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LQD: "There Is No Left and There Is No Right Any More In Europe"

by Magnifico Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 12:30:54 PM EST

Journalist Michael Goldfarb argues that only centrists remain in Europe in a short essay at GlobalPost: "Left, right, left, right -- halt!!! one, two".

And now come the stories about the rise of the Right, the collapse of the Left!!

Stop it.  Stop it right now, all editors, reporters, and think-tank types with good degrees from fancy private colleges opining in quarterly journals few people read.  Stop writing this tripe right now!!!

There is no left and there is no right any more in Europe, at least not by the historic definitions of those terms.  There is only a center ground and all politicians with a hope of electoral success occupy it.

Europe's left -- with its historic ties to statist socialism is dead, dead, dead.

Goldfarb writes that Francois Mitterand killed the left 30 years ago, with Tony Blair issuing the coup de grâce 15 years ago. On the right, Goldfarb writes that British Conservatives today are pale imitations of Thatcherites. Angela Merkel is not going to attack Germany's unions and Nicolas Sarkozy is not dismantling the socialist state.

Left and right have meaning only where radical politics have real purchase in a society.  In Europe that is only at the fringe so there is no need to apply those terms in Europe. The U.S. is different. The fringe has taken over a mainstream political party turning the Republicans into the only party in the civilized world that is truly radical. So you can use the appelation "right-wing" when discussing U.S. politics.  But the Republicans are not counter-balanced by a radical party of the left.  The only people who see radicalism in the Democrats are the propagandizers of the "right." Impartial observers have yet to detect it. Therefore America has a "right-wing" but no "left-wing."

I agree with his assessment of the U.S. America does not have a leftwing, even the Progressive caucus of the Democratic Party are more centrist than radical lefties. So as consequence, the pull on American politics is constantly to the right.

However, not being in Europe I don't have a good feel if Goldfarb's assessment is correct. Is the left and the right today in Europe just shadows of their past? Are European politicians a collection of centrists?


Display:
In Ireland the No vote in the Referendum (53% last time and likely to be c. 40% this time) is made up of c. 35% right wing neo-liberal business types, fundamentalist Catholics, and xenophobic nationalists - and perhaps 5% socialist/anarchist/pacifists/dissident greens .  So I wouldn't call 40-50% of the vote which is (relatively speaking) extreme left and right insignificant.

If anything, the 50=60%% centre/establishment vote is in danger of imploding under the pressure of economic collapse.

So I think the Goldfarb thesis is ivory tower navel gazing at its worst.  He needs to get out more.  

The right has gotten a lot smarter, and realises it cannot attack its own base - often retired people - by threatening social expenditures.  However the trend is still towards globalisation, market liberalisation, privatisation, and gross global non-renewable resource profligacy.

So some of the social democrat "installed base" of social reforms are very difficult to attack directly and ideologically.  But even those social democrat "solutions" to inequality and injustice are inadequate in a world of peak oil, food insecurity, and climate change.  So if anything we are seeing an increasing bifurcation because centrist social democrats have lost their way.  Euroscepticism, and nationalism are on the rise and have moved from being fringe to mainstream in many instances.

I haven't bothered reading his story, but it seems Goldfarb doesn't see the storms ahead.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 01:02:56 PM EST
... of building an ecologically sustainable economy on a neo-liberal foundation, for whatever reasons the Greens are often an incoherent marriage of environmental action with neoliberal economic thinking.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 02:56:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So which Greens do you think about? In general or some specific countries?
I remember a slogan of the german greens some decades ago: "Weder rechts noch links sondern vorn" (Neither right nor left but in front)
And I agree that also in Germany the Greens have too much childlike trust in the market. But the alternative of having a state-planned economy isn't an attractive solution either.
But it's so hard to argue against the brainwashing taking place all over the world day for day that without growth economy collapses. See my first diary on Ponzi economics.
OTOH I'm not sure whether it makes sense to measure all political and economic viewpoints in a single left to right dimension. Perhaps it's even a circle. What's the big difference between Hitler and Stalin?

Cheers, harnoes

Make it as simple as possible but not simpler (Albert Einstein)

by harnoes on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 03:33:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the alternative of having a state-planned economy isn't an attractive solution either.

That is not the only alternative - one could also attempt to have judicious state intervention in the economy.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 03:35:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
attempt to have judicious state intervention in the economy

Opposed to the just shovel money into our campaign donor's money pit approach we currently have, at least in the U.S.?

There seems to have been a lot of "state intervention in the economy" in the past 12-18 months. I think this intervention largely has not been for the overall good, just for the good of the world's wealthiest people and corporations at the expense of everyone else.

by Magnifico on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 03:41:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There has never ceased to be cooperation between the state and big business - the description given by the elder Galbraith in The New Industrial State is still current, with the necessary adaptations. In Europe this accommodation includes the unions (which is why Goldfarb says Merkel is not about to dismantle the German unions). But the state has abdicated the common good. First by inaction, and then when business broke its toys, by shoveling money into their maws.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 03:47:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Migeru:

one could also attempt to have judicious state intervention in the economy.

This strategy doesn't help. I guess most polititians would agree to a certain degree. Over the years I talked once in a while to MdBs (Mitglied des Bundestags = MP) of nearly all German parties. All in all they are not bad people. They think what they do is right. But they don't agree what a "judicious intervention" would be.

Cheers, harnoes

Make it as simple as possible but not simpler (Albert Einstein)

by harnoes on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:12:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome to politics. There is no objectively correct or ideologically neutral way to intervene in the economy. (But there are manifestly incorrect ways to do it - see, e.g. the bank bailouts.)

The question is not "whether planning?" - it is "planning to what end?"

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:18:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is no objectively correct or ideologically neutral way to intervene in the economy.

This includes non-intervention.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:40:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hence they fall back on a policy of state non-intervention and deregulation, which is a policy choice and does have consequences as it sets the (dis)incentives within which market actors operate.

On this blog Jerome a Paris and others have written eloquently on the effect that the regulatory environment has on the development of energy and transport infrastructures, and in particular how a deregulated market in which sovereign debt is not allowed to be used for funding infrastructure development is incompatible with the stated policy goals in the area of energy and transport. Specifically, short-term profit pressures and private funding incentivate fuel-burning power plants over renewable energy installations.

So, conscious state non-intervention in the economy is a deletereous policy choice.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:40:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither interest-bearing credit created by credit intermediaries, nor profit to unproductive rentier shareholder owners of trading intermediaries are necessary in a world which is increasingly connected "peer to peer"

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Oct 1st, 2009 at 02:10:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the alternative of having a state-planned economy isn't an attractive solution either.

Modern "market" economies are already extensively planned by the private governments of large corporations. The state does not introduce planning into an unplanned economy - it redirects the planning towards ends that serve a different (and hopefully more democratically accountable) constituency than the existing corporate governments.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:14:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... are the ones I have the most exposure to, the German Greens from being one of the Green parties to be in a government coalition and the Australian Greens from living there for a decade. They both seemed all to ready to kowtow to the neoliberal economic paradigm and corporatist Gold Standard models of government fiscal and monetary policy.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 10:08:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The French greens are quite different. Some are as far to the left as one can be while still being a reformist ; most of their leader dare say the "décroissance" word. Cohn-Bendit is on the right side of the French Greens...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Oct 1st, 2009 at 04:05:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is their vote? That is, is the bastard neoliberal-Green strategy a devil's bargain that a Green party makes in the Nineties and Noughties to get a larger share of the vote, or has a genuine commitment to an ecologically sustainable economy been combined with electoral success in the decades just past?


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Oct 1st, 2009 at 10:34:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The French Greens were a full part of the "plural coalition" of the left (also including the Communist Party) that was in government in 97-02 and was a real government of the left, with centrists like Stauss-Kahn balanced out by more lefty types like Martine Aubry and the plural partners.

Today, they position themselves clearly to the left, even if part of their appeal is Cohn-Bendit's personality, and his liberal-libertarian leanings.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 06:02:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]

But the alternative of having a state-planned economy isn't an attractive solution either.

Why do so many Germans spend their holidays - and Brits their old age - in France? Is it just the weather, or is it all the state-planned infrastructure, social safety nets, distributed activity, etc..?

There is a reason France has been so persistently demonised in the business press, and pushed to "reform": its largely State-coordinated system DOES provide an attractive alternative.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 06:07:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a reason France has been so persistently demonised in the business press, and pushed to "reform": its largely State-coordinated system DOES provide an attractive alternative.

Yes. Following this line of thought, I've been trying to put together a clear picture of this state coordinated system, and more importantly the genesis of that system for a long time- a picture that could be rationally and persuasively flogged to my American friends and, more widely, in a book that's partially written now. Unfortunately it's taken a back seat to another, more immediate project, but I'll get back to it.
The question I've asked (and never gotten a thorough answer to) is this: How did the idea that health care is a human right become a dominant element in the social narrative here?
Melanchthon has helped, but I need a broader sample of opinion.

As well, there's ample evidence that well-run state-directed economies or businesses can perform very well, thank you, and indeed have some advantages. Yet the mantra of the evils of state planning permeate much of our discussion here. Too weird.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 05:46:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At one point, most of the right wing (and a bit of the left) was quite thoroughly discredited for having collaborated with a rather evil foreign occupant. The resulting forces, being in power after the war, pretty much rewrote the French society from scratch, with the national health care thing included. (and actually, only for workers)

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 05:51:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome a Paris:
its largely State-coordinated system DOES provide an attractive alternative.

It does, but it begs the questions of what is the State, and where does State coordination end and State ownership begin?

In other words, the legal and financial framework I bang on about and the necessity for an enterprise model to replace monolithic opaque (state secret) hierarchical States and monolithic opaque (commercial in confidence) hierarchical Corporations.

IMHO we need flat, flexible, transparent, collaborative networked mechanisms fit for the 21st century knowledge economy.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 09:27:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
they're called "Corps des Mines" and "Inspection des Finances"...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 12:36:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are the "storms ahead" the ones you mention — "a world of peak oil, food insecurity, and climate change" — or something else? I'm not sure what you're meaning by "storms ahead". Is this something uniquely European or shared?
by Magnifico on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 03:58:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
virtually all global storms - including also middle east originating global conflicts and financial/currency instability.  The EU, post Lisbon, may be better placed to address those storms than most...

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 04:18:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
The right has gotten a lot smarter, and realises it cannot attack its own base - often retired people - by threatening social expenditures.

It's odd how this has never been true in the US. The radical kooky right has won precisely because it attacked its own base - and the base supported the attacks with a hearty cheer, while sawing its own branch off the tree while sitting on it.

I'm not sure how many people, even in Europe, are able to understand the reality of the link between higher taxation, higher prosperity for the majority, social investment, social support, and public spending.

Instead everything has been boiled down to 'taxes, bad - no taxes, good', with a side order of 'More Jobs™" when public support for an issue is looking a little ragged.

It's poodle politics - mammals trained to salivate on cue when a bell rings.

It's interesting as applied psychology, but depressing as practical policy.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The rise of the "Conservative Movement" in the US has been on the back of the backlash to the Civil Rights Act and "dogwhistle" racism that can be rationalized away by the elements of the pre-Reagan Republican coalition that would be driven off by overt racism.

That provides much easier frame for attacking the social safety net, and so to a certain extent the American "Conservative Movement" has never needed to learn those lessons.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 10:13:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ThatBritGuy:
It's interesting as applied psychology

admirable detachment...

practical policy? most impractical for future generations, more bad social engineering for squalid short termism 101.

depressing yes. it appears that the leverage the 1% have over the rest of us is purely in our own minds, yet we grant it obediently, content if we can survive with some semblance of soul intact, grateful for crumbs of joy if we're lucky.
our leaders are weak, the people are stronger, we just haven't quite grocked it yet, how afraid they should be if we unite in displeasure.

france is the only country in europe where protest is not (perceived as) 'alternative' or 'fringe', (easily dissmissable) and it's serious protest at that, the effective kind.

governments back down in front of that kind of resolution. yet the french do it without target leaders, communally enough to avoid the trap of having conspicuous spokesmen (or idealogies) on whom the strikers build too strong a dependence, and without whom there is insufficient will to stand strong against exploitation.

today 150,000 protestors showed up in rome to try and affect the media climate here, even d'alema said good things about too much media power and pressure on a free press in the hands of one man being seen as essentially undemocratic by the majority of citizens.

one wonders if it will have any effect.

people seem more interested in rome and venice vying for the olympics in 2020...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 01:44:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No.

That the left has ceased to exist is a matter of little dispute, but the right has moved farther to the right than it has been at any point since the War.

Bliar was noticeably to the right of Thatcher. The Danish social system is being systematically dismantled. You even have people on the right who argue for a flat tax. And not just in banana republics like Estonia.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 01:23:01 PM EST
That the left has ceased to exist is a matter of little dispute

And I should really say the "mainstream left" here.

There is still a left, but the fucking fifth column third-wayers are more busy fighting against their left flank than their right flank. And so the wingnuts on the right can spin the centre-left as unserious, irresponsible and outside the mainstream.

Meanwhile, on the right wing, they embrace wingnuts who belong in a padded cell as serious, reality-based analysts who tell people the hard truth and present the unpalatable choices. They don't fight against their right flank - because unlike the third-wayers, the right wing know perfectly well who their enemies are.

Weimar all over again...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Sep 29th, 2009 at 01:32:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
IF you accept what passes as the center today - which is very much to the right of anything that would have been described as the center 30 years ago, then it is true that all mainstream politicians are centrists, and that there is right to that "center" given credence, while anything to the left of it is systematically dismissed as crazy or kooks.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 05:28:35 AM EST
Part of it is a deliberate tactic of the right: embrace left wing rhetoric and framing: social safety net, etc...  , while still pushing the same neolib policies under the radar (we have to burn this village state owned public service in order to save it).

Also, enrolling supposedly lefties politicians to carry out the dirty deeds, like Blair. In France, Sarkozy has become a master at both the "progressive" rhetoric (to the point where he's alienating his most conservative base) and at luring personalities from the left to carry out the dirty deeds (Besson at immigration, Kouchner at foreign policy,...) and who will ultimately get the blame.

Reminds me of that fellow who argued here that "ideology is dead", that Sarkozy's policies are not right wing but "pragmatic",  and arguing endlessly in 300+ comments threads (Only Jake could keep the distance).

As you pointed out yourself, this is one pretty neat hat trick (tour de passe-passe) whose purpose is two-fold:

  • Push the right wing policies without making them look as such.
  • Neutralize the left opposition: "look: we have progressive policies"

This is the uphill battle: deconstruct this carefully crafted new frame of reference and put the real regressive neolib policy hiding underneath in the limelight. This is the first step to "change the framing".
by Bernard on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 02:16:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The European right is not unhinged as its American counterpart, but it has scary authoritarian and xenophobic instincts.

On the economy, however, the claim is true: there is no left/right divide any more. Ideologically there seems to be no alternative economic paradigm ready to take over from what has been called the intellectual collapse of neoliberal economics.

But there is one aspect in which the traditional left/right divide can be said to survive, and that is solidarity as a value, which is really the distinguishing feature. The right doesn't do solidarity, they do compassion if anything.

The Authoritarian/Libertarian and the various versions of Nationalism/Federalism axes are alive and well.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 03:43:58 PM EST
Does the Right do compassion? Dave from Marketing is trying to pretend the Tories do, and for at least six months or so it's going to be possible to pretend that he's left of Blair.

But the Right famously does fuck-you individualism and stupidity, with a side order of venality, opportunism, and sexual perversion. Arguably the biggest difference between the Thatcherite and Reaganite right was that the UK press never properly explored some of the things that Thatcher's cabinet did in their spare time.

Which is one reason why we're left with an idealised image of seriousness, marred by occasional let-the-side-down types like Alan Clark, Jeffrey Archer, and Saint Aitken, who were all tragic and exceptional exiles from the moral high ground held by central office.

People in the 70s still remembered Profumo. Does anyone believe that kind of thing stopped happening in the 80s and 90s?

NuLab are likely much the same, but have somehow never quite managed to appear distinguished about it - more bumbling, small time, and a bit eBay.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Sep 30th, 2009 at 06:01:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I had that Edwina Currie in the back of the cab once....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Oct 1st, 2009 at 03:12:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the Right famously does fuck-you individualism and stupidity

In Britain, very much. Elsewhere, not necessarily. Especially Catholic-rooted conservatives tend to rail against individualism. But propagate "loyalty" and "duty" instead.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 02:29:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But there is one aspect in which the traditional left/right divide can be said to survive, and that is solidarity as a value, which is really the distinguishing feature.

Some European right-wing parties do subscribe to solidarity, too. However, only in nationalist terms; and all the same it is a cover for class war from above.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Oct 3rd, 2009 at 02:27:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Some European right-wing parties do subscribe to solidarity, too. However, only in nationalist terms; and all the same it is a cover for class war from above.

The term "solidarity" as I have come to see it has little to do with the tactics and structure of most rightist parties, both European and in the US- Republicans. Class war? It's something more than that.

In the same way that Naomi Kline has found a good way to describe understandably the pattern of plunder that emerges from the neolib/IMF "structural adjustment" of as much of the world as the Freidmanites can get their hands on, Bob Altemeyer and George Lakoff help to illustrate the powerful human need of a major chunk of the population for a father-like maximum leader, and the semantic/psychological tactics that help the right's leaders to use this huge army to promote their agenda.

Perhaps I'm naive, but when I think of "solidarity", I think of a half million students marching past Opera Bastille with signs that say, "We are the future of France. We are not expendable!"

Different sort of thing.


Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 06:08:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The term "solidarity" as I have come to see it has little to do with the tactics and structure of most rightist parties, both European and in the US- Republicans.

I don't know about "most", maybe true maybe not, but definitely not all. However, you live in Western Europe, where nationalism has been curbed even on the right, and where many far-right parties are also tax-cut populists. Further East and Southeast, you'll find lots of conservative parties that preach the community of the nation, and solidarity with fellow members of it. Even if these parties usually represent one elite or another that provately looks down on the masses of co-nationals and pursues economic policies hurting them. What was different from left-wing solidarity is the exclusivism: no solidarity with non-nationals or those branded traitor, and the prime occasion for a show of solidarity is in a nationalist conflict with other nationals.

I also note that in Poland, it's in the name: the present hard-right parties grew out of Solidarność.

Even for most West European conservative parties, the concept of national solidarity used to be a main theme in some form, and residual traces remain (f.e. even though German Christians believe in charity, too, the welfare state was started in Germany under the conservative Bismarck).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Oct 4th, 2009 at 07:44:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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