Posted by Jason O on Nov 7, 2013 in European Union
“Now to get Guy Verhofstadt on the phone, and sew up my plan!”
Despite my passion for the EU, I have a confession. Not only have I never really been a fan of the European Parliament, but I get a bit embarrassed when the EP tries to hype up the European Elections. It’s like they’re watching all the hoopla of the US elections and shouting “But look at us! 500 million people! We matter too! Why isn’t Netflix making a TV show starring Kevin Spacey about us?”
They’re not lying of course. The European Parliament is actually one of the great secrets of modern politics, a huge well-funded body that has far more power than anybody realises, save the trades unions, businesses and other interest groups who spend millions every year lobbying it. The all-powerful European Commission, which to many eurosceptics is the EU equivalent of Darth Vader, is actually afraid of the Parliament because not only can it sack the Commission, but it has done so in the past.
Even an EPsceptic like me has to admit that it does matter. So why no excitement?
The answer is simple. The most entertaining elections are those with winners and losers. Will Angela win? Is Obama out? Will the coalition be re-elected? There are clear stakes, and even in these times where party differences are often more a question of style, the simple act of competition matters. Who has won? Who has lost?
The European Parliament, on the other hand, has been a reverse image of that. Nearly every EP has been dominated by a fudgy let’s-all-hug coalition of the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialists, with one president after another elected to universal “huh?” across Europe. Let’s be honest: Martin Schulz, the current president, could break into almost any house in Europe and steal your TV without the police being able to identify him. His pyjamas probably have his name labelled on the front to help his family.
This time, however, it could be different. Firstly, there is the question of the next President of the European Commission. Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union says that the European Council shall “take into account” (whatever that means) the results of the EP elections before nominating a candidate for approval by the EP. If the parties in the EP nominate their own candidates before the elections, as some are suggesting, what happens? Nobody seems sure.
But even that is not the reason why the 2014 elections could matter.
The main reason is this: for the first time since direct elections in 1979, Europe itself might well be the issue. Amazing and all as it sounds, Europe has rarely been an issue in EP elections, normally used instead by cranky electorates to give their home governments a good and harmless kicking to the political kidneys. But this time, Europe is the issue. From Greece to Germany to Finland to Portugal, there are millions of voters all heading to the polls with differing gripes about the EU and European integration itself.
On top of that, a whole range of new non-establishment parties, which have made “Give Brussels a bollocking!” a key part of their appeal, are now on the scene, and competing across Europe in proportional voting systems. UKIP in the UK, Alternative for Germany which narrowly missed entry into the Bundestag (and whose 4.8% of the vote will easily clear the 3% barrier to win seats in German Euro Elections), Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the downright sinister Golden Dawn in Greece, or even Sinn Fein in Ireland, which looks positively respectable in such company, all are serious contenders.
For the first time in EP history, there will be a very substantial bloc of members in the new parliament who do not accept the centrist post-World War II European settlement shared by Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens.
That’s not to say the new entrants will be each other’s best pals. Sinn Fein are rapidly moving towards a more pragmatic position on the EU. UKIP is very sensitive to being painted in with any racist groups, and even Marine Le Pen, aware that moderate conservatives are now willing to consider the FN as it carefully distances itself from her father’s more extreme stances (particularly on World War 2) will be careful in choosing her allies. Almost no one will want to be associated with Golden Dawn.
But the reality is that a chunk of the new assembly, when counted with the eurosceptic nationalist European Conservatives and Reform group, will for the first time provide a genuinely significant opposition to the status quo in Brussels and Strasbourg, and that’s new.
It’s also healthy, in its own way. One of the great flaws of the European capital has been that it has, for most of its history, being an echo chamber of pro-integrationists agreeing with each other. It’s not a bad thing that’s being questioned. Just a pity that so many of the questioners are fond of the strong right arm.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
Fishambles’ “Guaranteed!”, written by Colin Murphy, telling the partly-fictionalised (although ringing true) story of the run up and night of the 2008 bank guarantee, is both informative and entertaining.
Watching it, I was struck by the atmosphere of the audience, who reacted to certain events and statements within the play in a way that a non-Irish audience would, I suspect, never grasp. For example, during the run up to the night, Murphy has his cast, in a wide range of real and imagined roles, read out actual public statements on events (such as “the fundamentals of the economy remain sound”), which on paper sound perfectly reasonable, but in an Irish context cause the audience almost to sneer.
The 2007 election, where the parties compete in an ever spiralling race to promise greater spending increases and bigger tax cuts, when looked at in this context and within the play, comes across as surreal, yet during the election itself was regarded by most people as perfectly reasonable. During the build up to the crisis, Murphy injects Brian Cowen in a series of comical scenes either singing in public or opening things in his constituency. There is a Nero fiddling air to it, yet one can’t help remembering that certainly the people voting for him (and most Irish TDs) were far more motivated by that sort of activity than the careful surveillance of our financial system.
As it happens, I personally felt that Cowen and Lenihan, and indeed even the Central Bank and the Regulator, come out of the story far better than you’d expect. As the options are laid out to the two politicians, every one of them comes with almost horrific side-effects. Faced with time running out, a serious chance of ATMs actually running out of money, both men come to the dawning. realisation that we are in fact a tiny insignificant nation afloat in a vast global financial system. For all the talk of the EU having too much power, the problem on the night is that Europe is (deliberately) just not integrated enough to deal collectively with the crisis, leaving pretty much every man for himself.
The other eye-catching nugget is how irrelevant our political system is, with the rest of the cabinet reduced to being rung by a civil servant and asked how they vote on a plan that could potentially burden the Irish people with a half-a-trillion euro liability. Sadly, watching the scene, you can’t help thinking it would not have made any difference if any more of the sort of people who make up the Irish political system were in the room or not. Christine Lagarde they weren’t.
Where Murphy really succeeds is in that difficult Sorkinesque task of taking a mass of very complex material and turning it into an engaging narrative.
Banking Inquiry? I’d give Colin Murphy an Arts Council grant and access to the DPP’s files. We’d get a much better return for our money. You can check it out here.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 7, 2013 in Irish Politics
, Not quite serious.
The four main parties have announced plans to ensure that none of the lessons of the economic crisis will in any way affect their plans to inflict yet more damage on the country. A spokesman for the parties said: “It’s very clear, with the Troika about to leave next month and the property market in Dublin recovering, that the potential to get back to our usual short term nonsense is there. This opportunity for Irish politicians must be seized!”
Sources in both the government and opposition are agreed that the following measures should be pursued by the political parties.
1. Political reform. The government is particularly proud of the fact that after nearly three years in office, and plenty of shape throwing about “the New Politics” and that, not only has the government blocked almost all devolution of power, it has actually managed to centralise power even more, to such a degree that now even most of the cabinet are just as uninvolved in decision making as say, your average voter on the 46A, or an Irish bank regulator.
2. Economic Planning. The opposition has contributed towards the plan by telling voters that whilst property taxes are in principle a good idea, it is never a good time to introduce them. The opposition parties have also done their bit to keep alive the “Yes, you can keep your low tax cake and eat a high public spending cake at the same time” ethos of the Ahern years alive. A particular nod at opposition politicians who say that government should not be focussing on water charges but making our water system work, deliberately ignoring the fact that we don’t charge for water being the key reason our water system is malfunctioning.
Ireland’s economic competitors have applauded the stalwart efforts of Ireland’s political class to wreck the country once again. A leading member of the Lithuanian government remarked: “We’d like to thank the people of Ireland for this wonderful spectacle as to how to make an absolute balls of a really good situation with a gutless, intellectually vapid political class. A whole generation of young Lithuanian children now go to bed in fear of “The Irishman under the bed who will wreck our current budget surplus” if they are naughty!”