Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Germany backs France on Farm Aid

This is just the sort of disgusting, cynical, selfish stitch-up one normally expects from the French and German governments. After all that talk of "multilateralism", these two utterly amoral entities decided to go behind the backs of the rest of the E.U.'s governments and come to an agreement to prevent any reform to the Common Agricultural Policy.

What is most infuriating is that this action, which stands to wreck any hope of the Doha round of trade negotiations succeeding, harms precisely those third world countries on whose behalf Chirac was presuming to speak not so long ago. In this deal we see the real motivation behind Chirac's sudden intransigence towards any move to tighten the noose on Saddam: he and Schr�der had agreed to a quid pro quo, in which Chirac's willingness to stand by Schr�der, and prevent him from looking isolated in his opposition, was to be repaid by torpedoing any hope of reforming the repulsive system of subsidies that currently impoverishes European consumers and third world citizens alike. Is there any wonder I view the "European Idea" with such disdain?

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Catch-Up Time

There's a lot I've been meaning to say but haven't been able to get round to writing down, and I've decided that I'm going to work off my backlog over the next few days. Watch this space for developments.

Monday, June 09, 2003

The British Aversion Towards Federal Europe

I came across a post today by Matthew Yglesias, in which he expresses his enthusiasm for the idea of a "stronger" (i.e. more federally centralized) European Union.

Still, my gut tells me that a strong and united Europe would, as long as it's something actual Europeans would want, be good for America. I think greater equity in the intercontinental power dynamics would probably bring about a more responsible and productive relationship for both sides despite inevitable disagreements.

Needless to say, I disagree intensely. This sort of thinking strikes me as extremely naive, supposing as it does that the Federal Europe that would arise would engage in the same sort of benign disagreement that is currently the case between the United States and powers like France and Germany. The truth of the matter is that the whole notion of European integration, from its' very conception, has been as much about "standing up to America" as it has been about increasing prosperity by free trade - certainly this was Charles de Gaulle's dream. If anything, nowadays free trade takes a backseat to the dream of forging an entity that can frustrate American "hegemony".

Following is the response I provided to Matthew's post:

"It would be easy to imagine that my distaste for "Federal Europe" stems from a dislike of continental Europeans (a dislike which is admittedly widespread in Britain and largely reciprocated on the continent, particularly in France), but that isn't so in my case. I know the history of Europe better than most, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the present day, I understand one major continental language fluently and can get by in a few others, and I've friends from all nearly all of the present and future member states of the E.U.

Given all this, if one thing does stand out, it is that the better I know my fellow Europeans, the less I want to live under their own domestic arrangements. I don't want to live with continental-style compulsory I.D. cards, I much prefer common law to the Napoleonic Code, I can't stand the idea that Habeas Corpus or trial-by-jury might be done away with, I jealously guard my right to commit lese majeste or to call Tony Blair a silly wanker (try that sort of thing in France!), and I feel more secure entrusting my rights to an MP elected in a first-past-the-post system than to some hack who got into parliament on a PR-based party list. Why should I endanger all of this to fulfill someone else's federalist fantasies?

I can understand how for a Portuguese or Spaniard with memories of dictatorship, or for an Italian who's had nothing but short-lived governments racked with corruption, or even for a Frenchman whose country has seen 5 republics, 2 monarchies and 2 empires since 1792 (along with 2 military defeats and 1 near-defeat from a certain neighbor across the Rhine) Europe might seem like a wonderful thing, a major advancement on what went before, and a safeguard of the progress that has been made to date.

The trouble is that on this side of the English Channel none of these sorts of troubles have been a real concern since the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Why emasculate the oldest and stablest of sovereign parliaments for the sake of a will-of-the-wisp notion like a "Federal Europe?" If there is one virtue the British possess, it is a distaste for visionary or "revolutionary" ideas. It is that virtue that is once more at play today, as they resist the urgings of the Federasts (that isn't a typo!) to surrender ever more national sovereignty to the Wise Men of Brussels."

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Solidarity, African Style

Charles Taylor is indicted by the International Criminal Court, and the Ghanaian government gives him a helping hand in fleeing back to the safety of Liberia's borders: African "leaders" sure do know how to stick together, don't they?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Yet More Congo News - Via Amygdala

I can't praise Gary Farber enough for his work in keeping the Congo situation in the blogosphere spotlight. He isn't alone in this regard, of course, but I can credit him with bringing the issue to the attention of more than a few high-profile individuals.

I cannot over-emphasize how frustrated I am by the inattention being paid to the Congo, not only by the majority of "A-list" bloggers, but by most of the American media as well. With the exception of the New York Times, hardly any of the major American papers, and pretty much none of the TV networks - not even CNN - have given the developing crisis front-page coverage, and yet they have the space to spare to cover every new development in the Laci Peterson case! The European press (in Britain and Germany, at any rate) have been incomparably better in this regard.

But why should this paucity of American media coverage matter, you ask? Because in our age nothing is worth thinking about if it isn't on television or in the newspapers, and until the American public is made aware of the issue, the American government will be under no pressure to act. The bottom line remains that only America has the werewithal to make a difference in the Congo - witness the EU's difficulties in assembling a force of just 2,000 soldiers for the proposed UN mission. Given the realities of European military weakness, to speak of effective UN intervention in today's world is to really be talking about American intervention, albeit in a euphemistic manner.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Congo Troops Stand Ready - Evidently with German Soldiers - Die Welt (German)

It seems that Germany is ready to contribute something to the proposed EU-led peace-keeping force after all, even if it is to be an admittedly symbolic contingent to be sent to participate. The position formerly adopted by the German government must have seemed as problematic to them as it did to other parties - having complained so vehemently about the humanitarian consequences of war in Iraq, for the Germans to insist, as they formerly did, on dealing with the Congo crisis solely via chequebook diplomacy, would have made their supposedly humanitarian stance on the Iraqi issue seem motivated by rather less high-minded concerns.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Playing Politics with African Lives? - The Independent

Political fallout from the Iraq war is threatening catastrophe for millions of farmers in Africa, because the Americans may torpedo a French plan to ban the dumping of subsidised farm produce in African markets.


The French President, Jacques Chirac, has proposed a moratorium on all subsidies of produce that are sold in Africa, which could go a long way towards enabling African farmers to achieve self-sufficiency. But the plan has had a frigid reception in Washington. The US says its export credits should be exempt.

I hope very much that this is not true (this is the Independent we're talking about, after all). There are things which simply shouldn't be used as fodder for petty point-settling, and this is one of them.

I loathed France's obstructionism during the build-up to the war in Iraq more than most, but I am not willing to let that get in the way of recognizing that they are currently offering to do more to ameliorate the crisis in the Congo than most, however paltry even the French effort may be. When, in addition to that, one considers Chirac's pivotal role in obstructing all attempts to-date at reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, this initiative of his really is a big deal, and I don't see how any grown adult can seek to block it simply for the sake of petty vengeance.

If there does turn out to be substance behind this story, Bush will be shown to have been one of the great hypocrites of modern times, and whatever goodwill I might have had towards him will have been utterly squandered. I imagine that I would not be alone in this regard. Have Bush and his advisers really considered the public relations disaster that blocking Chirac's proposal would precipitate, especially in the eyes of an already skeptical world?

Of course, even granting that the proosal is adopted with enthusiasm by all parties, the likely benefits are hardly as great as one might assume. Agricultural subsidies to all other markets would still continue, and given the importance to many African countries of cash-crops, like cotton, that are grown mostly for export, in many cases the practical benefits are likely to prove nonexistent. There is also the fact that many agricultural exports, like a lot of other commodities, are highly fungible - their prices are connected in various markets by world trade, so that subsidies in one continent will still drive down prices in another.

Caveats aside, however, this is still a step forward, and it shouldn't be sabotaged in the name of teaching France a lesson.

Subsidizing Poverty - The New Republic

Peter Beinart does a good job in pointing out the hypocrisy of President Bush's recent speech on biotechnology, and the effects that Europe's agricultural policies are having on the livelihood of African farmers.

Agricultural subsidies that specifically prop up exports to the developing world are a small part of that larger, shameful picture. And they are a part for which Europe bears most of the blame. (European countries designate many of their farm subsidies for export, while the United States mainly subsidizes production.) So the president was right to lecture the Europeans.

But here's what he didn't say. A year ago, Bush signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002. The law�crafted to help Democratic and Republican farm-state senators up for reelection �boosted agricultural subsidies by an astonishing 80 percent. And, because the president signed it, many Africans will die.

To understand why, consider just one provision of the legislation: the subsidy on cotton, which the 2002 law more than doubled, from 35 to 72 cents per pound. The United States is a highly inefficient cotton producer; in fact, America's production costs are roughly three times those in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. Yet Burkina Faso is losing market share because the United States subsidizes its cotton industry by roughly $2 billion per year (three times as much as the U.S. Agency for International Development spends annually on Africa). According to Oxfam, the United States actually spends more subsidizing the production of cotton than it earns selling it�making the industry a net loss to the U.S. economy. Those subsidies go to America's 25,000 cotton farmers, who boast an average net worth of $800,000; by contrast, the average yearly wage in Burkina Faso is roughly $200.

I highly recommend reading the article in its' entirety.