Monthly Archives: June 2008

A week ago I urged my colleague, Wolfgang Munchau, to elaborate on his argument that a country can legally be chucked out of the European Union. Today he obliges.

But – as ever – one question begets another. All the remedies Wolfgang suggests are so drastic that one is left wondering, why bother? Essentially, the idea seems to be that all the countries currently in the EU quit the Union and then re-group in a new Union – minus the Irish and any other recalcitrants. This procedure reminds me of the famous remark attributed to an American army officer in Vietnam – “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Read more

Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, obviously goes to some great parties. He writes in The New York Times that :

“The last few years, we’ve spent July Fourth at the house of friends who have had the assembled company read the entire declaration (of independence)… I was doubtful at first that reading the declaration would enhance the overall beer-and-hamburger experience of the day. But the effort has proved more thought-provoking and patriotism-stirring than I expected.” Read more

My joy at Spain’s victory in the football last night is almost unconfined. I say almost because Spain were England’s companions as the great under-achievers of world soccer. Now they have won something. So it’s back to not so splendid isolation for the English.

At the beginning of the tournament, I speculated about reasons for longstanding Spanish footballing failure. Perhaps, it had something to do with a lack of a strong sense of nationhood in Spain?

Well, that theory has clearly not withstood the test of Torres. But how about the new theory - that footballing victory will create a surge of Spanish nationalism that will help to bind the nation together? Read more

As the sham Zimbabwean election proceeds, there is increasing discussion of charging Robert Mugabe with crimes against humanity – with a view to an eventual trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Many liberals regard the establishment of the ICC as a triumph for international justice and victims’ rights- and a crucial breach in the idea of inviolable national sovereignty. They also argue that future dictators might be deterred by the sight of prosecutions in the Hague.

But - it seems to me – there are two coherent counter-arguments. The first is pragmatic. It will be much harder to persuade dictators to leave power, if they fear they may end up in the dock in the Hague. Some argue that Mr Mugabe might have agreed to go into exile, were it not for the sight of Charles Tayor - the former Liberian dictator – going on trial at the ICC. Taylor himself, it is argued, only quit office because he thought he had an amnesty. Mugabe and others like him will now never believe in amnesty offers – and so they will cling onto power regardless. Read more

In a gloomy take on the future of Turkey, published in the FT, Cengiz Aktar wrote that henceforth the only sources of satisfaction for his fellow countrymen would be triumphs on the football field. Alas, even that was denied them last night.

Everybody I have spoken to – as well as the TV panel – agreed that Turkey played much better than Germany and deserved to win. I like to think that this pro-Turk bias reflected what happened on the pitch and the traditional British preference for the underdog – rather than the equally traditional British antipathy towards Germany.

The game was enthralling. But the moment I most enjoyed was when the cameras cut away to the stands, after Germany had scored. Chancellor Angela Merkel was on her feet cheering. But next to her, Michel Platini, the head of UEFA, looked like he was going to throw up. Perhaps Platini was having a flash-back to the two semi-finals that France lost to Germany in the World Cups of 1982 and 1986. He played in both games and in the 1982 match, in particular, France had totally outplayed Germany. Bitter memories.

Still, I think Aktar is too gloomy in thinking that only football can provide emotional satisfaction for Turks. He is forgetting the shock Turkish victory in the Prospect magazine poll of global intellectuals. Read more

Terrific piece by my colleague, Wolfgang Munchau, on Monday. Of course – I disagreed with every word of it. Unlike Wolfgang, I was glad that the Irish voted no to the Lisbon Treaty.

However – as a fellow columnist – I admired a splendid polemic. It had everything: anger, manic energy, a powerful argument, originality. But there was one point where Wolfgang lost me.

He wrote: “I do not want to get into the legal details of how a country’s departure from the EU could be accomplished. Suffice it to say that it can be done within European law as long as there is political will.”

Again, I admire the writing. The nostalgic in me thrills to the emphasis on “will” as a determining force in politics. I like the slightly sinister refusal to divulge the means by which Ireland and the Czech Republic will be forced out of the EU. (“We have ways of making you leave.”)

But I just think that Wolfgang is wrong. I don’t think there is a legal means to force a country to leave the EU against its will. Wolfman – if you are out there – please enlighten me. Readers, I welcome your views. Read more

Tragedy is traditionally meant to provoke pity and fear. But the world is in danger of reacting to the Zimbabwean tragedy with different emotions: resignation and relativism. Read more

Gordon Brown was physically in Brussels yesterday. But it was clear that mentally he was already travelling to the emergency oil summit which is taking place in Saudi Arabia tomorrow.

At his closing Brussels press conference he kept repeating a single number – $3 trillion. This – Brown claims – is the amount that oil consuming countires have transferred to oil-producing countries as a result of the recent spike in oil prices. As the FT reports today, that is causing huge budgetary and political strains in many consuming countries. Read more

I had forgotten some of the little rituals of EU summits. So it was a pleasant surprise – on entering the Justus Lipsius building this morning – to see the video screens announcing “free gift for journalists”. Claiming my bounty from the Slovenians – who are currently presidents of the EU – was a bit like taking part in a treasure hunt. You had to walk through a maze of sub-terranean corridors, following the arrows labelled “Gift-Cadeau”. Eventually I was presented with a black t-shirt, bearing the baffling slogan – “I feel Slovenia”.

There are certainly no gifts for the Irish on offer here, after their own baffling rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. After the summit, it is even clearer that the game plan is to get all the other 26 countries to ratify – and then to pressurise the Irish to vote again. But there are still a couple of snags. First, the Czechs are dragging their feet and may have trouble with their constitutional court. Second, nobody really seems to have thought through what happens if the Irish say “No” a second time.

I think the Germans would be strongly tempted to try to sling them out of the EU. But others – the British; the Scandanavians; the Poles – would resist. And that really would be a crisis. Read more

I wonder whether Britain is about to sour on the Afghan war in a big way. The recent conjunction of events is bad.

This week we have a visit to Britain by the ever popular, George W. Bush – followed by an announcement that British troop levels in Afghanistan are about to be raised once again. The British death toll has passed 100 and four more deaths have been announced today. Read more

Ths time last year, I was about to head off to Brussels to an EU summit. The top item on the agenda was an effort to rescue the European Union constitution, after defeats in the French and Dutch referendums. The result was the document that became known as the Lisbon Treaty.Now I am about to head off to Brussels for another EU crisis summit – this time designed to rescue the Lisbon Treaty after its defeat in the Irish referendum.

These people never learn. But then that is why they can keep going. They are like the proverbial goldfish, endlessly circling their bowl – and constantly surprised and delighted by the view. Read more

I was at a lunch at the Danish embassy in Brussels in 2001, when a diplomat strode in and whispered something nasty into the ambassador’s ear. The ambassador pulled a face and told his guests the bad news: the Irish had voted to reject the European Union’s Nice treaty. The lunch broke up in disarray. Read more

In A Choice of Enemies, Lawrence Freedman has taken one of the most analysed and controversial subjects in modern politics – US policy towards the Middle East – and set himself two near-impossible tasks. The first is to write a book that will be perceived as scholarly and impartial. The second is to say something new about the subject.Freedman, professor of war studies at King’s College, London, succeeds triumphantly in the second task. A Choice of Enemies is both a fast-paced introduction for lay readers and a fresh analysis that will appeal to experts.

The novelty of the book lies mainly in its effort to provide a comprehensive account of American engagement with the broader Middle East, from Afghanistan to Israel since 1979 – a year that saw the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, an Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and the arrival of Saddam Hussein as president of Iraq. Read more

This morning I had breakfast with Neil O’Brien who runs a pressure group and think-tank called Open Europe – dedicated to opposing the onward march of European integration. Neil seemed rather depressed – and this was not just because he had spent the night ministering to the homeless on the banks of the Thames (although he had).

“The Irish have voted Yes”, he informed me, “Paddy Power are paying out.” What this apparently meant was that the last barrier to the ratification of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty had fallen. The Irish had approved the treaty in a referendum. The bookmakers, Paddy Power, were so sure of the result that they were paying out to people who had bet on a Yes vote.

Except that it looks like Paddy Power have made an expensive mistake. The FT is now reporting that Ireland has voted No. Read more

I was re-viewing the opening episode of “The World at War” (as one does) – and was struck by the footage of Hitler looking cheerful, surrounded by yapping German shepherd dogs. The great dictator was a dog lover, and had a pet Alsatian called Blondi.

Churchill, by contrast, was a cat man. Read more

A burglar breaks into your house, ties you up and starts loading your possessions into a bag labelled “swag”. From behind your gag, you say: “May I suggest that behaving in this fashion is not in your long-term interests?” That could be true. But the remark still sounds a little weak. Read more

1. Small countries prosper. The European Union is set up partly to defend the rights of small nations. And so it seems are the European football championships. Small countries that would never stand a chance in the World Cup can win the Euro championships. Greece won Euro 2004; the Danes won in 1992, Holland won in 1988 and Czechoslovakia won in 1976. The fact that the European soccer championship is a shorter tournament, with fewer teams than the World Cup makes it easier for a small country to go on a winning streak. It also helps that Brazil and Argentina aren’t allowed to compete. Top tip among the tiddlers for 2008 is Portugal, led by their magnificent, hair-gelled winger Cristiano Ronaldo.

2. You can mention the war For historical reasons, many teams in Europe particularly enjoy beating Germany. The Danish, Dutch and Czech tournament triumphs all featured emotionally satisfying victories over the Germans. But these old grievances are fading with the passage of time. And in this year’s tournament, Germany are fortunate to have been drawn in a group with two old friends – Austria and Croatia. Mind you, the fourth country in the group is Poland. The Germany v Poland game is on June 8. Read more

I am in Saint Petersburg – or Leningrad, as the British Airways announcer insisted on calling it, when they called my flight. I’m not sure what Lenin would have made of the St Petersburg Economic Forum, which is a sort of Russian Davos conference, which is taking place this weekend. Last night, they re-staged the storming of the Winter Palace – only this time the people doing the storming were oil company executives and investment bankers, intent on getting into a champagne reception at the Hermitage. To add a slightly surreal touch, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was playing a concert in the square outside.

With the oil price hitting new highs, the Russians are in a swaggeringly confident mood. President Medvedev opened the conference this morning and got a standing ovation – simply for walking into the room. In his speech he lambasted the US for “economic egotism” and for “aggressive financial policies” which had plunged the world’s poor into crisis. It was a bit like hearing an old Communist hailing the final crisis of capitalism. (Except that Medvedev also said that he would like to turn Russia into an international financial centre.) Read more

Is it finally safe to breathe out? It does look like Obama has finally nailed down the Democratic Party nomination. Once he has settled the pesky question of what to do about Hillary, he can finally turn all his fire on McCain.

I previewed some of the campaign themes on FT video earlier today. Read more

It is all very awkward. China and India are getting richer. And it appears their new middle classes want all the things we want: cars, washing machines, even meat. Here in the west, we have to restrain ourselves from saying: “Stop. You can’t live like us. The planet can’t stand it. And our wallets can’t stand it. Have you seen the price of petrol?” Read more