McCreevy and the Brussels afterlife

September 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

29 September 2010 |Gerry Feehily

You really have to hand it to Charlie McCreevy, ex-European Commissioner. There he was, leaving his office at the Commish on a bitter cold February morn this year, no doubt with a couple of plastic bags full of personal effects, and gloomily contemplating what life might be from without the glass walls of Berlaymount. No doubt, as Europe sank into crisis, he did worry about the rent and whether there’d be a rasher on his plate for breakfast, but no, the Commish is generous. It set up a system of “transitional” payments to help former Commissioners like Charles McCreevy “ease into life after Brussels” which according to the Financial Times Deutschland amounts to a squiddly €135K per year, which is exactly how much my shoes cost.

La vita post-Brussels isn’t easy though, even if, as the Irish Examiner once noted, McCreevy also receives a Commish pension of €51,068 per year on top of his Irish ministerial pension of €70,710 on top of his pension as a Kildare North TD of €52,213. This brings his total annual pension to a laughable €173,000, which is what I paid for my dinner last night. The only conclusion you can sensibly draw from this is that life after Brussels is the biggest shock a man can have in this world, enough to turn him into a jibbering, unintelligible wreck. And I understand. That he continues to claim his “ease into life” payments.

But hang on. Post-traumatic stress disorder ex-Commissioner McCreevy in a tribute to human survival against the toughest odds of colossal salaries and tasty emoluments has overcome the shock and already sits on the board of NBNK Investments, a group that is creating a new high street bank in England and planning to swallow AIB, Ireland’s largest bank. In addition to such achievements, Courage McCreevy has started working on the board of Ryanair for that incredibly irritating master of bug-eyed grimaces Michael O’Leary. Perhaps Ryanair, which as you may know are EU-subsidy scavengers supreme, are only paying McCreevy five pounds like a Ryanair flight and expecting him to top up the rest with his uncomfortable EU pension? No, they had to cough up an annual €47K. For me, that’s just enough to cover my tips to the servants.

For Irish people, Charlie “Sacrifice” McCreevy is the man from the fertile, horse-famed county of Kildare who, back in the days of internal jousts in the ruling party Fianna Fail gave great moral lessons to our Bandit King, the late Taoiseach Charlie Haughey. Haughey loved robbing the plain folk of Ireland blind, but McCreevy was there warning us that the man who wooed the Irish nation with his unscrupulous piratical ahar! was not to be trusted. Charles “Soaraway” McCreevy, the moral fibre supremo, was there to show us that there was another way, a higher one, a Ryanair one.

The truth? There is no crisis

September 24, 2010 § Leave a comment


Very recently, I ran into a copy of London’s ultra-glam Plastique, a “Bi-Annual Luxury Fashion and Culture Magazine”. Plastique is so stratospherically glam that its website just leads you to three photos of a woman who looks like she’s been on the skag since her sex change but is too rich to care. You can click on absolutely nothing  else. On the Info section of its Facebook page, however, Plastique’s mission in capitals is “Let the Truth be Told”, and after a few minutes of leafing through smurm inducing glossy pages of androgynous seven foot long models and socialites either in semi-porn scenarios or partying mode, which are sort of the same thing in a Plastique world, (i.e. people looking like drool is about to fall out of their mouths, but their eyes say “Not Now”) interspersed with an Alain Badiou interview, it struck me that a certain truth had been told.

Let the Truth be Told came to me again after seeing a poster for some new stratospheric super smurm luxury brand in Paris’ Place de Republique which depicted the dishevelled, lubber-lipped, owl-eyed kids of Mick Jagger, whose names I’ve completely forgotten, in partying mode ( i.e. about to start drooling). And the truth is that in a certain parallel society, this is the Roaring Twenties, or the Belle Epoque. This is strange, because if you read the papers, you’d think there was crisis going on.
Now this can mean either one of two things, that the Roaring Twenties was a myth: that a certain section of society roared, while the majority squeaked. And if the insouciance of the twenties is a lie, then the terrible thing is that the lie endures, while the historical reality is forgotten. On the other hand if the Nouveau Belle Epoque/Twenties images of Plastique in any way reflects a mood, a trend, then it follows that there is no crisis at all.

This is where Mick Jagger’s children come in, since they are proof that a new age of dynasties is thriving. Traditional aristocracies have faded, but the children of new money from the media and the arts become global brands through droit du sang. This is even more flagrant in societies like France, where majority of film stars and directors are the children of, well, film stars and directors, who when they’re fed up with acting, make an album or something, which then goes platinum.

All this, then, to this blogger, at least, suggests that we are in a period of social regression. Nevertheless, I would like to insist again, that there is no crisis. There is only which side of the money you’re on. On a more personal note, I would like to propose that neither was there ever a boom, a tiger, in countries like, say, Ireland. The roads, the trains, local councils are still rubbish and always have been. The one stretch of motorway between Navan and Dublin still doesn’t have a petrol station. Not one. The towers of Finglas still contained poor people, junkies still shuffled on our Champs Elysées – O’Connell Street – while we crowed about growth and how Germany could learn lessons from us. But this also means that talk of Ireland defaulting in the future is all fiction too. If we are living in caste-bound societies, static as the Egypt of the Pharoahs, then there is nothing to look forward to nor regret. Buy a copy of Plastique, the Magazine of Luxury and Culture, and you’ll soon understand what I’m getting at.

Et pourquoi pas English?

September 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

On Tuesday, Libération’s Brussels correspondent, the indomitable Jean Quatremer,  mounted his favorite hobby horse, the perils of the use of English at the Commission. This time it was Viviane Reding’s condemnation of France’s expulsion of the Roma that caused his cables to snap. It’s worth quoting in full the following passages which I fear fail to convey their vigour in original French, but hey –

“Her intervention was in the language of Shakespeare only. According to a Commission spokesperson, Reding, a citizen of Luxembourg and therefore perfectly able to speak French and German, deliberately did this in order to mark her distance from France.

“Her choice, let’s be clear about this, is quite simply scandalous and I am measuring my words here. As if the fact of speaking French or being French leads quite naturally to a discriminatory attitude towards the Roma and even towards racist behaviour… A logic which would have led to the banning of the German language in 1945… Viviane Reding furthermore gives the impression that “Brussels” is not able to express itself in any another language but English and this comforts the suspicions of a number of French that see the Union more and more as a foreign body which has the presumption to rule France from outside its borders: aside from a small elite, the French, no more than the Germans or the Italians, do not speak English.”

Firstly, she probably spoke in English because she knew it would have maximum impact not just in Europe but around the world, if the world is at all bothered by this sordid tale of a French presidency running on empty and casting desperately about for a cause. Secondly, with all due respect to Quatremer, it’s completely untrue to say that only “a small elite” speaks English in France, Germany and Italy. I would hazard a guess that the majority of young Europeans under forty, let alone French, Germans, Italians, speak moderate to good English, or at least can get by with a limited vocabulary of a few hundred words, which is all you need to read The Sun, as legend has it.

But in typical French fashion, Quatremer confuses the use of English as a vehicle for Anglo-American values and power rather than a means to get more followers on Twitter, or get the latest downloads or something. “The commissioner seems to consider that English is to say the least a neutral language or even one that embodies values far superior to the French language. Someone should go explain this to the detainees at Guantanamo or the prisoners in Death Row in the United States.”

But this is actually a typically French assumption about language, that it is a vehicle for values, if not influence and power. The appropriation of English as a world language, however, means that it no longer has a national or an ethnic underpinning, does not reflect the prejudices of London or Washington. As someone fortunate enough to be able to speak French and make himself understood, albeit comically, in five other European languages, I’m beginning to wonder if European construction is at all possible if one language cannot predominate. I couldn’t care less if it wasn’t English, but why shouldn’t it be?

Brian Cowen, no credit can he gain

September 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

Last night consternation hung like a dreadful cloud over the capitals of Europe and the world… if you follow the Irish media, that is. From Brussels to Bratislava, and along the ancient Silk Road via Kazakhstan to China, the alleged drunkeness of Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen on national radio was evoked in hundreds of exotic tongues.

According to the Irish Examiner, the story “hit the headlines around the world”, before citing such august institutions of report like, er, New York Daily News, and “Fox Business”. Ok, it got a wee link in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and was noted in the BBC, but let’s be honest, this is not a talking point amongst Berliners, Chinamen and Bolivians. This isn’t headline stuff.

But to the Irish media, the merest mention of our nation in the press of the Yanks and the Brits is sufficiently “around the world”. You can’t help but note in the midst of this spiteful glee and pseudo indignation about the global importance of the Taoiseach’s drinking habits, there lies beneath it all a provincial gratification that our betters are talking about us.

On RTE Pat Rabbitte of the Labour Party summed up the mood of the self-righteous middle classes conjuring up “the damage to the reputation of the country outside”. But what the “outside” thinks of it is one of the reasons Ireland is in such a state. Whether it’s the government’s desire to please the international markets to the ruin of the nation’s finances, or Brian Cowen’s stumbling delivery, the only concern amongst the elite is a slave-like addiction to what kind of bella figura Ireland has. Similarly, the myth of the Celtic Tiger made it easy to ignore the gulf between have and have nots that meant it rivalled Turkey and Brazil in the inequality league stakes during the boom years of the nineties.

As for Cowen’s intervention, you can listen to it at this link. Outside of the Irish media bubble, there is nothing particularly “hungover and drunk sounding” about it to this ear. Compared to the following extracts of France Minister’s of the Environment Jean-Louis Borloo at the Assemblé Nationale, and former Walloon Minister of Finance Michel Daerden totally off his skull, Cowen might sound a tad rusty, but coherent. True, he is spouting gibberish about the nation’s much abused finances, but he does this when he’s drinking water too.

To be honest, I find the fact that in the early hours of the fateful September 14 Cowen sang the Lakes of Pontchartain, as the Irish Independent reports, rather endearing, if only he had heeded to lines like “I cursed all foreign money, no credit could I gain”. It somehow makes this hitherto colourless man a lot more human, a reminder that Ireland remains – just about – a country where the ability to sing a song, or to tell a story, is something of a virtue, one that’s been lost in most European societies for three or four generations. His assertion that Irish politics has hit “a new low” are inaccurate though. Irish politics hit the bottom of the trough a long time ago, and is still gleefully snuffling inside it. The emergence of a tee-totalling non-entity in the ruling Fianna Fail party to rival the non-entities in opposition Fine Gael will have little or no remedial effect on a country that confuses appearances with reality.




Thilo, the self-hating Sarrazin

September 9, 2010 § 1 Comment

Who can feel sorry for Thilo Sarrazin, who lost his cushy Bundesbank job after the publication of “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany is deleting itself), a diatribe against the lower orders, but probably would have held onto to it had he avoided talking about Jewish “genes”. In nine chapters of pop science with graphs and pie charts, Thilo proves that the lower orders are getting stupider, and that one of the reasons for this is the influx of mainly Muslim, mainly Turkish immigrants into Germany. Turks, as Thilo puts it “have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade.” “”I don’t want the country of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be largely Muslim,” he froths, “or that Turkish or Arabic will be spoken in large areas, that women will wear headscarves and the daily rhythm is set by the call of the muezzin.” Eventually, Germany will become a stupid country, Thilo concludes, and no-one will know how to make Mercedes Benzes, or nice beers, or something. It’s not clear.

Thilo is a member of Germany’s SPD, formerly the 20th century mainstream standard bearer for human liberation in Germany, if not Europe. Now that it’s abandoned its working class base like New Labour in the UK, or the PS in France, it’s wondering like them why the working classes are awful, so prone to populist demagogues, so prone to not being middle class like Thilo, eating crap food and emitting carbon dioxide and not speaking German correctly. Thilo somehow fails to mention any correlation between the decline of the German working classes and the utterly vacuous, idea bereft, bobo ghetto that is the latter-day SPD though.

For centuries conservatives and the wealthy have asked why the poor and marginalised are poor and marginalised, unlike themselves, and, surprise, they invariably hit on the reassuring idea that it is down to their own stupidity. Conversely, they attribute their own high standing to their “hard work” and their superior “values”. But basically, this is ideology. Conservatives see the world as static and history as cyclical. They will always find a posteriori arguments that reinforce their own standing in the world, while expressing their own fears about the world in the making.

Taking a wide-lensed view, though, history is basically a series of population movements. Thilo, with a surname like that – Sarrazin, as in Saracen – should be aware of this. Once upon a time, a Muslim went to Europe and fathered kids, and so on, who eventually fathered Thilo. Over the years they lost their faith, converted, while the place they lived in became Germany. That is, Thilo’s great-great etc grandpa became something he wasn’t. One day, Germany will no longer exist, then Thilo’s descendants will be living in a different place but maybe they’ll still have that evocative name. But they’ll be different. In some way it’s an astounding testimony to humanity’s capacity for change and mutation that a descendant of a Turk who was probably besieging Vienna in 1529 could now sneer at those with whom he shares the same genes.

But genetics, schmenetics. Every age produces daft ideas that try to seek genetic/physical/hereditary causes for impoverishment, criminality, sexual preference, social unrest. In the nineteenth century people like Thilo would have palpated criminal skulls to detect which lumps and protuberances denoted the longing to acquire other people’s goods by illegal means, and often at night. Phrenology looks stupid now. Several years from now, Thilo’s book will also look stupid, if it isn’t that already.
But what’s really stupid also is that a bitter clapped out leftie should ruffle so many feathers that he gets booted out of the Bundesbank. Having worked for several years in the French financial world, I came across a fair share of wild reactionary opinions, including one man who wanted to keep the borders of France safe by conscripting the country’s 3 million unemployed. If they were little more assertive about what our values were, the German elite would have laughed deluded Thilo off, and invited him perhaps to spend all that venom on fiction à la Michel Houellebecq, with whom his rants share a similar nutjob flavour. But they’re not. And because they’re witch-hunting Thilo the Saracen, they are also taking him more seriously than he should be taken.

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