President Obama’s speech on terrorism and drone warfare yesterday was a rare example of a president responding to criticism of a covert campaign, before a major scandal has broken. Better still , President Obama has done it, not with angry denial, paranoia, or increased secrecy, but with a rational attempt to take on board some of the more telling criticisms of the drone campaign. That said, I think there are still problems with the policy. Read more
I am pleased that my column on Britain and Europe today has attracted lots of hits and comments. But, inevitably, when you try to deal with such a complex subject in 900 words (give or take), there is a lot you have to leave out. And there was one vital part of the subject that I didn’t deal with – and that is the impact of immigration on the British debate on Europe. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Twenty years ago, I was an anti-European. Today, I am a pro-European. The strange thing is that my views have not changed. I have always thought that Britain should stay out of the euro but inside the EU. During the John Major and Tony Blair years, when the euro was the dominant issue, that position made me a eurosceptic. But now the argument has become about whether Britain should leave the EU altogether. The front-line in Britain’s civil war over Europe has moved and, because I have stayed in the same place, I find myself on a different side of the battle-lines. Read more
The Germans: rated trustworthy but lacking in compassion (Getty)
The Pew poll on European attitudes came out this week and drew plenty of attention because of the remarkably negative attitudes it revealed towards the European Union. But to my mind, some of the most amusing and intriguing findings came when the pollsters probed nations’ views of each other, and of themselves.
The Germans were widely rated as both the most trustworthy and the least compassionate people in Europe – which says something about the complexity of European reactions to the euro crisis. The Italians rated themselves as the least trustworthy people in Europe. Do we call that self-knowledge or self-loathing? Asked to choose from a list of several countries, the French rated themselves as the most arrogant people in Europe. But they also rated themselves the least arrogant people in Europe. Maybe they are just the most self-obsessed? Read more
Seen from outside France, the country’s “cultural exception” – which protects its art, music and movie industries in trade negotiations – is like a long-running film franchise.
In the new sequel – Exception Culturelle 3D, if you will – Pierre Lescure, author of a government-commissioned report, has given the story a great new twist by suggesting a tax on smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and e-readers to fund French cultural output. Read more
I have just returned from the annual “Polish-British Round Table” in Krakow. This year, the theme was – “Britain and Poland: A Shared Future?” After sitting through several hours of discussions, my conclusion was – “not necessarily”. In fact, it is quite startling how swiftly British and Polish viewpoints have diverged, since Poland joined the EU back in 2004. Read more
Margaret Thatcher and Giulio Andreotti – they didn't always see eye to eye
Tuesday’s FT contained a wonderful obituary of Giulio Andreotti, a man who managed to be prime minister of Italy no fewer than seven times – as well as serving as foreign minister for much of the 1980s. Yet, as the FT obituary notes, Andreotti’s life ended in semi-disgrace, with the former PM preferring to to travel to “those parts of the world where he was still treated with respect: notably Libya, Syria and Iran.”
The Andreotti story is not simply an Italian curiosity. For the former Italian PM was also a pivotal figure in the construction of Europe and in the debates that led to the formation of the European single currency. As such, he crops up quite frequently in Margaret Thatcher‘s autobiography – in ways that cast a revealing light on today’s debates and dilemmas. Read more
One of the most popular iPad apps in Beijing at present is China Air Pollution Index. The app is both addictive and disturbing. When I checked into a Beijing hotel recently, I found that – even from the 40th floor – I couldn’t see further than one block because of the grey smog enveloping the city. So I checked the numbers and discovered that the AQ level, which measures fine particulates that are especially dangerous, was 250 – about five times the level deemed safe. Read more
About ten years ago I visited Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux. Paul Pontallier, the chief winemaker there, told me that prices for the most sought-after red Bordeauxs had already reached such stratospheric levels that it had become almost embarrassing. “My friends can’t afford to buy Margaux,” he lamented. Since then, it’s got even worse. Now it seems that even the president of France cannot afford to drink the top clarets. The Elysée has just announced that it will sell off about 10% of the presidential wine collection – and restock the cellars with cheaper wines.
It is an understandable decision. I don’t know if there will be any Margaux sold at auction, but I see that a bottle of Margaux 2000 now goes for about £700 (€825). The auction will also apparently include some Petrus 1990, which the FT this morning reckoned would go for €2,200 a bottle. (Actually my research suggests that would be a bargain and that the market price is now closer to €3,000).
But it is important that the restocking exercise should be carried out carefully. That is because a stellar cellar can be a genuine diplomatic asset. There are diplomats who attribute Britain’s success, in persuading France to make the fatal decision to reverse its opposition to British membership of the European Economic Community (now the EU), back in the 1970s, to the magnificence of the wines that Sir Christopher Soames – the then British ambassador to Paris – poured down the throats of key French decision-makers. Read more
Activists of the Indian right-wing Hindu organisation Shiv Sena burn a Chinese flag in protest against troops moving into Indian-controlled territory on April 25 (NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Rising tensions with Japan are evidently not enough to keep China busy. The People’s Liberation Army has now also pitched tents in a bit of disputed territory, controlled by India, creating an embarrassing security dilemma for the Delhi government. Official India’s initial reaction has been to play the incident down. I encountered an Indian diplomat in Beijing last week, who speculated that the whole thing was probably an initiative by an over-zealous local Chinese commander – and assured me that it would all be smoothed over. But that was five days ago, now – and the Chinese are still there.
As a result, the Indian government is increasingly open to charges of weakness – or even appeasement. Brahma Chellaney, one of India’s most hawkish commentators, fumes that “China is encroaching little by little on Indian land” and accuses the government of Manmohan Singh of “bending over backward at a time of aggression”. Read more