Monthly Archives: June 2008

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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

Gideon Rachman

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