public have been subjected to a barrage of tabloid mendacity suggesting that we are victims of an onslaught of foreign-invented law and interference by foreign courts. In fact, a vast amount of incredibly advantageous law has been created in the EU in the past 40 years. And here’s the rub: we have been major contributors to that law. The British are good at law. We have had a strong hand in the creation of EU law.

    The committee I chair in the House of Lords has heard overwhelming evidence about the benefits to business of being able, for instance, to secure a judgment in a British court against a recalcitrant debtor in Poland and know it will be enforced anywhere in the EU.

    A mother can secure a maintenance order against her children’s renegade father who has sloped off to continental Europe, and have the order enforced. A holiday accident in Spain can lead to swifter resolution and compensation by virtue of EU law. A British father can get access to his kids by order of a court in Munich. Cross-border relationships require cross-border law, and agreements on mutual enforcement are fundamental.
    The Guardian view on the May-Juncker dinner: one continent, not two galaxies
    Accounts of the Downing Street meeting between the PM and the commission president are certainly one-sided. But the two sides need to talk to each other more cooperatively
    Read more

    No wonder the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, is reported to have said Theresa May is on another galaxy in imagining she can retain the best bits of Europe without its institutions or legal underpinnings. Her fantasy that the “great repeal bill” will fix the problem by bringing EU law home, or that a deal can be done without the need for any European court, is unravelling. These legal arrangements require reciprocity. The courts of EU countries do things for us because we do likewise for them. A piece of unilateral legislation on our part does not secure that mutuality which is embodied in many regulations.

    Harmonising law across Europe has raised standards – to our advantage. Europe-wide law is integrated into our lives. In the “new order” of trade agreements with China and others, none of these safeguards will exist. My guess is that if May does secure a deal with the EU, we will find ourselves quietly signing up to a newly created court or tribunal, a lesser ECJ.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-05-04)
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  9. ’ve interviewed dozens of refugees about why they’re risking death to reach Europe. The most common answer is this: because there is no other option. Many cannot return home, or start new lives in other countries in the Middle East or north Africa. So they have nothing to lose by trying for Europe. This means that they will continue to cross the sea in leaking boats – and a few of them will continue to set up camps at Calais – until there is a safe, legal and realistic means of being relocated to Europe.

    Previous camp clearances over the past decade have ultimately not stopped the flow at Calais. Why would they work now?

    For many, the implications of this will be hard to swallow. But the reality is clear: the only logical, long-term response to the Calais crisis is to create a legal means for vast numbers of refugees to reach Europe in safety. This may sound counter-intuitive. But at the current rate, whether we like it or not, 1 million refugees will arrive on European shores within the next four or five years. Whether they set up camps at Calais depends on how orderly we make that process of resettlement.

    The prime minister thinks that sending home west African migrants will do the trick. But this so-called deterrent won’t put off most of the people at Calais. The majority of migrant arrivals to Europe in the past two years have been Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans. These are not “economic migrants” – they are people respectively fleeing civil war, oppression and religious extremism, and in some cases all three. They therefore have a legal right to seek sanctuary in Europe.

    Promising to swiftly relocate 1 million Syrian, Eritrean and Afghan refugees within a viable timeframe is the only thing that will persuade most of them to stay and wait in the transit countries of the Middle East and north Africa – instead of going by boat, or setting up shanty towns in northern France. Currently the EU has promised to relocate 22,000 Syrians and Eritreans awaiting asylum in the Middle East. But given that there are already a total of 4 million Syrian refugees, this is a tiny, token number – and will do nothing to discourage the tide of people crossing the sea through illegal means, or turning up at Calais. We need to promise to resettle a far bigger number in the long-term in order to persuade them to stay put in the short term.
    Europe could solve the migrant crisis – if it wanted
    Daniel Trilling
    Read more

    Some readers will find this idea unworkable. How could Europe handle so many migrants? But spread throughout Europe’s total population of 740 million, an additional 1 million would have a minimal social impact. It would also still be smaller than the number of refugees currently in, for example, Lebanon – where an indigenous population of 4.5 million is struggling to host a refugee population of nearly 1.2 million. Such a massive resettlement programme also has precedent. After the Vietnam war, western countries resettled 1.3 million refugees from the region. If it was achieved once, it can be achieved again.

    Large-scale resettlement is certainly a more logical response than what has been tried so far. Last October, the EU opted to suspend rescue missions in the Mediterranean, fearing that they were attracting migrants. People came anyway – in record numbers. Then the EU decided to launch military operations against Libyan smugglers. I’ve written elsewhere about how that’s doomed to failure. In any case, it’s already too late: there are now more migrants going from Turkey to Greece, than from Libya to Italy.
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  10. It's not a majority of us, it's a majority of you. It's only democratic to support it if you accept that we are only British. We don't accept it. We've been European too long.

    I don't honestly think that that many of us even knew that this was how we felt. I didn't. If I considered my identity at all, it was only to reassure myself that I had no interest in basing any politics on it. But here we are, you're taking the line around who we are and forcing us to redraw it - smaller and more pickily - so that it matches yours. No resolvable arguments about the economy or policy or institutions or regulations need to come into it - when we think about being trapped in here with you we feel queasy and furious and it doesn't ever go away.

    I know that the no-demos hypothesis has some merit. I know that you don't feel European. I know that you see THE BRITISH PEOPLE as an obvious and easily identifiable group, some of whom, unfortunately, can't stop moaning.

    I know that you will never feel European and that, as such, the idea of - say - a European superstate would never have worked.

    If we were to say to you that you were no longer British - that you were now only an EU citizen with the status of Britain downgraded to that of an American state under a federal government - you'd feel violated and sickened at what had been stripped from you.

    I know that. I don't think we'd ever have done it to you.

    But that's how we feel. It's not disappointment that we lost an argument - it's as deep for us as it would be for you. You think that you felt just as bad being part of the EU, but you didn't. Being in the EU never took anything fundamental away from you - even if you say it did.

    Maybe there was some sense that your culture was being eroded by Polish shops? There was probably a small, but real, amount of wage depreciation from competitive immigrant labour. Maybe there was a different attitude to the rule of law on the continent that made your dealings with the regulatory infrastructure frustrating? But fundamental? Nah, mate, you can fuck off with that. These were annoyances and quibbles. Things to lobby against at worst.

    What we had going - awkwardly, imperfectly - was a compromise that allowed us and you to co-exist. We were in the EU, but the EU was only a union, not a state - it didn't go around saying the Queen wasn't the queen and it was cool with you keeping your nice money that you like. It let you be British and it let us be European. It was a good solution to our problem. The fact that there were two peoples, two demoi, living on this island didn't render the island dysfunctional because we had a constitutional setup that allowed us both to be largely, if not entirely, fulfilled in our day to day experience of citizenship.

    You've broken that. You've thrown it away and it will never, ever, ever be OK.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-04-03)
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