Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2016 in European Union
These are dark, painful days for the European Union. The union is battling for its very existence, and with it the concept of European unity itself. If the euro were to collapse, for example, the union could in theory continue, but one suspects that the huge pressures on members caused by currency appreciation (Germany) or depreciation (everyone else) could force the German government into a nakedly Germany First policy to protect jobs.
The curious thing is that British or Irish or Danish eurosceptics would, of course, react with delight at the end of the EU. But I wonder what sort of Europe they would expect to emerge from it? Presumably, they picture a Europe of nation states that they vaguely remember from their youth, or assume existed, in the 1950s and 1960s, peacefully trading with each other. Of course, this is quite possible, after all, a Europe without the EU would still be a Europe of free democracies, bound together by NATO.
But they forget the German question. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2016 in European Union
- The EU: Not yet a state but more than a mere international organisation.
Many visitors to Ireland, particularly American ones, can not fathom one issue. How was it that a country like Ireland, that took such pride in achieving its freedom from the British Empire, could be so comfortable with ceding sovereignty to a European Court, Council of Ministers and Parliament on so many issues?
How can the Irish take a handful of Euro out of their pockets, and amidst the Irish harps, see German Eagles, Dutch queens and Spanish kings and feel perfectly comfortable and no less Irish than the day before?
Ireland has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1973, the year I was born. For my generation, European integration is a way of life. It’s perfectly normal for our ministers to sit down on a weekly basis with the other 26 member states and debate and pass laws governing Europe. It’s a run of the mill thing for Irish or French or German people to appeal the decisions of their national courts to the European Court of Justice.
One reason Americans have such difficulty understanding the EU is because they keep trying to compare it to something that already exists. It’s not the UN, because it has actual power in the lives of people. Yet it’s not the Soviet Union either (As the more psychotic and/or drunk eurosceptics allege) because power is held by democratically elected national leaders. Consider it, instead, this way: Supposing Canada, the US and Mexico were economically comparable, and had been to war with each other three times in seventy years, and US troops had goose stepped through Ottawa, or Mexican troops had occupied half of New York City. Then you might get it. France borders seven countries. Germany borders nine. And there are 500 million of us. Culturally, the US is like a load of Old Wild West homesteaders, all wanting to do their own under the sweat of their own brow. The EU, on the other hand, is like 27 people sharing a tightly packed apartment block: If we don’t cooperate on a daily basis, it would be hell, to the extent that if you attempt to burn down your disagreeable neighbour’s apartment, you may well burn down your own and everybody else’s in the process.
Now, it isn’t all happy-clappy: Europeans get irritated about the EU in the same way many Americans get irritated about the federal government, and we have a Brussels (the capital of the EU) mentality in the same way Americans complain about the Washington beltway bubble. But there’s nothing new or particularly European about bureaucracy. After all, I’ll bet that when the first caveman carefully caressed the first spark off a flint onto a nest of dry leaves, and gently blew that smoking fragment into a flame, you can be sure that just behind him, another caveman stepped forward, looked sternly at him, and asked: “Have you got a permit for that?”
Posted by Jason O on Apr 25, 2016 in Irish Politics
The first election campaign I was ever directly involved in was the 1991 local elections, where I canvassed for Jeananne Crowley in the Pembroke Ward, a seat I’d contest myself in the 1999 elections. After that, I campaigned in local, general, European and by-elections, and in a number of referendums. And that’s not counting the internal party elections I campaigned in.
Between 1991 and 2005, when I resigned from the Progressive Democrats, I experienced a fair bit of Irish politics, and came across what I would regard as fairly solid general rules of Irish politics. They are general, there are always exceptions, but broadly speaking I believe they’re true:
1. With the possible exception of Sinn Fein and the Alphabet Left, and maybe in by-elections, there is no longer such a thing as party machines in the traditional sense. Successful candidates have to effectively build their own teams of, for the most part, personal loyalists. Many if not most of the party members who turned up to vote at the convention will not end up knocking on doors.
2. Irish people vote for people over ideas nearly always. People are far more likely to vote for a person they like but disagree with politically over a person they agree with but dislike.
3. It is possible to be interested in the politics of ideas, or the politics of winning elections, and never have anything to do with the other. Indeed it is getting more and more likely.
4. The one characteristic a successful candidate absolutely must have over everything else is physical stamina, and a willingness to keep knocking on doors and talking to people over and over again. It is possible for a stupid candidate to be elected again and again. A lazy candidate will probably only be elected once, and only because he/she is related to someone.
5. The lack of knowledge displayed by voters, and their pride in that lack of knowledge, about how the political system works, and how decisions are made, will never cease to amaze you.
6. By international standards, it is relatively easy for a small group to change things in Ireland if it has determination, courage and organisation. The failure to bring change has usually been because of a lack of one of those three factors. The Provisional IRA and the Progressive Democrats proved that.
7. Irish people take a masochistic comfort in believing that an uncontrollable force, be it the Brits, the IMF, or potatoes, is responsible for their woes, and are comfortable with people knowingly lying to them. No race on Earth savours perceived betrayal and victimhood as much as the Irish. Our national headwear should be a leather “Pulp Fiction” gimp mask.
8. “The Rich” are people who earn €15k more than you per annum. “The Ordinary People” are your friends and family.
9. The fact that we ask candidates the same questions in both local and national elections explains a lot about why Ireland is the way it is today.
10. Many Irish think that the United States consists solely of New York, Boston and Chicago, and cannot comprehend that there are a large number of Americans with little love, and in some cases, hatred for the Irish.
11. Nor can many of us believe that there are huge sections of the world who have little or no idea who we are. In short, “everyone” does not love the Irish.
12. A large proportion of the population have no real idea how government services are funded.
13. Irish public bodies, including the houses of the Oireachtas, exist primarily to protect the terms and conditions of their employees. Their secondary function, if they have spare time, is the task for which they were nominally created, like driving buses, governing the country, that sort of thing.
14. Given the level of centralisation in the country, if activity in the Dail and Seanad chambers and county council chambers were suspended indefinitely, it would quite possibly be years before the public would detect any detrimental effect on the level of services provided by the state as a result. In fact, activity on the floor of the Finnish and German parliaments would have a much more immediate effect on us.
15. The legal system has the same standing to large chunks of the political establishment as witchcraft has to many Africans. If a lawyer says something of positive benefit cannot be done for legal reasons, most Irish politicians surrender immediately, in many instances glad to have a de facto supernatural reason for not doing something.
16. It is almost impossible to find a defender of the Seanad or the European Parliament who would not quite fancy being a member of either body if no better offer were available.
17. There are people who genuinely believe that Ireland would be a better country if there were no private sector rich people living in it. Provided they left behind the big giant “make me rich” machines that every rich person is issued with at birth.
18. There are two conflicting forces in the Irish soul: one believes that sending a turkey in a shopping trolley to an international competition is “gas” and the rest of Europe are dry shites for not voting for him. The other is that feeling we got the moment the music stopped when we first saw Riverdance during the Eurovision. What we settle for, and what we could be.
19. In Irish politics, often the solution is more unpopular than the problem.
20. Irish people abroad will tolerate and even champion stuff they’d never accept in Ireland. Like paying for water.
21. The Irish mind can happily hold conflicting opinions at the same time. Like being neutral but having a US base in Shannon. Or wanting to defend the unborn, but only on the basis of geography.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 24, 2016 in British Politics
, European Union
One of the key tenets of the last 200 years of British foreign policy has been to prevent the emergence of a single powerful force on the European continent. It’s been a very successful policy. Yet for the last 15 years, the insular nature of British politics has effectively called that policy into question. British withdrawal is now a serious proposition, but what’s more is that other member states are now beginning to wonder as to whether the cost of keeping Britain is actually worth it?
What would be the actual consequences of British withdrawal for the rest of the EU? Trade would continue, after all, it’s in no one’s interest that it doesn’t. Brussels would still set many product rules that UK manufacturers would have to obey anyway, only without a UK voice at the table. Reform of the EU would lose a champion, that’s true, but bear in mind that Downing Street’s obsession with placating the Daily Mail means that Britain has been pretty ineffectual in pushing through reforms at EU level anyway, despite the fact that Britain has allies. British withdrawal would almost certainly trigger withdrawal by one or two other countries, but the reality is that most member states, even with their own gripes about Brussels, see being at the table as the least worst option.
Secondly, whilst the days of the overt federalist United States of Europe are probably over, the gradual subtle process of integration, through technical methods such as the Fiscal Treaty, could probably speed up with British or Danish or even Irish withdrawal. The end outcome would be a European confederation of sorts, orbited by a number of nominally independent states who have to make nominally sovereign decisions whilst paying attention to the vast economic gravity of the politically united Eurozone.
After all, to take one random issue: the UK has been a major obstacle to progress on combined European defence. Despite Nigel Farage’s warnings, it has been Britain IN the EU that has prevented a European Army. Once Britain was out the EU could work on transforming NATO into a binary US/EU alliance with a few junior partners like Britain and Iceland. And all without worrying what the Daily Mail thinks about British soldiers wearing EU cap badges. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2016 in Books
, eNovels & Writing
, European Union
So, I wrote a short novella over Christmas about Europe, the refugee crisis, the Russians and perhaps even about the rise of fascism in its many forms.
It’s set in a Europe of the near future. Britain, Ireland and others have left the European Union, and Europe is in the middle of a crisis from a mass influx of refugees and a wave of extremist terrorist attacks.
Then the Russians invade Finland, the Baltic states and Poland…
You can download a PDF of “Fulcum” below. Enjoy!
Posted by Jason O on Apr 19, 2016 in Irish Politics
The Labour Party, God love it, is a creature of habit. Vastly overhyping its voter expectations, it enters government, bitterly disappoints them, and gets clobbered at the next election. It then stumbles into opposition for a dark period of recrimination, infighting and finger pointing, before emerging out the other end and doing it all again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Here’s a thought: for the first time ever, Labour has a fascinating opportunity. The people who voted Labour in 2016 are the hard-core pragmatists, the people who are loyal for whatever reason, or actually liked what Labour did in government. Barring Labour going loopy, they’re disappointment proof.
Now there’s a chance for Labour to build new voters not based on promises but on actual delivery in government. After all, the Labour Party’s seven TDs are far more valuable (read vital) to Fine Gael than Labour’s previous 39 TDs.
If Labour are smart it can look for real concrete demands off Fine Gael, solid deliveries that are all bonuses because nobody ever expected Labour to be able to do them. From a referendum on the 8th amendment to political reform to childcare to housing, Labour has the ability to finally be the party it always says it wants to be.
Not the disappointing over-promisers, but the party that surprises everyone by actually getting good stuff done.
You know who has been through this? The Progressive Democrats in 1989. They lost over half their seats, then entered government and actually gained seats at the following election. Having lost its easily disappointed voters, the PDs then built a new following based on their delivery in government, remaining one of the few parties in Irish politics to actually gain seats coming out of government.
There’s an idea. But first Labour members must resist the urge to do what Labour members always do after being ejected from government…
Posted by Jason O on Apr 17, 2016 in Irish Politics
And so we approach what looks like the next step in Fianna Fail’s return to its place as the dominant party in Irish politics. It could take a mere few months, or possible two or three years, but let’s be under no illusion. Fianna Fáil intend to use the bloodied but still breathing Fine Gael as a human shield to get them to another election as fast as is politically decent. They’ll play the national interest and stability card for a while, just waiting for FG to suggest something that FF can be suitably morally indignant about, and then it’s off to face the people and the discarding of the then useless cadaver of FG.
Normal business is restored: FF the largest party and in coalition with one or two small but rational parties and FG back to their role as the perennial losers of Irish politics, the posh rich kid who always gets his comeuppance from the scrappy kid from the wrong side of town in countless movies.
Someone once said to me that the problem with Fine Gael is that they’re that lethal mixture of being both arrogant and stupid. You can survive by being arrogant but clever, or by being dim but likeable, but FG manage to be neither. They seem to be the party who is always surprised to lose elections because nobody, from their tailor to their housekeeper to their stablehand ever admits to voting Fianna Fáil.
Once again, they’re about to fall in the trap. They’ll finally get Enda back in with FF collaboration and then suddenly they’ll see themselves, once again, as The Government, and try to carry on as if nothing has changed, right up to the moment they look on gob-dawed as Michael Martin forms the next stable secure government.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The key to FG’s survival is not to neuter FF’s power but to enhance it, and do so publicly. Enda should announce a weekly legislative cooperation meeting where he will publicly work with FF on which legislation goes through the house, and what it looks like. His team should be pulling out every Fianna Fáil policy document and private members bill from the last five years and pushing what can be used, publicly identifying them as Fianna Fail’s good ideas. He should be consulting Fianna Fáil publicly on state appointments and very publicly appointing Fianna Fáil nominees. In short, the objective of Fine Gael should be to destroy the notion that Fianna Fáil are the opposition standing up to the government, and making sure that it is clear to all that Fianna Fáil are part of the governing majority and share in its decisions.
Are Fine Gael smart enough to pull it off? They’ll be helped by the fact that Sinn Fein will certainly want to push that line too. But it will involve FG showing humility, with the government basically refusing to give FF any ammunition to bring down the government.
That’s the real challenge, because humble is not something FG does well.
Yes, of course he’s entitled to his opinion, and yes, to his vote. But he’s not entitled to our respect. But let’s be clear who he actually is: he’s not The Voter Who Voted For Someone You Disagree With. That’s healthy, that’s democracy.
No, this guy is worse. This is the guy who listens to Trump, and knows what he’s saying doesn’t make sense, but it makes him feel good and so he votes for him anyway. Who hears a presidential candidate call on supporters to beat up opponents and thinks “Well, he didn’t tell them to beat up me, so it’s OK.”
Or she, on seeing Bernie getting defeated by Hillary, vows not to vote in a tantrum to “teach Hillary a lesson”. Because Trump will defend the rights that Bernie wasn’t able to?
Or votes to sabotage an EU-Ukraine trade deal not because they care about Ukraine one way or the other but because they just want to lash out.
These are the people who let the darkness in. The political plate spinners who look at all the broken crockery around them and always have someone else to blame. The people democratic theory fails, because it assumes that people will always vote in their own best interest.
These are the Jews who voted for HIM because he was really tough on the Communists, and when other Jews asked them have they not heard what he says about Jews they go: “Meh: he’ll get rid of the Commies. Then we’ll worry about it.”
These are the people who go back to the firework after the fuse goes out, because it hardly ever goes off.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2016 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.
Written three years ago. For some reason, this is one of my most popular posts. Have no idea why.
As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?) over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.
There are good reasons:
1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.
2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.
3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.
4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.
5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.
6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.
7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.
8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.
9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.
10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.
11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.
Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.
1. Because Jupiter is not in line with Aquarius.
2. Because he looked at me funny!
3. Because of policy differences on…eh…water? Yeah, that’ll do.
4. Because they are not “ideologically or culturally compatible”. We expect Sinn Fein and the DUP to find common ground, and even the Israelis and the Palestinians. But Fianna Fail and Fine Gael…
5. Because they’ve had their turn, now it’s our turn.
7. Because that’s not Frank Underwood’s plan.
8. Because you’re not the boss of me.
9. Because they’ve haven’t played The Rains of Castermere yet.
10. Because….ah feck off!