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Language deconstruction of the day (vol. 1)

by Jerome a Paris Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 07:39:05 AM EST

This is the first installment (well, the second if you count this comment) in what I expect to be a long running series whereby I will take one press article and flag a number of hidden assumptions that have their base in ideology and not in facts.

The underlying rationale for this exercise is explained in this story: Our Words vs Their Words. Feel free to do your own (ideally in comments below) if you see other articles worth it. Also, I think we need a catchy title for that series, so all suggestions welcome.

Today's article: Ghost of August 1914 spooks EU from the Observer/the Guardian.


During the decades before Britain finally joined the Common Market we were the driving force behind the formation of the European Free Trade Association, or EFTA, as it was generally referred to. The Common Market, or European Economic Community, was known as The Six, and the EFTA members (principally Britain and Scandinavia) as the Seven. Yes, many a time when Europe seemed to be in disarray, there were jokes about it being 'at Sixes and Sevens'.

EFTA was seen by some of the British as a free-trading alternative to the very political EEC. There were those who thought we should never have to join the EEC, but in the end it was felt that although the EEC was at heart a political project, it was doing a lot better economically than we were, and if we couldn't beat them we had better join them.

I find that casual acknowledgement that the EEC was "at heart a political project" amazing, as it has been systematic UK policy to deny that the EEC or the EU ever had any political content.

Note how the "political project" is opposed to the "free trade alternative", despite the EEC being built specifically as a free trade zone. Of course, it was not only a free trade zone...

Nevertheless, successive British governments remained dubious about the politics of what became the European Union (EU). Our support for broadening or widening the EU - 'enlargement' - was rightly seen by many of our continental neighbours as part of a Trojan-horse operation to undermine the long-term aim of 'ever closer [political] union'.

Note the even more casual note that UK policy was indeed to sabotage the project, and that enlargement was a great way to do that.

That point is still denied officially. Is it nevertheless common wisdom for everybody in the UK?

What had prompted Mrs Thatcher to support the single market was the hope that Thatcherism could be exported to mainland Europe. The possibility that a free-trading single market would involve a single currency simply hadn't occurred to her and was a nasty shock.

To judge from the experience of recent years, the broadening of the EU has indeed contributed to the undermining of the political project. In a sense, the EU is the embodiment of Robert Louis Stevenson's observation that 'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'.

So there's the answer: despite the euro "scare", it is mission accomplished. Thatcherism has conquered the continent; the inconvenient inconsistency that monetary sovereignty is just another form of protectionism was conveniently swept under the carpet, and the other Europeans could safely be accused of being "nationalists" and "protectionists" when they refused other features of the free markets mantra...

Spain, Portugal and Greece all shook off the malign shackles of fascist dictators en route to membership of the EU. Aspiring members have to behave. Once they are in the club, they can squabble and quibble like the rest.

Enlargement has certainly complicated matters. One of the main purposes of the ill-fated constitutional treaty last year was to streamline the workings of the EU to enable it to cope with enlargement.

Unfortunately the referendums coincided with the surfacing of a huge sense of insecurity on the part of the electors of France and Holland - an insecurity resulting from the high unemployment and associated fears of the threat to jobs brought by 'globalisation', and immigration from eastern Europe - the latter epitomised by the supposed threat to jobs from 'the Polish plumber'.

Why is it "unfortunate" that the referendum failed if the treaty was "ill-fated"?

Note also how Holland is tarred with high unemployment en passant (the Economist has it at 6.2%, down from 6.6% a year ago).

Note also how UK hostility to the treaty was based on national pride or refusal of needless bureaucracy, whereas the French or Dutch kind is "insecurity"...

and the usual insecurity/unemployment/France vs globalisation/immigration...

This threat is linked with the extension of the single market from 'goods' to 'services'. And, ironically, we can see the latest outburst of protectionism in the European energy sector as a consequence of moves towards a 'single market' for energy.

Suddenly, there is a vogue in France and Spain for 'national champions', in response to threatened cross-border takeovers from corporations or public utilities in other EU countries.

"Suddenly, there is a vogue in the business press for the word protectionism." France has ALWAYS explicitly favored national champions (or French-controlled European ones), and Spain has also de facto done the same for a long time.

What's new is not that fact, it's the reaction to it. That "suddenly" speaks volumes about the fact that we have a recent campaign launched on this topic, which I personally date to the European Parliament vote on the service directive, which is seen as a massive failure by the Mandelson/Barroso/etc camp - and that's why it makes sense to fight it now as well.

Protectionism in the energy sector arises primarily out of uncertainty about the security of supply. Paradoxically, the bureaucrats and an earlier generation of politicians had aimed at 'European' solutions to the putative threat from 'globalisation'. But along comes a revival of fundamental concerns about security and survival, and nationalism rears its ugly head - the very nationalism it is the political purpose of the EU to eradicate. As Germany's Angela Merkel asked rhetorically: 'Why are senior Chinese ministers travelling only to countries with oil and gas?' And the Italian deputy PM Giulio Tremonti says, rather dramatically: 'The tendency of European states to build protective barriers must be stopped...If not we risk an August 1914 effect.'
The political purpose of the EU is dead! You killed it, as you wrote above... Those politicians that were willing to subsume the national interest into a higher Europeen entity/identity cannot do so anymore, and fall back to what remains to create effective political control over corporations: the nation State.

That's the enemy, isn't it? Political oversight over corporations. It's been fought off successfully at the European level, and now the fight is brought once again at the national level, this time with the help of the Brussels bureaucracy. Just as Bush is twisting the federal US bureaucracy for the narrow purposes of his class, thus the neoliberals are trying to do the same in the EU.

Thus the need to tar national governments with "nationalism", "1914" (they will cause war! they are betraying Europe!), "protectionism" against waht is only a "putative" threat...

As to the Italian comments (in that I mean from a senior member of the Berlusconi government), it tells us more on those who take them seriously...

Is this inevitable? Is there nothing that economic policy can do to alleviate the prevailing sense of insecurity? Feelings of insecurity about supplies of energy will be assuaged only by determined efforts at the national and international level. Plainly, invading Iraq has not achieved the purpose of making energy supplies more secure. (A Canadian in Davos recently joked that his country was lucky US vice-president Dick Cheney did not invade Alberta, where the high price of oil has made extraction from the tar sands economic).
The prevailing sense of insecurity is the MAIN GOAL of current policies. Why should they alleviate it? They create it and thrive on it. So the goal must be to make those feelings of insecurity invisible, isn't it? Then they can be ignored and victory and prosperity officially declared...

And note the small dig at Cheney critics (who see oil&gas conspiracies everywhere).

But one area where the policymakers of the eurozone could make people feel more secure is by gearing their economic policies towards expansion and low unemployment, rather than towards fighting non-existent Weimar inflation. With only the most tentative signs of buoyancy in the eurozone economy, the European Central Bank went ahead last week with its well-advertised plan to raise interest rates. A central concern of the ECB's is the growth of the money supply - a concern which even Professor Milton Friedman, the godfather of monetarism, has now abandoned.

Again the complaint that the ECB is rigid and focused on inflation. Totally untrue, and a convenient way to explain away the consequences of the kleptocratic policies: it's the fault of the evil central bankers (and the terribly rigid Germans, with their misguided focus on the horrors - their horrors, a subtle reminder - of the last century), not of the said policies.

And of course, focus on money growth should now be abandoned, as it would of course show that the current policies are based on one giant bubble made from cheap money, thanks to God (sorry, Greenspan).

The ECB, and other eurozone policymakers, seems determined to knock economic growth on the head before it can bring unemployment down to more tolerable levels. They are obsessed with the 'sustainable' rate of growth, or productive potential, which they put on the low side. But all experience suggests that if there is high unemployment and 'slack' in an economy, a period of above long-term average growth is required.

"Sustainable growth"? What a crazy concept, which prevents companies form making more profits now! It must be eradicated as stupid, "rigid", and the cause of unemployment. It's time to party and to give nice fees to investment bankers and other city professionals instead of plodding along!

Such a policy seems ruled out by definition in the eurozone. This could turn into a calamity, and compound Europe's sense of insecurity.

Europe = the eurozone = calamity = unsecure.

A fitting conclusion.

Display:
Why is it "unfortunate" that the referendum failed if the treaty was "ill-fated"?

I fail to spot a contradiction in that. It was ill-fated because it failed.

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

by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 07:51:06 AM EST
I thought about that, and decided for the "evil" interpretation. It failed because it was ill-fated. It was ill-fated because it attempted to make enlargement manageable.

There's a sense of destiny underlying all this.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 07:59:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then they would have said "ill-conceived".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:02:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that's an explicit accusation. Remember that the goal is to manage to make accusations without explicitly making them (no 'right thinking liberal'...)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:29:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But your interpretation runs up against the contradiction you asked about. I still fail to read it into those two paragraphs, even with the rest of the article (much of which I read as descriptive - of past British policy - rather than advocating).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:05:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
even with the rest of the article (much of which I read as descriptive - of past British policy - rather than advocating)

Even with the rest of this part of the article, I mean.

Overall, it's rightly bashed crapola.

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

by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:09:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
IMO your reading is incorrect. 'Ill-fated' as I understand the term, makes no comment about whether the fate was deserved or not.

Its a usage rooted in the doom-laden, germanic side of English.

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Tue Mar 7th, 2006 at 05:53:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why would the failure of the referendum be "unfortunate"? Because it would have cleared the way for streamlined decision-making when the neoliberal consensus attack is raging. By the time the Council gets out of its current gridlock, the political winds may well be blowing in other directions. And, in the meantime, Barroso (like Beckett) is acting the role dictated by his hat, not by his ideological masters, and the eminently political Parliament is the only European institution that can be argued to be working not only as intended but actually delivering more than expected. An all-round "unfortunate" situation for two groups: those opposed to the political Europe and supporters of a superstate.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:00:45 AM EST
There's some good stuff in here and if I get chance later I'll post a comment linking it to another column in the same paper.

But, I think I have to disagree with your attitude to the ECB. I agree that "Bubbles" Greenspan is no model for anyone to follow, but at the same time I think there is a long overdue debate on the ECB. It's charter only addresses inflation, so any harmful deflation caused by its policies are not really considered fully.

This is unbalanced and from the point of view of "the great mass of European unemployed" of whom I am one, I am wary of anyone who, like you seem to, dismisses the idea that the ECB has been too deflationary since it's creation. It is not at all a settled fact (except perhaps in the minds of French bankers </snark>) that the ECB's definition of what is sustainable is perfectly correct. There's reasonable evidence to suggest a little more growth would not have been inflationary.

Of course, now energy prices are going up, it's too late for that. Thanks.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:14:49 AM EST
Look, there's no way that 2% interest rates when inflation in the biggest countries has been 1.5-2% (and much higher in the periphery countries like Spain and Ireland who enjoy higher growth and higher inflation) can be called anything but not-tough.

The ECB has been extremely pragmatic. That image just does not fit with the neolibs's discourse, so they call it otherwise. It's only rigid when compared to the Fed's outrageously lax policy.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 08:28:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately the referendums coincided with the surfacing of a huge sense of insecurity on the part of the electors of France and Holland - an insecurity resulting from the high unemployment and associated fears of the threat to jobs brought by 'globalisation', and immigration from eastern Europe - the latter epitomised by the supposed threat to jobs from 'the Polish plumber'.

*sucks in breath * IT IS THE NETHERLANDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I forgive Jerome for correctly quoting that geographical blunder. Now where's this idiot's E-mail address....

Sorry. Had to get it off my chest. Carry on, carry on.

by Nomad on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 09:07:43 AM EST
Nomad,  the name of my country in every Western European language comes from a Middle Age confusing of Huns and Magyars...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 10:26:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You should start a crusdae, DoDo...

Magyarország?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:04:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's crusade, not crusdae...

You're welcome to start a crusdae too, although I am not sure what it is...

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:13:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Crusade? You surely meant pillage :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 06:53:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Attila is a comon name in Hungary. What is the connection with the Huns?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:13:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well noticed.

The fun fact is that some three centuries later, the historian (e.g. false history writer) of one king thought it would be good to turn this around and make Attila kind of a positive hero (first uniter of Europe, you see), and his brother Buda (whom Attila murdered) the ancestor of the royal family: combine some old legend about a deer with an invented odyssey across the steppes, throw in some long lost tribes mentioned in the Bible. This version got the dissing after Enlightement scientists started tracing language (to Finno-Ugrians) and culture. (That is, got the dissing except for the far-right - but the far-right also believes that Sumerians were Hungarians...)

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

by DoDo on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 07:01:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So... should I give it up? A lost cause? A hopeless goal?

Never, I tell you, not until my dying breath!!!! You'll have to pry my prone dead corpse off this issue with a crow bar and a sledge hammer. This is not a pet peeve, it's... Camarasaurus tooth ache.

I've pinned all my hope on today's mass communication.

by Nomad on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:21:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Offer: you give up bashing poor, innocent percentages (Breakfast thread), and I promise to stop calling your country Holland, the Low Countries, the United Provinces, West Frisia, Dutchland, or Batavia, and always say the Netherlands!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 12:18:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why, I never recalled e-mailing you before... *dangerous squint becomes even more dangeresque *

But if you opt for blackmail.... Two can play this game.

So... Care to get that chocolate pie in its entirety without me getting the half of it?

:)

by Nomad on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 07:28:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
*Worst joke of the month warning*

Maybe we should rename your country Boulimia.

by Alex in Toulouse on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:55:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Alex, the month just started, you are making too ambitious a claim here.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:57:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
hehe you're right, so let me promptly deconstruct my own claim by arguing out that the Huns must have been adorable people, given their name.
by Alex in Toulouse on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 12:10:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess the British ruling class has awoken to the fact they pissed the North Sea oil away and now they will have to buy in a "protectionist market."  

Meaning: they can no longer manipulate the oil market through financial instruments or the supply side.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:10:21 AM EST
For years, we've been told that ownership of production and distribution assets did not matter, so long as there were market mechanisms to ensure supply...

Continental importers went "yeah, yeah" and struck deals to make sure they had uninterrupted security of supply and as much diversification as possible. The Netherlands wisely put a cap on gas production to keep domestic reserves available for the future, and these countries made sure thay had big enough companies to dela with the monopoly sellers in Russia, Algeria or even Norway.

And now that North Sea gas is running out, who panicks at the first sign of a gas spat between Russia and Ukraine, vetoes the purchase of its gas distributor by Gazprom, yells that the evil continentals won't share their gas, and starts talking about network interconnection, single buyer policies in Europe and sharing of resources on a continent-wide basis? The importer newby, Tony B., that's who... and in his trail the clueless competition directorate at the European Commission.

(btw, it's a fact that the EU is by no means monolithic on that subject. The competition and energy directorate have basically been in open warfare in the past few years, with the industry directorate moving one way or another depending on how relative prices in open or not-so-open markets were mowing...)

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:18:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course this raises the question, how do we fix the competition directorate? Is there any pressure we can apply short term, or is it a matter of campaigning long term for MEP confirmation for these posts?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:20:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why does the competition directorate need fixing? It has operated to general satisfaction until the very recent spat of energy mergers and takeovers. I say fix the energy sector and leave the competition directorate alone.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:38:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually, it's not so much the competition directorate that I meant, but the internal market one (McCreevy today), which is the one trying to "liberalise" various sectors.

The competition directorate should indeed be left alone, it's one of the pan-EU things that work the best, all things considered.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, ok.

Makes sense.

Internal market: "liberalize all".

Energy: "energy is strategic".

Industry: "whatever gives me the lowest price".

Competition: "monopoly is bad".

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:48:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
McCreevy today, Bolkestein yesterday. Can't we get a non-ideological socialist economist like, say, Solbes, into the internal market directorate?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:50:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
if France did not put all its energy into getting France-compatible agriculture commissioner (and director General below him/her) and (for ag-related reasons) trade commissioner.

Give us a Pascal Lamy anytime... but Chirac vetoed him for stupid reasons.

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 12:22:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, you have to have priorities, do you not? </snark>

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 12:33:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry ok? We needed the bastard out of here and for some reason they decided to promote him out of the way. Damn, install one arrogant ideologue in an important Commission post and everyone gets annoyed.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 01:00:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The MEPs already approve the composition of the Commission. They were able to hold up the Barroso commission until after the summer of 2004 by vetoing the Italian candidate over some "unfortunate" remarks he made.

If you want individual confirmation hearings, well, that would be interesting.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 11:44:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am all for interesting... Particularly if it can slow the positioning of neo-liberals into various posts by people like Blair and Aznar...
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 02:06:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
who panicks at the first sign  of a gas spat between Russia and Ukraine?

lol

every Russian who's ever lurked there does know who. Jerry from Paris, that's who
Tony B just seconded

by lana on Mon Mar 6th, 2006 at 06:37:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good to see you are still reading us!

But let me ask you something: I can more or less understand why you think I am anti-Russian, but why on earth are you saying that I "panicked" on the Russian-Ukrainian spat when I explicitly wrote that there was nothing to worry about?

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

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Mar 7th, 2006 at 09:06:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Its an interesting critical reading. My main counter-criticism of your analysis is that I think you are falling into the trap of viewing this article as discussing, and approving, the actions of a monolithic 'British' entity.

Thus you are pouncing upon and flagging up inconsistencies in the 'British' position that arise from the fact that the British (even if you restrict yourself to the political classes and national talking shops such as the Guardian) have a lot of fundamental disagreements about what the EEC/EU is actually for, what it should be for and the best ways to achieve British objectives when engaging with the EEC/EU.

I don't have time to do a point-by-point discussion of your diary so I will give you just one example - your comments about the first two paragraphs of the article are focused upon Keegan's analysis of what the British governing classes were thinking and doing between the 50s and the 70s. You then criticise this analysis for diverging from the 'British policy script'. But Keegan has no obligation to stick to that script; he's not speaking for the British govt, indeed he's writing an article for a broadly pro-EEC/EU readership who probably view the British policies of that time as misguided and/or misjudged, so its hardly surprising that his comments don't jibe with the official position on this stuff.

Regards
Luke

-- #include witty_sig.h

by silburnl on Tue Mar 7th, 2006 at 06:32:53 AM EST


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