Category Archives: Foreign affairs

The European future that faces is

It is fairly clear, even among Europhiles who want to stay in, what most people object to about the current state of the EU and what they would like to see changed.   The membership fee is uncomfortably large, some £11bn every year.   Free movement of labour works well between countries of similar living standards, but not between countries at very different levels of economic development.   The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy still take 40% of the entire EU budget, and cause considerable resentment in many countries, including the UK.   Most people, including most businesses, support free trade, but doubt whether the Single Market is worth the bureaucracy it generates.   It is widely felt that the EU is too regulatory and too protectionist.   Not many people in the UK want to see Britain becoming part of a federal United States of Europe, but that’s the direction favoured by many of Europe’s leaders.

Are these aspirations likely to be achieved in the current negotiations?   It seems very unlikely.   There may be a declaration that the UK is not fully tied into the EU goal of ‘ever closer union’.   The benefit entitlements of migrants from the EU to the UK will be restricted further.   There are proposals to strengthen the sovereignty of national parliaments and for the role of the City to be safeguarded against discriminatory EU financial regulation.   But none of this is likely to impact significantly on the concerns that most people have about EU membership, and particularly at a time when the EU is running into deeper difficulties.   The austerity policies to maintain the single currency leave EU living standards, as in the UK, still well below 2007 levels.   The way the Germans treated Greece has heavily undermined the perception of the EU as a force for tolerance and fairness.   Far right parties are on the march across much of the EU and will increasingly put at risk unpopular policies needed to keep the single currency from collapse.

This may explain why the latest polls suggest that 43% of people in the UK wish to leave and only 40% to stay in.   So how is a policy to remain within the EU, which most Labour Party members want, to be combined with renegotiation aims that meet the objections of the majority of British people?   Cameron and Osborne seem only interested in achieving the minimum changes that will persuade a majority of the electorate to vote to stay in.   Nor has the Labour party so far offered a vision much beyond this minimalist goal.   Once a new leader is elected, this must become a top priority.

Cameron’s declared bombing aims in Syria are ridiculously vain

We have all learnt that Cameron routinely makes up policy on the hoof, but he has really outdone himself by his explanation of his case for bombing Syria.   First of all as he states it, his military case is the defeat of ISIS.   This is risible since the contribution that he is planning for Britain to make to that end would be marginal to the point of invisibility.   It would not only be wholly ineffective, it would also have the perverse effect of making the streets of Britain less safe as ISIS or its affiliates sought to take revenge.   But most important of all, it is easy to enter a war by some vainglorious posturing as Cameron is intending, but very difficult to exit a war as Iraq and Afghanistan make all too clear.   There is the other inconvenient problem for Cameron that if Jeremy Corbyn wins on Saturday, his chances of winning a Commons vote are far from certain.

Cameron’s second declared goal is the political objective of strengthening the Iraqi government.   This is equally fanciful thinking.   UK participation in a few bombing raids in Syria will not have the slightest impact in achieving a more secure government in Iraq.   It is a cliche’ that everyone understands that no war can be won or country saved from defeat by bombing from the air, only by boots on the ground.   The protection of Baghdad is entirely a matter of the resolution and discipline of the Iraqi army, reinforced as it already is by heavy weaponry supplied by the West.   The truth is that adding a few UK bombing sorties in Syria is far more likely to spur extra recruitment for ISIS/al-Qaeda  than consolidate the government in Iraq.

Cameron’s third goal is to help to lead a new diplomatic initiative in Syria which with the support of Russia and China would install a government of national unity in Damascus.   This again is a preposterously bloated ambition.   The idea that Russia or China will take any notice of Britain’s minuscule participation in Syria in modifying or reversing their deeply held positions on the Middle East is again absurd.   The proposal also rather arrogantly dismisses the far more important role of the US, EU and UN which are bound to be the key players in any wider initiative alongside not only Russia and China, but also the regional powers of Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.   Who does Cameron think he is?

 

Cameron misleads the Commons again

There are three big holes in the government’s defence of the drone killings of 3 British citizens in Syria in this last month.   One is the legality when under Article 51 of the UN charter every country has the right of self-defence, but any armed attack would have to be “imminent or actual”.   More specifically the need for pre-emptive self-defence must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation”.   That does no conceivably fit what happened.   Cameron told the Commons that Khan and Hussein, the two British jihadists killed, had been planning to attach public commemorations in the UK, and No.10 later specified VE Day in May and Armed Forces Day in June, long before the two men were killed in August.   On that basis the killing was clearly not within the law.

Second, there is the much more blatant fact that these killings defy the unambiguous vote of the Commons in 2013 rejecting UK bombing in Syria.   It is clear that Cameron intended at the end of July this year to recall Parliament which had just gone into recess in order to win a vote to start a UK bombing campaign in Syria, but at the last minute pulled back.   Then by September the abrupt rise of Jeremy Corbyn made it unlikely, or at least uncertain, that such a vote could then be won, so Cameron and Fallon decided to make the issue a prior settled one in order to get their way.   But this is a blatant abuse of Parliament for which the government should be expressly censured.

A third very serious gap in the government’s handling of this episode concerns the legal advice received by the PM and National Security Council from the government’s Law Officers.    Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, has been keeping a very low profile, and it is crucial that that advice, and the reasons for it, should now be fully disclosed, both regarding these drone killings already executed and any that might organised in future.

Cameron never answered any of these charges in the House, but concentrated instead on his own agenda (as he always does, irrespective of the questions asked).   That was to try to demonstrate his readiness to take tough action against ISIS and to win plaudits from the more bloodthirsty parts of the press.   But above all, he should not be allowed to get away with operating drone killings as a matter of policy without any parliamentary sanction.

The IMF saves Eurozone from itself, but much more than ‘haircuts’ needed

Who would have thought that the IMF, the pillar of international capitalism set up by the Americans after the war to police the global economies in the interests of the Washington Consensus, should come to the rescue, not of the finally compliant Greeks, but of the triumphalist yet wayward Eurozone (for which largely read Merkel and Schauble)?   Nothing, certainly not condemnations for the Left around the world, could have exposed so ruthlessly the rigidity, greed and intransigence of the German establishment.   Nothing, equally, could have thrown Greek politics into such a vortex of unpredictability, with Tsipras relieved from having to defend the indefensible, and with his party saved from splitting and having to depend on the far Right to win the votes in Parliament.  But the relief may be short-lived as the IMF has itself laid down extremely harsh terms as the price for its consent to the deal.
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The Greek ‘deal’ represents the supplanting of European democracy by neoliberal economics

Arguably the so-called deal that has been forced down the throats of the Greek people represents the worst of all worlds.   It imposes even more draconian terms than were on offer even a week or two ago, with very little conceded in terms of debt relief, but with such added conditions of austerity as will make it nigh impossible for the Greek economy to achieve the growth necessary to pay down the indebtedness which had reached 175% of GDP.   This is not a creative solution of EU solidarity which is the constant refrain of European rhetoric, but a brutal punitive assault which all but turns Greece into an EU economic protectorate, including a requirement to place the country’s most valuable publicly owned assets into a €50bn privatisation fund controlled by the EU.   This is the end of Keynesian economics in Europe and its replacement by capitulation terms reminiscent of those imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty after the first world war.
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The Greek problem is insoluble without long-term fundamental restructuring of the euro

It is perfectly possible to see how the impasse over Greece can be resolved, at least in the short term, by the creditors offering a marginally improved offer on the bailout terms just rejected by the Greek electorate, plus a measure of debt relief on the very reasonable grounds that Greece’s national debt currently at 178% of GDP is unpayable with levels of austerity that preclude the growth necessary to repay it.   The obstacles are not economic, but political.   First, there is an entrenched resistance among the hard-line right-wing countries (Germany primarily, but also the Netherlands and Finland) that are determined to ensure that Tsipras is not seen to ‘have got away with it’.   Second, German domestic sentiment is clearly moving against Merkel, who does not want to go down in history as the leader who fractured the euro, and in favour of Schauble who is intransigent against any deal.   Thirdly, the German banks who unwisely lent to Greece without due diligence are now incessant in their demands that they recoup their potential losses estimated at some €87bn.   And fourth, there is the fear that making concessions to Greece over debt will undermine the integrity of the euro and open the way to demands from other crippled economies.
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Truth about EU callousness, intransigence & anti-democratic instincts exposed

?The IMF’s late intervention proposing €60bn plus debt relief for Greece is welcome, though it would have been far more effective if it had been offered 5 months ago when serious negotiations began rather than as a last-minute reprieve to salvage a burgeoning crisis.   It does chime quite closely with what Tsipras himself was proposing only a day before, namely debt relief plus a new 2-year €29bn payment from the Eurozone’s permanent bailout fund.   But what the IMF in particular has done is begin to peel away at some of the underlying dynamics of this elongated debacle.   One aspect is the nature of the austerity measures demanded by the troika which has micro-managed not just the extent of the cutbacks, but specifying in the minutest details how they should be administered.   There are two ways to deal with a debt: either cut expenditure or increase taxes.   Syriza’s instinct was to put up taxes on the very rich, especially their past evasion of taxes has been a major cause of Greece’s indebtedness.   But the troika, driven by a rigid neoliberal ideology, refused to allow this and insisted that the pensions of the poorest should be cut back further.
Read more   “Truth about EU callousness, intransigence & anti-democratic instincts exposed” »

The neoliberal mangle Greece is being put though involves unjustifiable interference

Like the structural reform programmes crushingly imposed by the IMF on developing countries which fall heavily into debt (often for reasons beyond their control like the collapse of commodity prices), Greece is now being served with a set of take-it-or-leave-it conditions which sound more like war reparations than serious debt restructuring.   Among these conditions on which the IMF is insisting is that Athens should impose a ‘zero deficit’ clause on pension contracts preventing it from granting a ’13th month’ bonus payment as well as eliminating various early retirement schemes.   Another condition is whether Greece’s minimum wage should be raised as well as changing collective bargaining laws to allow for mass dismissals.
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There’s more to Cameron’s bringing forward the EU referendum than meets the eye

Cameron’s reasoning for his sudden decision to bring forward the date of the Brexit referendum on Europe from 2017 to 2016 is unconvincing.   He said it was to avoid an embarrassing clash with French presidential elections and German federal elections that take place in 2017.   But like so many of Cameron’s explanations it’s worth unpicking as to what really lies behind it.   After all, the date of the French and German elections were perfectly well known when he himself chose the date 2017.   It is easy to see that other considerations are more likely to have prompted his sudden change of heart.

One is that 2 years into this new Tory government Cameron’s party will be suffering a collapse of popularity, and electors notoriously when given a chance to vote kick at the incumbent government whatever the issue for the vote.   That unpopularity could well flow from several sources.   The latest growth figures show that Osborne’s recovery has not only lost momentum, but deflated like a balloon.   Growth in the UK economy was 2.8% in the year 2014-5, but fell sharply from 0.9% in the third quarter of 2014 to 0.6% in the fourth and now to just 0.3% in the first quarter of this year.   Nor is this a freak one-off finding that will be later revised upwards: the purchasing managers’ index, a measure of industrial confidence, also fell sharply last month from 54 to below 52, a 7-month low.   That could dissipate Osborne’s economic recovery as fast as the disappearing Cheshire cat.
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