All 3 entries tagged Europe

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May 14, 2007

A new era for British–Franco relations?

Two men, from similar political backgrounds, with similar political views. Yet one is mocked by the British as the archetypal miserable Frenchman, while the other represents a great new hope for relations between his country and ours.

The Times’ Washington correspondent, Gerard Baker, wrote that:

Having endured years of Gallic disdain, contempt and hostility, America is getting used to the happy possibility that France might actually be a friend and even an ally again.

Sarkozy and Blair, 11th May 2007Given Britain’s ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ relationship with the United States in recent years, the election of Nicolas Sarkozy to the Élysée Palace also permits a thawing in relations between Britain and its neighbour.

The bonhomie exhibited by Mr Blair and M. Chirac this week was tinged with the disdain that the two statesmen have held for each other ever since Blair burst onto the European stage with his brand of slick, demanding diplomacy in 1997. But when he met M. Chirac’s successor (right), things were very different.

Perhaps M. Sarkozy’s warmth was helped by the knowledge that his British counterpart will not long be in a position to demand things of Europe. The infamous rebate will surely come up again in time, and Mr Brown is known to be a more passionate defender of Britain’s subsidy from Europe than Mr Blair has been.

Yet there is little to suggest things will be frostier when the Scot moves to Number 10. While he may not be the Europhile that Tony Blair is, he and Sarkozy may find their mutual Atlanticism to be a useful asset.

An infamous Sun front-pageSarkozy’s nicknames include ‘Sarko the American’ and ‘Speedy’ (a sign of his apparent hyperactivity, apparently). Both seem to be traits that Gordon Brown is moving towards. The steady hand on the economic rudder will likely be replaced by a fervent Prime Minister, keen to exert control quickly over ‘his’ government while making constitutional changes to win over the people. His ability to sit on the fence was demonstrated well in his recent book, Courage. It features a delicately balanced portrayal of two Americans, two Brits and two Europeans.

Denis McShane – former Minister for Europe – painted a picture of a European tricycle, with Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel perched on each wheel. It’s a convincing image. With Iran and Syria seeming to pose the only foreign threats to this balancing act, on foreign affairs the leaders of Europe’s major industrial nations are generally united.

But will this new-found Euro-love permeate into wider society? Britons’ ridicule of all things Gallic has become something of a cliché. The optimist would suggest that better relations between our political leaders might help to rectify this over time. Certainly the tabloid front-pages accusing the French of being “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” might be a thing of the past if co-operation at a political level succeeds.

Of course, Sarkozy will only be a success if he solves the numerous domestic conundrums that he promised in the election. But rebuilding relations with Britain and America could be an even greater prize for his country in the long-term.


November 20, 2006

In a continent that loves regulation, drivers give anarchy a go

One of the new 'regulation-free' roundabouts (c) SpiegelConsidering Europe’s passion for regulating anything that moves (and most things that don’t), it’s a bit surprising to see European cities so specifically do away with rules. But that is what’s happening.

Planners in seven European cities are experimenting with motor vehicle anarchy, and the results have been surprising. From the article -

They want drivers and pedestrians to interact in a free and humane way, as brethren—by means of friendly gestures, nods of the head and eye contact, without the harassment of prohibitions, restrictions and warning signs.

Where else could we apply this idea?


December 16, 2005

Why the EU will never work – a relatively optimistic assessment

Tony Blair is frantically trying to apply a sticking-plaster to the European Union in the form of a budget. I call it a sticking plaster, because the EU's budget is a bucket full of holes, with money leaking to a number of useless and morally reprehensible projects which have no justification at all. Step forward the Common Agricultural Policy for one.

But whatever the size of the budget, it won't solve the problem at the heart of the EU - an organisation which in principle I am in favour of.

The key problem with the EU is its inability to decide between 'One Europe' and the 'National interest'. What we're seeing at the budget negotiations is national interests coming out ahead.

France won't consider even a 'review' of the CAP because it fears losing €bns in subsidies to its farmers. There is no justification for the CAP (at least in such an over-sized form) that goes along the lines of building a stronger Europe. Its only justification is that it preserves jobs in an outdated and inefficient industry.

Britain is characterised as the Beast to France's Beauty, accused of taking a selfish approach to Europe, with reference to its rebate. But Britain seems to me to be a proponent of 'Justice', and fears that if it surrenders its rebate, it will never again have a bargaining chip with which to force reform of the CAP. Remember that by surrendering any rebate, Tony Blair is making himself the majority of the press' most-hated figure.

If Britain could engineer a system whereby the money allocated to the CAP was instead spent on structural funds to more worthy recipients than France, then I'm certain it would happily surrender its rebate. Maybe it's subconscious nationalism on my part, but I don't see any way in which Britain is being particularly selfish at the budget talks.

Incompetent, maybe. But selfish? Only in the sense that it is threatening to veto any budget proposals made during the next two Presidencies, which I see as a bargaining tactic. After all, European leaders love leaving a decision until the last minute, when the negotiators are becoming desperate for a deal.

But the CAP will never be reformed, let alone the rest of the budget, even if it is the only future for the EU. France created the Union for two reasons:
1) to keep Germany at arm's reach
2) to strengthen its coal, steel and agriculture industries.

The first aim is fairly irrelevant now, and coal and steel too have lost their potency. But France will never give up its agricultural subsidies, because it is almost the only reason they are still actively involved in the EU. They weren't heavily in favour of enlargement – their primary purpose of the Union is simply to ensure a large market in which to flog its goods, even if they could be produced more cheaply in African nations.

The only solution for the European Union is to abandon a country's right to veto matters which it considers have an adverse impact on its national interest. Yes, it will lead us down a more federal path, but it will also create a more equitable Europe, where decisions are made not because of which member-state is the best negotiator or who is most likely to wave around its magic veto, but instead decisions are made because they are right for Europe.

Note today, for instance, how Britain, Germany and France will thrash out a deal, and then present it to the other 22 members of the EU, telling them to take it or leave it. How is that equitable?

And if Europe was more equitable, had a more clearly defined and united purpose, would critics of the EU such as the Conservatives have such reason to be Eurosceptic? Is their quarrel with the EU per se, or the bureaucratic nonsense that is created when you have nation states constantly having to find a 'compromise' solution that suits no-one?

The only future the EU has is to abandon its 25 divergent national interests and adopt a common one. If it fails to do this – and rest assured, it will fail – then it will break apart.


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