European integration? Go to jail

July 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Quite often Mr Wolfgang Schäuble and Madame Christine Lagarde make sense. But then again, it seems that just when the synapses get sparking all luminously, the connects short circuit. Take this initially promising declaration they have just posted to Herman Van Rompuy. “A single currency simply cannot work properly without enhanced economic policy coordination”. Correct. Indeed, it’s obvious that to avoid 15/26 members states trying to be Germany and eating each other up, that we need some European division of labour. Let the Germans make cars, French farmers strong cheeses, the Brits decent sitcoms. Let the Czechs be beautiful and rude, the Romanians export bananas, and so on, and so on. So how do you go about that? By throwing deficit states into jail, obviously.

Eh? Well, look at the rest. It all goes Securitate when they wonder how to enforce the whole thing. How about “political sanctions such as the suspension of voting rights” for “member states which infringe common engagements in a serious and/or repeated manner”? In simple terms this is called disenfranchisement. It’s what happens to citizens when they get locked up for mugging grannies or doing over an off license. Surely the union has others ways to assert its authority than the creation of delinquent states? But then it would need leaders with democratic spines, a federating vision entirely devoid of Schäuble and Lagarde’s upstairs/downstairs mindset.

French is just too provincial

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

My latest blog at presseurop

Clouseau still got the message across

One of the most consistently informative and entertaining blogs about the European Union has to be Jean Quatremer’s Coulisses de Bruxelles. However, a recent post (for relevant English extracts click here) has caused some Czech, German and indeed Irish ed hackles to rise. Monsieur Quatremer was griping about the predominance of native English speakers working as spokespersons at the European Commission. Maybe he has a point that the perifidious English have chalked up another victory, and they’re not in the euro etc etc, but the following sentence really clinches it for this blogger here. “While most of them speak French perfectly, some of them mangle the pronunciation – even though French is, after English, the second language in the press room.”

“Mangle” is the key word here. In a city like London, for instance, you’re likely to hear “hoyse”, “hoose”, “aahs”, “aousse” to denote the building which you live in. This is not called mangling pronunciation. This is called having an Ulster, a Canadian, a London, or God forbid, a French accent. The French, however, still bewilderingly cling to the belief that in a polyglot world there is such thing as an “accentless”, universal French, failure to attain to which leaves you in a kind of social limbo, intelligent but somehow pitiable like a sort of performing monkey. This is not a law only applicable to non-French, and God knows, I’ve been hearing the patronising “vous avez un petit accent” for what feels like six hundred years. Even if from Lille, Marseilles, or Rennes, you’re expected at some point in life, though as yet no initiation rite like a circumcision ceremony exists, to begin speaking “without an accent”. This idea is so deeply rooted that when you make the obvious point that there is no such thing as a language without an accent you see eyes glassing over with incomprehension.

To understand this is crucial to understanding the French outlook on the world, but also the decline of French language and culture globally. Paradoxically, the obsession with a pure universal French that doesn’t mangle pronunciation is just another sign of pure French provincialism, like its ridiculous debate on national identity. The genius of English is that there are a hundred ways to call a house a hyse, and no-one really cares. French might still be the second language at the Commission, but given the prissiness of some French ears, it would be less stressful for all concerned if it were Spanish, Italian, or for that matter, Greek, whose peoples are more than delighted when you drag their subjunctives and articles and conjugations backwards through a bush. Visit Europhrenia blog here…

BHL buries socialism, sort of

July 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

When Parti Socialiste general secretary Martine Aubry, shortly after the French Socialists European election debacle in June, proclaimed she was giving the party “six months to change course”, she probably didn’t reckon on Parisian philosopher Bernard Henri Levy butting in over at Journal du Dimanche (JDD) and declaring that she manages a “house of the dead.” “The PS is dead… and must disappear,’ go his musings, splashed over JDD’s front page.

Philosophers teach us to die, as Cicero once said, so you could argue that BHL is doing the decent thing, since even Christ himself might have had second thoughts about resurrecting a body that, completely out of power since 2002, has not just been going gamey like Lazarus, but has lumps of it dropping off all the time, the most opportunistic, like Eric Besson, grafting themselves to President Sarkozy’s still vigorous UMP. As BHL philosophically points out, death has also visited the once mighty French Communist party. Looking further afield, he echoes similar obituaries in the British press. While the Spectator has unsurprisngly dubbed Labour a government of the living dead, no less than Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley fears that Labour will never see power again, ever. Lest we forget, though, Labour is the party that ushered the Whigs, that extraordinary political machine that dominated Britain for two centuries, into oblivion. The lesson being that political parties are mortal too.

Indeed, a quick trawl through Presseurop and you can more and less see that the Socialist spectre that haunted the 19th century is now a shade, feebly protesting while in Berlusconi’s Italy, vigilante groups nostalgic for fascism now patrol its streets in a bid to flush out “illegal” immigrants. Interior minister Marco Bastoni, who campaigns on such lofty sentiments as “sticks for immigrants” assures us that these groups will be psychologically and politically vetted. But you only have to wonder about the mental profile of people who fancy a night out “on patrol” to twig that such controls by necessity are likely to be lenient. Over in Lithuania, the TiT party pushes for prison for those who “promote” homosexual “values”, while in Brussels David Cameron’s Conservative party kowtows to Poland’s Law and Justice party, some of whose members go teary when the glory days of the Waffen SS are evoked.

Back in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil, after a street party for immigrant squatters, the French police fire a flash ball into a man’s face, liquefying his eye, shattering his cheekbone and nose, following this up with false declarations not just as to the “riot” they faced down, but on the victim’s identity. A spate of flashball incidents, however, and the question as to why men of usually African origin are “committing suicide” regularly in temporary police custody are some of the many subjects, however, that the PS prefers to dodge. Indeed, like Italy’s PD, it has always been at pains to prove that it too can out-tough the right on crime and immigration.

So fine if the PS is dead. The only irony is that BHL, after saying the unsayable, shys away from the obvious conclusion and nominates ex-Mitterand ministers Segolène Royale, Dominique Strauss Kahn et al as part of a left “renewal”, rather than as the problem. Cynics might say that having served as advisor to Royal in her failed campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy, that he knows where his bread is buttered. The truth is that he probably doesn’t know himself, but unlike Socrates, won’t admit of philosophical ignorance. However, for anyone who believes in a progressive politics, there is enough matter to suggest that reaction is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Quite simply because Europe’s reactionaries, whether in Brussels or in each other’s villas, hang together. It follows that any counter movement requires a perspective that takes in the entire European space. This socialization of European leaders, after all, is but a reflection that a majority of Europeans are increasingly socialized too. While Socialism is dead, the International, strangely enough, may have only just begun.

To see the article at Presseurop.eu, click here

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