Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Prepare for the breakdown

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 27th, 2020 at 02:35:27 PM EST

Both the EU and the UK have now published their mandates for their negotiating teams on their future relationship. As might be expected at this stage, they couldn't be further apart, and some "expectations management" is no doubt involved. But neither is there anything to suggest that my central expectation of a no deal Brexit at the end of 2020 will not, in fact, come to pass.

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The wonder of democracy

by Frank Schnittger Sat Feb 22nd, 2020 at 12:08:26 AM EST

There has been a lot of hot and heavy commentary in the Irish media as to who has and has not got the "right" or "responsibility" to form a government following the inconclusive Irish general election result where three parties, Sinn Fein, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, got between 25 and 21% of the vote.

Most of this has been legitimate banter between partisan supporters trying to portray their party in the most favourable light and place it in the best position to either lead a government or force the other two parties to break their electoral pledges and form a most uncomfortable coalition government.

The received wisdom is that whichever party ends up leading the opposition will be able to exploit the discomfiture of the coalition parties and clean up at the next election. Few believe Ireland's public health care and housing problems will be solved in the next few years, but that won't prevent the next government from copping the blame when they fail to do so.

But lest the naive be disillusioned by the whole process, I have provided some context in a letter published as their lead letter by the Irish Independent:

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Political revolution or government as usual?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Feb 13th, 2020 at 02:39:14 PM EST

My highest probability expectation both before and after the Irish general election is that it is unlikely it will be possible to form a stable government from the configuration of parties the electorate have thrown up. It took 70 days to form a government in 2016 when Fine Gael had 50 seats, and that government was only possible because Fianna Fail, with 44 seats, agreed a "confidence and supply" arrangement with Fine Gael under which it would abstain on votes of confidence in order to allow a government to be formed.

It is generally agreed that the confidence and supply arrangement did Fianna Fail no favours with the electorate as it was unable to pose as a radical alternative to Fine Gael, having facilitated the broad thrust of Government policy over the past 4 years. Although Fine Gael were the biggest losers (-15 seats), Fianna Fail also lost 6 seats with Sinn Féin (+14) and the Greens (+10) the biggest beneficiaries.

The only other time a major opposition party has facilitated a government in office was in 1987, when then Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes announced his "Tallaght Strategy" to facilitate a Fianna Fail government basically implementing Fine Gael policies. That, too, didn't end well for Fine Gael.

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Live Blog: Irish General Election results

by Frank Schnittger Sun Feb 9th, 2020 at 11:45:05 AM EST

Ireland went to the polls yesterday, and the counting of votes began at 9.00 am this morning. Counting is a labour intensive manual process, and given the complexities of the multi-seat, single transferable vote system can take some days to complete. Early indications are that the poll was quite high given the inclement weather conditions and that the pre-poll indications of a surge to Sinn Fein are being borne out by the actual results.

Last night's exit poll indicated a statistical tie between the main three parties but the earliest indications today are that this may understate the performance of Sinn Fein who appear likely to top the poll in a lot of constituencies. They will rue their decision to run only 42 candidates, however, which will put a ceiling on how well they can do. The exit poll makes for some fascinating reading as it allows a demographic analysis of who voted how. Sinn Fein appear to be well ahead in every age group bar the 65+ demographic.

Health, Housing, Homelessness, Pension age and climate change were the issues influencing most voting decisions with Brexit and immigration cited by only 1% of voters as the most important issue influencing their vote. 65% of voters regard increased expenditure on public services as more important than reduced taxation, and 63% stated they had not benefited personally from the upturn in the economy.

The first first count results are expected this afternoon, and I will update this diary as more results come in.

Comments >> (58 comments)

A Revolution in Irish politics?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Feb 3rd, 2020 at 03:39:35 PM EST

Sinn Féin level with Fianna Fáil at 24% in latest opinion poll

Sinn Féin has surged ahead of Fine Gael and is tying with Fianna Fáil for the highest vote among political parties, according to the latest opinion poll published on Sunday.

The Business Post/Red C poll puts Sinn Féin at 24 per cent, up 3 per cent on the previous survey by the same pollsters a week earlier.

Fianna Fáil is down 2 per cent to 24 per cent and Fine Gael down 2 per cent to 21 per cent.

In the space of the two surveys, Fine Gael is down 9 per cent and Sinn Féin up 11 per cent, confirming a trend in other polls.

Sinn Féin secured their first seat in Dail Eireann in modern times in 1997 with 2.5% of the vote. Since then their vote and seats has increased steadily to 14% and 23 seats in 2016. Their fortunes seemed to be waning with the failure of the Northern Ireland institutions and their failure to have any influence on the Brexit debate in Westminster. However since the Brexit withdrawal deal was done and the N. Ireland institutions were restored their standing in the polls has skyrocketed in inverse proportions to the fortunes of Fine Gael.

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Brexit Day

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jan 31st, 2020 at 12:25:42 AM EST

It is with very mixed feelings that I approach Brexit day. On the one hand I have argued strenuously and at length that Brexit is in the interests of neither the UK nor the EU, and plays into the hands of ultra-nationalists, disaster capitalists, global corporations, and great power imperialists. On the other hand I have tired of the seemingly perpetual whingeing, prevarication, lying, and sheer incompetence of successive UK administrations and their oppositions.

From a purely practical point of view, it is reasonable to hope that the EU institutions will operate more coherently, cohesively and efficiently without the continual disruptions caused by UK participation. The loss of 73 mostly far right and often disruptive UK MEPs will be no loss at all. It his high time the EU focused on other priorities and for Brexit and Brexiteers to leave the stage.

Although EU Chief negotiator Barnier and Trade Commissioner Hogan will continue to be centrally involved in UK EU trade negotiations, I expect that issue will gradually decline in the list of EU priorities and the UK's baneful influence on EU foreign policy will also diminish. A lot still depends on whether President Trump is re-elected, or not, but it is relations and trade with the US, China, Russia and third world countries that will gradually come to dominate the EU agenda.

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The narcissism of minor differences

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 14th, 2020 at 08:46:08 PM EST

An Taoiseach Leo Varadker has called a general election in Ireland for February 8th. - in the immediate wake of Brexit actually happening at the end of January and the devolved institutions being restored in N. Ireland following an agreement between the N. Ireland parties and the British and Irish governments.

The timing is significant for a number of reasons. Fine Gael's slim Dail majority had become increasingly precarious as the "confidence and supply" agreement with Fianna Fail had faltered and as various independent and other TD's threatened to withdraw their support. A no-confidence motion in Health Minister Simon Harris could well have been carried and would have further high-lighted the governments greatest failing while in office.

Leo Varadker and deputy prime Minister (Tanaiste) Simon Coveney are widely seen as having done a good job on Brexit and so it was in their interest to hold the election while Brexit was still high on the news and political agenda. When the two governments and the N. Ireland parties finally agreed to the restoration of the N. I. Assembly and Executive after a 3 year hiatus, another important item on the Government's to do list was ticked off.

That said, a win for Leo Varadker and Fine Gael is anything but a done deal. Fine Gael have led the government for almost exactly nine years since 2011 and it is rare for any Irish government to win 3 elections in a row. There is considerable yearning for change in the country, despite full employment, the economy growing at c. 5% p.a., and the government actually running a surplus. Failures in public housing, healthcare, and transport policy have sapped the electorate's patience and homelessness, rapid housing rent increases, hospital waiting lists and impossible commuting times are likely to figure prominently in the campaign.

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Happy New Year to one and all

by Frank Schnittger Tue Dec 31st, 2019 at 07:25:56 PM EST

For many people 2019 was a year to forget and the decade of the 2010's wasn't much better. What were your highs and lows, funniest moments, and greatest achievements or regrets?

Comments >> (18 comments)

Home comforts

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 01:11:47 PM EST


House clad in 120MM insulation and with new ventilation grills visible near the apex of the roof.

The last 6 months have been a crazy busy time for me and my family as we have a new baby in the house and are (hopefully) moving towards the end of a major home renovation. My eldest daughter, her partner and new baby have been forced to move into the family home by Dublin's crazy house prices and it has given us the opportunity to have a major rethink about how the family home should function.

I could no longer justify having a detached house largely to myself, and so their move is very welcome from my point of view. They have injected a new energy into the house and increased our ambition for what the house can achieve. A government deep-retrofit scheme has enabled us to improve its energy rating from a very average (for a 1980's house) D rating to A1 - the highest possible, and it is now apparently one of the ten most energy efficient older houses in Ireland.

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It's All over Now, Baby Blue

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 15th, 2019 at 09:12:25 AM EST


It's All over Now, Baby Blue

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out, the saints are comin' through
And it's all over now, baby blue

The highway is for gamblers, better use your sense
Take what you have gathered from coincidence
The empty-handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
The sky, too, is folding under you
And it's all over now, baby blue

All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home
Your empty-handed army is all going home
You lover who just walked out your door
Has taken all his blankets from the floor
The carpet, too, is moving under you
And it's all over now, baby blue

Leave your stepping stones behind now, something calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, baby blue...

Bob Dylan 1965

Comments >> (15 comments)

UK General Election Results 2019

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 13th, 2019 at 12:51:53 PM EST

So the Opinion polls weren't so far off after all, with the Labour Party losing votes to all the other parties, but, given the idiocies of the First Past the Post electoral system, only the Conservatives and SNP reaped the benefits in terms of seats:


As was to be expected, all the "centrist" MPs who left or were thrown out of the Labour and Conservative parties and stood as independents, ChangeUK or Lib Dems lost their seats. The two party (+ regional/nationalist parties) system reigns supreme. There is no room for dissidence or doubt. You must follow one major party leader or the other. The system is designed to promote polarisation and conflict. Contrary to reports of unprecedented queues, turnout at 67% was down 1.5% on 2017.

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A leader for leavers and remainers?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 11th, 2019 at 01:23:19 AM EST

Letter to the Editor published in the Irish Times.


A leader for leavers and remainers?


A chara, - Fintan O'Toole buys into the media propagated myth that Jeremy Corbyn is some sort of far-out radical lefty who wants to revolutionise UK society (Weekend Review, December 7th).

But Corbyn gained this reputation for opposing imperialism, Apartheid, and the Iraq invasion; and supporting LGBT rights, a united Ireland, and radical measures to combat climate change before it was either fashionable or mainstream in UK politics to do so.

What were once radical positions are now mainstream, and since his election as leader of the Labour Party, Corbyn has consistently adopted mainstream, centrist and even establishment positions.

He campaigned for remain in the 2016 referendum, he accepted the result as democratically binding, and he tried to keep both leavers and remainers on board within the Labour Party by adopting a "soft" Brexit policy whereby the UK would retain a close economic relationship with the EU while ending the political union.

It wasn't Corbyn who said f**k business, starve the Irish into submission, Muslims are bank-robbers and letterboxes, the EU is the new Soviet Union, or the Brexit negotiations would be the easiest trade negotiation of all time; and yet he is the extremist with a limited grasp of reality?

His domestic policies are aimed at reversing years of Tory austerity policies which have resulted in inequality, poverty, and deprivation unprecedented in modern times. If it was possible to fund decent health, educational and public housing policies in highly indebted post-war 1950s Britain, why is that such a radical idea now?

Corbyn may or may not lose Thursday's election, but if he does it will be due in large measure to the success of the oligarch-owned UK media in demonising him, with supposedly "enlightened" commentators such as Fintan O'Toole in tow.

Fintan O'Toole accuses him of being uninterested in power, but that is because he wants to restore power - and a decent quality of life - "to the many, not just the few".

At a time when the United Kingdom has never been so divided, is not a leader who tries to accommodate both leavers and remainers, unionists and nationalists, north and south not precisely what the UK needs right now? - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER

Comments >> (9 comments)

MEGA: Make Europe Great Again

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 8th, 2019 at 01:53:46 AM EST

I used to write quite a lot about US politics - about 65 stories on the European Tribune alone. And then Trump got elected and I could face it no longer. Say what you like about the legitimacy of his election, but the very fact that a guy like that could get elected doesn't fill me with much hope for the USA as an advanced polity. And why write about him when so many there are much more qualified to do so?

I came of age politically through meeting some South African anti-Apartheid activists who inspired me to do my masters thesis on Apartheid. I couldn't bring myself to visit their country until Mandela was freed and elected President. I did not want to become complicit in the Apartheid regime by visiting the country while I would still enjoy the privileges of a white European under Apartheid. I feel almost as bad about visiting the USA now: lots of great people, but the system absolutely sucks.

And now, having written 170 stories on Brexit, I am beginning to wonder whether my interest in writing about the UK will survive a Boris Johnson victory in this weeks general election. Any country which could vote for Boris Johnson as its leader has to be seriously f*cked up... And yet all you hear and read in the media commentary about the election is of self-proclaimed former Labour voters deciding to vote for Boris because they can't stand Corbyn.

What is it they can't stand about Corbyn when he has been (a relative) voice for moderation and reason in an increasingly dysfunctional, corrupt and disintegrating political system?

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Irish By-Election results

by Frank Schnittger Sun Dec 1st, 2019 at 12:17:10 PM EST

Fine Gael, the Irish ruling government party, has just lost all four by-elections held to fill the seats of Dail members who resigned on winning seats in the European Parliament last June - making its already flimsy Dail majority even more precarious.

To be fair, it was defending only one of those seats, with the others previously held by Fianna Fail, Independent and Socialist TDs (Teachta Dála, or members of parliament). Governments rarely win mid-term by-elections in Ireland, with opposition party supporters more likely to turn out in low-turnout elections.

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Poll: Is Brexit a good thing?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 27th, 2019 at 11:33:18 AM EST

Accepting the fact that most Brits aren't listening and couldn't care less what we think, what are our collective thoughts on Brexit at this stage?

Poll below the fold:

Comments >> (72 comments)

Letter to the British people

by Frank Schnittger Sat Nov 23rd, 2019 at 02:17:19 PM EST

With the UK preparing for a general election, the Irish Times invited its readers to write an open letter to UK voters (of less than 300 words). A selection of those letters are published here. Some are of a quite personal nature. Many focus on the impact on N. Ireland. Mine, copied below the fold, focuses on the larger political and economic implications.

Feel free to use the comments section to write your own letter. We could even publish a selection of our letters on our front page! A more broadly European perspective would be useful. And yes, you are allowed say "go now and don't let the door hit you in the arse as you leave". All viewpoints are welcome...

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Why the EU and UK will be enemies

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 20th, 2019 at 01:20:36 PM EST

Boris Johnson likes to talk about "our friends in Europe" when talking about the cooperative future he sees emerging between the UK and the EU post Brexit - where both will be competing as equals in a globalised world economy. But it is much more likely that the EU and the UK will end up being mortal enemies.

There are a number of reasons for this. Some are political: If Brexit succeeds in delivering a more prosperous UK, why would other countries wish to remain in the EU? Being part of a political union involves inevitable compromises and constraints on national polities. Why would they endure such constraints if there wasn't a demonstrable pay-off in terms of economic prosperity and political influence in the world?

But if Brexit is a threat to the future of the EU, so also would a relatively successful continuing EU be a threat to the UK: Not only might Scotland and N. Ireland secede to become part of that greater prosperity, but the divisions within England and Wales exposed by Brexit between Leavers and Remainers, north and south, and the winners and losers of globalisation would be exacerbated.

Brexit sets up a very dangerous dynamic whereby both the UK and the EU have a vested interest in securing their own stability by seeing the other fail. This is the stuff that wars are incubated in, even if, on this occasion, it leads to no more than an economic war. But there are also a number of reasons to suppose this economic war could be deep and long:

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Brexeternity

by Frank Schnittger Sun Nov 10th, 2019 at 04:02:49 PM EST

In all the sturm und drang around a no deal or a Boris deal Brexit, it is easy to forget that this is just the prologue. All the Brexit deal does is settle some outstanding details arising out of the UK's departure: It does very little to decide the shape of the future relationship between Great Britain and the EU.

I use the term "Great Britain" advisedly, because the one aspect of the future relationship between the EU and the UK that has been decided in the deal is that N. Ireland, will remain, for all practical purposes, in the Customs Union and Single Market (CUSM) - whatever Boris Johnson might say otherwise.

But for the rest of the UK, aka Great Britain, all options are still on the table - all the way from a no deal trade war, through trading rules dictated by WTO Treaties, to Canada+++ or Norway---; whatever that may mean. As Boris Johnson has demonstrated, it's all about the marketing: His slightly reheated and amended version of May's deal is suddenly acceptable to the hoards of hard-line ERG Brexiteers who voted against her original version three times.

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Boris off to a bad start

by Frank Schnittger Wed Nov 6th, 2019 at 10:45:29 PM EST

Boris Johnson enters the first day of the official UK general election campaign with an average lead of 11% in the 11 polls published since the House of Commons voted to hold a general election. These poll leads range from 7 to 16% and there is no discernable trend over the past week. Not too bad a start, one would have thought, until one recalls that Theresa May's lead was 19% when she called the 2017 election.

Boris Johnson's campaign launch has also been dogged by no less than three scandals on the opening day of the official campaign:

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DUP under pressure in Northern Ireland Election

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 31st, 2019 at 01:28:47 PM EST

Newton Emerson has a very interesting take on how the general election may play out in N. Ireland. The DUP currently hold 10 seats to Sinn Fein's 7, with one independent Unionist.  Essentially Northern Ireland has been re-partitioned East West between unionist and Nationalist representatives with a nationalist enclave in West Belfast.

By Furfur, Brythones - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

 

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News and Views

 December 2019

by Colman - Dec 11, 486 comments

Your take on this month's news

 End of Year (and possibly times) thread

by Colman - Dec 11, 100 comments

What could possibly go wrong?

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