Monthly Archives: October 2009

Gideon Rachman

That is because I’m disappearing for two months, to finish a book. (About international politics, amazingly enough). To ensure maximum concentration, I am abandoning not just the column – but also the blog. I will return to normal duties at the beginning of January.

In the meantime, a group of my colleagues have kindly agreed to take over my blogging duties. Over the next couple of months, this will become a group international affairs blog – drawing on the resources of the FT’s network of foreign correspondents. Among the people who have promised to blog at least once a week are Geoff Dyer, Roula Khalaf, James Blitz, Alan Beattie and Victor Mallet. (The last two will start around November 10th.) And other correspondents will chip in, every now and then. It promises to be really good – but, I hope, not too good, or I could be out of a job in 2010.

David Miliband, British foreign secretary,  Read more

Gideon Rachman

For most of the past twenty years, high levels of unemployment in Europe have been a source of shame and concern for European policymakers. Conversely, the Americans have revelled in the extraordinary job-creating US economy. Whenever Europeans defended their welfare states, or poined to inequality in the US, the Americans had a ready riposte – at least our people are at work.

But, without exciting much comment, things have now changed. American unemployment is alarmingly high – 9.8% according to the tables at the back of The Economist. By comparision, Britain is 7.9%, Germany 8.2%, the Netherlands 5.1%, Denmark 3.7%. The euro-zone as a whole is at 9.6%, just below the States – but the average is dragged up by Spain’s outstandingly poor performance, with unemployment of 18.9%. Read more

Gideon Rachman

For those of you who have not yet made it to p.24 of the second section (UK edition) of today’s FT, may I bring your attention to what seems to the single most amusing/interesting fact in today’s paper.

Paul Betts in his European View notes that, during the French EU presidency, France hosted a three day “Union of the Mediterranean summit” that cost 16.6m euros. He goes on – “On the occasion of that summit, a shower was specially installed in the Grand Palais in Paris at a cost of €245,000 for the personal use of the president. Mr Sarkozy never used it.”

Gideon Rachman

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, has been making the running in the efforts to secure the EU council presidency for his old boss, Tony Blair. (Miliband was the head of the Downing Street policy unit under Blair.) The Charlemagne blog suggests, amusingly, that Miliband’s heart may not be in it – and that he is playing some sort of weird double game, designed to advance his own ambitions.

But, whatever his secret musings, Miliband made an interesting and thoughtful speech on Britain and Europe a couple of days ago at the IISS in London. He argued that world is heading for an “Age of Continents” – in which sheer size will be increasingly important. The world will either be run by a G2 of China and the US, or by a G3 that includes the EU. The moral is that Britain has to throw its lot in with the EU, or face increasing irrelevance. As Miliband himself notes, the Tories aversion to deeper European integration is so intense that they would probably prefer increasing irrelevance – an idea that William Hague seemed to accept in his own IISS speech, a few weeks back. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Following Sarkozy’s happiness commission, the latest effort to come up with a broader measure of national well-being than mere GDP has been made by the London-based Legatum Institute. Legatum’s  ”Prosperity Index” sounds like it is weighted towards economics. But, in fact, the institute tries to take into account a great many factors in producing its national rankings, these include health, entrepeneurship, democractic governance etc. The Finns are apparently the best-off people in the world, according to this measure. Strange then, that they are so catatonic.  Maybe that is the secret of their success.

In the manner of these reports, Legatum tries to come up with ten “key findings”. These include “freedom cannot be divided”, “good governance is central to life satisfaction” and most sweeping of all, “History is not destiny.” Blimey. Who said it was? And what would it mean if history was destiny? Read more

Gideon Rachman

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Poor Tony Blair – sabotaged by his own countryman. Just weeks ago,Mr Blair looked like the frontrunner to be president of the European Union. But now William Hague, Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, has let the rest of Europe know that the opposition Conservative party would regard his appointment as a “hostile gesture”. Since the Tories and Mr Hague are likely to be in government by the middle of next year, after a British general election, their views have real weight. Charles Grant, head of the Centre for European Reform, a think-tank, says: “On my travels around Europe I have found that Hague’s comments have made a huge impact.” Mr Blair’s candidacy has been badly damaged. Read more

This post from Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times looks at the EU summit and discussions on the Lisbon treaty.  Read more

Gideon Rachman

The great news furore here in Britain is about the appearance of Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, on the BBC’s Question Time programme. Since I suspect this has hardly featured in the news outside the UK, let me explain for those of you logging in from Riyadh or Brisbane. The BNP are the British equivalent of France’s National Front – they made a small electoral breakthrough at the last Euro-elections and now have two MEPS. (Griffin is one of them.) Since Question Time is probably the most prestigious political programme on TV, it is a big step for Griffin to be allowed on.

Along with 8m other people, I watched the programme last night – and I thought Griffin was reassuringly bad. I had expected him to be smooth, well-prepared and unflappable. As it was, he looked sweaty, nervous, incoherent and ingratiating. One of his big problems is that he has a long history of racist statements – some of them made on tape – that he is now trying to shrug off. His efforts to deny his previous record of Holocaust-denial was embarrassingly evasive – like the worst sort of slippery politician. His suggestion that he had appeared alongside the Ku Klux Klan, partly to persuade them of the error of their ways was ludicrous. So, all in all, I share the views of Matthew Engel in today’s FT – that it was a good move to put Griffin on television, because he made an idiot of himself. Read more

Gideon Rachman

There seems to be a general sigh of relief in western capitals that President Karzai has agreed to a second round for the Afghan elections on November 7th. But my reaction was different. The whole things looks increasingly absurd to me. Do we really believe that the second round is going to be so much cleaner than the first round? Do we really think that – in the war-torn areas of Helmand – thousands of people are now going to have the confidence to turn out to vote, when they were too intimidated to do so the first time around? Above all, do we really think that the Afghans are going to feel terribly different about the continuation of President Karzai’s rule, just because there has been a second round of voting?

But then I don’t think this decision to go to a second round really has much to do with what the Afghans think. It is all about making western governments feel more comfortable. We already know that our efforts to ram the square peg of democracy into the round hole of Afghan society are in serious trouble. President Obama has said that Afghanistan is not going to be a “Jeffersonian democracy”. But the first round of elections were so flawed, that we need something that looks just a little better. Which would be fine – except that it is very likely that lots of people are going to die – western soldiers and Afghan voters – in trying to pretty up “Afghan democracy”. Read more