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François Hollande, Dead Man Walking

by John Redmond Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 09:04:33 AM EST

As astute political observers have noted over the past three decades, an increasing divorce has installed itself between the French people and its political elites. There are many debates about the origin of the Gallic malaise, which despite the elite conventional wisdom has virtually nothing to do with its supposedly hidebound labor laws. And, it is true that Gallic Malaise is a common theme in French polity, dating as far back as the aftermath of the revolutionary period itself. Invocations of this malaise have often carried a revanchist tint, the supposedly terminal French decline certainly not being confirmed by a healthy demography and, until recently, a strong economy. But, it is a powerful meme, one which one sees in public discourse and in punditry, especially on the right.

It is nonetheless a meme which is quite powerful today, and is consuming the Presidency of François Hollande, whose days appear more numbered than ever, if one is to believe a recent poll indicating that only 4% of the French electorate think he should even run for re-election. Indeed, according to some polls, were he to run, he could even find himself relegated to 5th place in the first round, behind Marine Le Pen, who is in first place in most polling, Nicolas Sarkozy (if he wins the LR primary on the right), centrist candidate François Bayrou (who has indicated he will run if Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for LR) and Jean-Luc Mélanchon on the left. Why? Because Mr Hollande is arguably the most tone-deaf President the French elite have ever produced, once famously opining that voters are not to be trusted, as they don't really know what they want.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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The Killing of Jo Cox

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 17th, 2016 at 07:04:40 AM EST


Nigel Farage gesticulates in front of an anti-immigration poster entitled Breaking Point. Well, Thomas Mair broke all right. The question is, was he incited?

Jo Cox: an attack on humanity, idealism and democracy

The slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine. Every violent crime taints the ideal of an orderly society, but when that crime is committed against the people who are peacefully selected to write the rules, then the affront is that much more profound.


The killing, by stabbing and repeated shooting in the street, of Jo Cox is, in the first instance, an exceptionally heinous villainy. She was the mother of two very young children, who will now have to grow up without her. It is also, however, in a very real sense, an attack on democracy.

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The consequences of Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 13th, 2016 at 09:30:42 PM EST

The Pollster average of polls has just put the Brexit side ahead for the first time, which given the trend those polls have been taking, means we now have to talk about the probability of the Brexit process starting in 10 days time. In To Brexit or not to Brexit: That is the question I examined the ramification of Brexit for the UK, and in A Tale of Two States I looked at the implications for Northern Ireland in particular.  In this piece I will embark on a speculative journey envisaging how a post Brexit Europe might evolve.

First of all, I am working off the assumption that the result will be tight, with Scotland and N. Ireland voting to remain in the EU but being swamped by the Brexit vote in England.  There is therefore a strong probability that Scottish nationalists will seek a new referendum on Scottish independence in order to remain within the EU, and Sinn Fein will call for a new referendum on a united Ireland to enable N. Ireland to remain within the EU.

Whether either referendum will be carried is open to conjecture, and much will depend on the timing and circumstances of the vote, but there is no doubt that the UK itself will be destabilized as a result. (The position of Wales is more ambiguous with many blaming the EU for the failure to support the Tata steel works in Port Talbot, as if any Tory led Government outside the EU would have done any different...)

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Long tunnels

by DoDo Sun Jun 12th, 2016 at 06:40:15 PM EST

A decade ago, I wrote a diary about long railway tunnels. The opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel is a good occasion for an update.

When I was a child, there were about a dozen tunnels longer than 10 km. By the 21st century, they became so numerous that a decade ago, I restricted myself to 20+ km tunnels. This time, even that would be too much, so I'll write about the 11 rail tunnels in service, in construction or in serious planning longer than 30 km (excluding subway tunnels). About the existing ones, too, because there have been interesting developments for all of them.

Inaugural train carrying dignitaries exits the northern portal of the Gotthard Base Tunnel on 1 June 2016. Photo by Keystone / Laurent Gilleron from Neue Luzerner Zeitung

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger - a great exemplar of the train blogging genre!

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Developments in Austria

by generic Wed Jun 8th, 2016 at 10:07:22 AM EST

Austria's new chancellor Christian Kern, former manager of the Austrian state railways gave an interview. (behind paywall and German). The only remarkable thing about it is that I actually read this one.
Some points with my comments in brackets:

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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What 9/11 liberals ignore

by DoDo Sun Jun 5th, 2016 at 11:41:43 AM EST

There is a group of liberal atheists in the Anglosphere – people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher – whose reaction to 9/11 was to view Islam (in general) as the problem, and religion as the elephant in the bathroom in mainstream discussions about the cause of terrorism. Their views were not all the same – for example, while some became liberal hawks, strange bedfellows with would-be Crusaders in supporting the so-called War on Terror, others remained thoroughly critical of Bush –, but there is enough affinity to speak of a group. I took the "9/11 liberals" moniker from Bill Maher (in a video I saw recently which made me write this diary).

I am an atheist whose view of the net effect of religion on society is barely less negative than that of Richard Dawkins (especially when it comes to child indoctrination). Even in matters where I don't think religion is the original source of problems, I think it tends to make things worse. Yet, I think 9/11 liberals are missing some quite basic facts, and only contribute to Islamophobia.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Yves Smith On Voting For Hillary

by ARGeezer Thu Jun 2nd, 2016 at 02:43:40 PM EST

Why Some of the Smartest Progressives I Know Will Vote for Trump over Hillary   Yves Smith in Politico Magazine

Why do progressives reject Hillary Clinton? The highly educated, high-income, finance-literate readers of my website, Naked Capitalism, don't just overwhelmingly favor Bernie Sanders. They also say "Hell no!" to Hillary Clinton to the degree that many say they would even vote for Donald Trump over her.

And they don't come by these views casually. Their conclusions are the result of careful study of her record and her policy proposals. They believe the country can no longer endure the status quo that Clinton represents--one of crushing inequality, and an economy that is literally killing off the less fortunate--and any change will be better. One reader writes:


"If Clinton is the nominee 9 out of 10 friends I polled will [do one of three things]:

A. Not vote for president in November.
B. Vote for Trump.
C. Write in Bernie as a protest vote.

"We are all fifty-somethings with money and college educations. Oh, and we are all registered Democrats."

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Peculiar US presidential elections

by das monde Thu Jun 2nd, 2016 at 10:00:01 AM EST

As all political junkies know, the US president is elected not directly by a citizen vote but by the Electoral College - an archaic original compromise of the Founding Fathers and States. (Yes, we will have a powerful President, but the States will be influential in its election.) There were four presidential elections when the popular vote was different from the elected president: 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. Besides, the first few elections were confused by the issue of Vice-Presidency (especially in 1796 and 1800), leading to the more specific 12th Amendment.

The most bizarre elections were in 1824 and 1876, by far. They were also influential or highly educative. If you thought that the 2000 election was a steal...

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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France on Strike

by John Redmond Mon May 30th, 2016 at 10:06:47 AM EST

For much of the past month, large portions of the French economy have been hit by strike action, effecting in particular the transport and energy sectors, in response to the Valls government's proposal to overhaul French employment law. Public transport has been hit by rolling strikes both nationally, via work stoppages at the national rail company SNCF, as well as locally via commuter rail grids such as Paris' RATP. Similarly, petrol refineries have also been hit, with up to six (out of eight nationally) refineries either offline or at below output capacity at various points last week, with between a third and 40% of petrol stations running out of petrol to sell, causing long lines at the pump and a fair bit of consumer stress as regards future supplies.

Even France's vast nuclear industry, which provided 75% of the country's electricity needs, has been hit by strikes, though production is not (yet) reported to be impacted. And, similarly, maritime shipping has also been struck, with the ports of Le Havre, Marseille, Dunkerque, Saint Nazaire, Bordeaux and Rouen all either brought to a standstill or severely hampered from an operational standpoint. The strike actions have been accompanied by regular, numerous street protests, with heavy student participation, with a good number of street actions turning violent. Indeed, even a young American has been recently arrested for participating in a particularly violent act on the margins of a recent street protest, while the Police unions have equally taken to the streets to protest both being undermanned as well as the nature of the instructions they have received from the Ministry of the Interior as regards management of the protests they are working.

The strikes show no signs of letting up, with an outlook for the month of June, during which the European Cup football tournament is scheduled to be played in France, being at best similar to the month of May.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Böhmermann

by DoDo Sun May 29th, 2016 at 07:42:40 AM EST

ET first heard of German satirist Jan Böhmermann during the austerians' showdown with Greece's new government, in particular, when he trolled the entire German mainstream media with Varoufake-fake, a video claiming that a YouTube video used by them against then Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis was manipulated by his team. Recently, he earned international notoriety when he provoked a lawsuit from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with an intentionally offensive poem. But Böhmermann refused to be defined by the Erdoğan affair and returned on TV with an undercover piece exposing the malpractices of a trash TV show.

In this diary I attempt to give a more in-depth picture of the Böhmermann phenomenon, and give my view of what he's about.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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A Tale of Two States

by Frank Schnittger Thu May 26th, 2016 at 07:02:20 AM EST

The relative performance of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland economies since independence provides a stark case study in how political decisions can have a dramatic impact on the relative economic performance and social progress of two neighbouring states. The Republic of Ireland has prospered, whilst Northern Ireland was stagnating before and during the "Troubles", and has not recovered since.

Now Brexit threatens to put that sharp divergence into even starker contrast, re-igniting the political tensions that led to the Troubles, and putting a United Ireland back on the agenda. It may even be good news for almost all in the longer term, but at what cost in the short and medium turn? Follow me below the fold for an exploration of the chain of events that Brexit might unleash on the island of Ireland.

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Nicholas Stern on The New Climate Economy

by gmoke Sun May 15th, 2016 at 11:15:58 AM EST

On May 2, 2016, Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics spoke at Harvard:

The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change
Monday, May 2
4:15 pm
Harvard, CGIS-S020, Belfer Case Study Room, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

The Energy History Project hosts Nicholas Stern, London School of Economics, who will discuss "The Logic, Urgency and Promise of Tackling Climate Change."

These are some of the numbers for the greenhouse gas context he laid out:

We are at 450 CO2 equivalent [CO2e] now [400 ppm CO2 and another 50ppm equivalent in warming potential in other greenhouse gases like methane]

The rate of increase is increasing.  It was
.5 ppm per year from 1930-1950
1 ppm per year from 1950-1970
2 ppm per year from 1970-1990
and is 2.5 ppm per year increase now.

We are at the edge of the temperature range in our present geologic era, the Holocene, with about 1º C of heat cooked into the atmosphere from our industrial greenhouse gas emissions already.  The 2015 Paris agreement is designed to keep the globe below 2º C, and 1.5 º if possible.  Paris anticipates and tries to avert a looming catastrophe.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Can Trump really win the White House?

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 11th, 2016 at 05:20:43 AM EST

People who know I am interested in politics often ask me things like "Can Trump really win the Presidency?" while at the same time shaking their heads in disbelief that such a thing might be possible. To those accustomed to European sensibilities, he seems more like a cross between Berlusconi and Le Pen, with none of the "charisma" or political experience of either. Are things really that bad in the USA that wanton ignorance, rampant misogyny, crass narcissism, racist demagoguery and an authoritarian complex are what turns people on?

Trump keeps breaking through the ceilings that the political commentariat seek to place over his head. His appeal was said to be limited to 30% of the most committed Republican Primary voters. Then that became 40%, then 50%+. It was said that the Republican establishment would never allow his nomination at their convention in Cleveland. Except that now they have effectively thrown in the towel and conceded he will be their nominee. Most have made their peace with him and now seek influence within his inner circle. House Speaker Ryan and the Bush family are some of the few remaining hold-outs.

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The Confidence Fairy Strikes Again

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 9th, 2016 at 06:09:48 AM EST

David Folkerts-Landau, Chief Economist at the Deutsche Bank, has a screed in the Financial Times which is wrong on just about every level that can be imagined. Arguing that the ECB's policy of negative interest rates is undermining public and business confidence, Folkerts-Landau asks:

What should be done? The priority is breaking the negative spiral of lower confidence engendered by ever-looser money. The ECB needs to begin reversing its policy of negative interest rates. Moving back into the black would raise confidence across the eurozone.

Apparently lower interest rates cause people to save more and invest less. Recovery will only come when governments implement "reforms" which involve reducing investment and spending  (and employment) still further. The ECB is causing further stagnation and deflation in the Eurozone by reducing interest rates and buying Sovereign and Corporate debt, not responding to it with the main tools at its disposal.  The problem is that there are rising debt levels - not the excess savings identified by Draghi as a cause of the crisis.

Has it not occurred to Folkerts-Landau that excessive savings and debt might in fact be two sides of the same coin?

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Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

by Frank Schnittger Sat May 7th, 2016 at 08:38:08 AM EST

On the surface the Northern Ireland assembly elections have resulted in a return of the status quo with the larger parties winning broadly the same number of seats. However there has been a generational change in many of the personnel involved, and in some ways the election marks a further milestone on the road towards the normalisation of Northern Ireland politics post the Good Friday Agreement.

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New Irish Government formed

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 6th, 2016 at 02:41:36 PM EST

After 70 days of Political paralysis in Ireland, Enda Kenny has become the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be re-elected to that role, and also the first leader of a country that underwent a Troika bail-out programme to be re-elected to government.  However his election today, by 59 votes to 49 with 50 abstentions, underlines the weakness of his political position.  His government will be made up of 50 Fine Gael TDs (Members of Parliament) and a rag bag of independents who can rarely agree on anything and it is anyone's guess how long his new Government can survive.

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Edging closer to a new Government in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 4th, 2016 at 01:30:38 PM EST

The two major parties in Ireland, Fine Gael (25% support at last election) and Fianna Fail (24%) have finally, after over two months, come to an agreement which will allow Fine Gael to form a minority government with the support of a handful of independent or small party members of parliament. The agreement stipulates that Fianna Fail will abstain on major confidence and financial votes in the Dail (Irish Parliament) for roughly the next three years but retains the right to vote down or introduce legislation on other matters. Such an arrangement became unavoidable when Sinn Fein, Labour and the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People before profit parties all refused to coalesce with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

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Mafia methods

by DoDo Sun May 1st, 2016 at 07:46:55 AM EST

Last year, Viktor Orbán, Hungary's right-populist prime minister, decided to regain voters lost due to endemic corruption by starting an anti-refugee hate campaign. With success. But that success made his minions only more brazen.

I recount two recent tales with comical elements: the rise and fall of shopping-free Sunday (or: the mystery of the baldies), and the secrets of the central bank.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Ireland to get a Government at last?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:54:50 AM EST

In Political Paralysis in Ireland? I wrote about the inconclusive outcome to the Irish general election of February 2016 and predicted that we were in for a prolonged period of Kabuki theatre where the major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, would be dancing around each other without holding hands and with everyone else trying to force the unwilling couple to mate.

It is now over two months since that election, and I have revisited that diary on occasion to see if an update was required and concluded that no, nothing much new was really happening. Fianna Fail have been anxious to avoid the fate of minority partners in previous Irish coalition Governments which traditionally get hammered at the next election. So a straightforward coalition which would have provided a large working majority was out of the question.

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To Brexit or not to Brexit: That is the question

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 27th, 2016 at 08:50:23 AM EST

Given that it is the great Bard's 400th. Anniversary, a Shakespearean soliloquy seems apposite. What are the arguments for and against a British exit from the EU, and what are the views of European Tribune contributors on the subject?

President Obama has just swung by on his way back from being snubbed in Saudi Arabia, before giving Merkel some much needed succour on the refugee problem. His emphatic endorsement of Britain staying within the EU inspired Brexit lead campaigner Boris Johnson to the heights of Trumpian abuse.

Basically Obama said Britain should stay in the EU to maximise its global influence, and suggested that the UK would have to go to the back of the queue if it wanted bi-lateral trade deals post Brexit. And in case anyone should think that Obama is on the way out and therefor cannot speak for the USA on this issue, it should be noted that Eight former Republican and Democratic Treasury Secretaries have just written a letter endorsing his point of view.

This struck at the heart of the Brexit case - which has always maintained that Britain could have all the benefits of EU market access, without the costs of EU membership.  Britain, the argument goes, is so important in its own right, that other countries including the rump EU Block would be falling over themselves to cut bilateral trade deals with a newly independent UK.

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News and Views

 25 - 31 July 2016

by Bjinse - Jul 25, 8 comments

Your take on today's news media

 18 - 24 July 2016

by Bjinse - Jul 18, 62 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Open Thread 25 - 31 July

by Bjinse - Jul 25, 19 comments

Thread, for lack of a better word, is good

 Open Thread 18 - 24 July

by Bjinse - Jul 18, 28 comments

Keep your friends close, but your threads closer

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