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

The political effects of electoral voting systems

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 13th, 2020 at 05:18:05 PM EST

Read more... (968 words in story)

The Set Up?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 24th, 2020 at 09:46:56 AM EST

In Ireland we are used to insulting, malevolent, and utterly ignorant commentaries on our affairs in the British tabloids in particular, but also in "respectable" broadsheets like the Telegraph, and supposedly sophisticated magazines like the Spectator.

"Lttle Leo" was portrayed as the EU's Lapdog doing their bidding at the behest of Macron or whoever was the EU bully-du-jour. He was running scared of Sinn Féin and adopting their policies. He was regularly told to shut up and stop interfering as Great Britain went about its Great Brexit business.

In the past week two articles in the British media have offered a startlingly different perspective. The Editorial in the Guardian "an enviable beauty is born", was the less surprising. The Guardian is often more sympathetic to Irish (and Remainer) views, and even features Irish Times columnist, Fintan O'Toole, on occasion to offer an Irish perspective.

But if anything, it was the Economist which was the more gushing this week:

Read more... (7 comments, 1485 words in story)

Poor Spectator Sports

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jul 23rd, 2020 at 08:27:55 AM EST

For a prestigious UK magazine, the Spectator does print some rubbishy articles, easily debunked. Unfortunately this one by Matthew Lynn, Europe's coronavirus rescue fund is dead on arrival," has now disappeared behind a paywall on the Spectator's main site but is still available in their US Edition (linked to above).

This is my riposte published in the Irish Times (second letter down). It begins by praising an Irish Times article, as this is the best way to get a letter published!

Read more... (17 comments, 965 words in story)

The new demographics

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 18th, 2020 at 12:46:55 PM EST

Text below, in case the above image doesn't render properly...

Read more... (4 comments, 631 words in story)

Winning Diplomacy

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 10th, 2020 at 09:00:11 AM EST


Ireland has scored a few significant diplomatic victories in recent times in getting the EU, and ultimately Boris Johnson, to accept its position on the N. Ireland border and winning a seat on the UN Security Council against strong opposition from Canada.

Paschal Donohoe's election as President of the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers yesterday may not seem like much of a coup to casual observers, but it was gained against strong opposition from Spain's Finance Minster Nadia Calvino, who had been favoured by France, Germany and some Mediterranean countries as an economist with experience working within the EU institutions who would make the argument for a generous response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Read more... (22 comments, 1102 words in story)

Covid-19 and foreign holidays

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 8th, 2020 at 07:30:58 AM EST

The Irish Times has published an edited version of my letter on Covid-19 and travelling on foreign holidays. The context of the letter is an increasingly polarised debate on-line about the merits of doing so. For the past couple of weeks Ireland, north and south, has been on the cusp of eliminating the virus completely, with only a handful of deaths and between 4 and 24 new cases per day. Some days have seen no deaths at all, and an increasing proportion of new cases have been related to foreign travel.

Read more... (24 comments, 1290 words in story)

Too pessimistic? (Edited)

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 3rd, 2020 at 12:55:45 PM EST


Some things will never be the same again and to imagine it will soon be 'business as usual' may well be wishful thinking. Photo: Aine McMahon/PA Wire

The Irish Independent (and Irish Examiner) have published my letter on the possible end of a golden age for European politics. Apparently some browsers aren't rendering the screen grab of the letter properly, so I reproduce below the fold the image, text and link.

Read more... (28 comments, 447 words in story)

Green centre right government formed

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jun 27th, 2020 at 02:39:09 PM EST

One of the elemental proprieties of democracy has been enacted  in Ireland today with the handing over of the office of Taoiseach from Leo Varadker, leader of Fine Gael, to Michael Martin, Leader of Fine Fail. The two civil war parties of Ireland are coalescing for the first time in tandem with the Greens.

Bitter personal rivalries and some policy differences have been set aside after the three parties agreed to coalesce on the basis of a 129 page programme for government endorsed by large majorities of their party memberships in the case of Fianna Fail, and the Greens, and an electoral college within Fine Gael.

The formation of the Government brings to an end an unprecedented 15 week hiatus since the General Election last February when no government could be formed for lack of an agreement between parties representing a majority in the Dail. Failure to agree would, most probably, have resulted in a second general election to resolve the impasse.

Read more... (1 comment, 781 words in story)

New Government to be formed in Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jun 16th, 2020 at 11:44:34 AM EST


Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Caroline Quinn/Damien Eagers/Leon Farrell/PA Wire


The Fianna Fail (FF), Fine Gael (FG) and Green parties have agreed a 50,000 word, 126 page programme for government which will now be put to the party memberships of FF and the Greens and an electoral college within FG for final approval. Approval is expected in FF and FG, but the two thirds majority of members required by the Green party constitution may prove a more difficult hurdle. Hence the ? in the title.

Read more... (10 comments, 994 words in story)

It's not easy being Green

by Frank Schnittger Sun Jun 7th, 2020 at 11:26:49 PM EST

Both the Irish Times: Leadership and the Green Party, and the Independent have published my letter to the editor today:

Read more... (9 comments, 1324 words in story)

Countering Karlsruhe

by Frank Schnittger Thu May 28th, 2020 at 11:43:51 AM EST

Read more... (3 comments, 822 words in story)

The Primacy of EU law

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 25th, 2020 at 03:43:08 PM EST

I am upbraided by an email correspondent for my article on Karlsruhe and German exceptionalism as follows:

Dear Mr. Schnittger,

as long time reader of the I usually agree with most of you opinions. However, your comment on the German decision of the Bundesverfassungsgericht misses by far the point in a few instances.

The major issue of the Judge Huber was  that in Germany (and according to Huber also other countries) the Basic Law/constitution sets the highest bar, it cannot be changed by a European court. There was and is a conflict that has to be solved.

"If the German court can be allowed to superimpose its own judgement on an EU policy it doesn't like, what's to prevent all other member states doing the same?" only points to the fact, that you do not understand the issue. To complain that a German judge points to this conflict is therefore weak, the EU is not one country, it is a union of sovereign states, that causes problems. Ignoring the problems solves nothing.

"Is the Merkel/Macron proposal for the EU to borrow and spend €500 Billion a direct response to the Karlsruhe ruling?"

Again a miss by a wide margin. There was never a discussion whether there is support for the countries hit hardest by the corona visrus epidemic, only the legal framework was. The judge Huber did NOT exclude some means, he only requested a better reasoning, this should be easy for the EU. And a larger EU budget as suggested for the 500 billion EUR is of course perfectly within the legal framework given by judge Huber.

"Far from being slow to condemn Karlsruhe, Ireland should be equanimous about the prospect of Germany leaving the Eurozone, if that is what it really wants to do, as the logic of the Judges ruling seems to suggest."

Nonsensical conclusion.

Best regards in the hope to read high quality article in future again.

Read more... (12 comments, 1717 words in story)

Karlsruhe and German exceptionalism

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 20th, 2020 at 02:49:31 AM EST


Michael McDowell
, prominent barrister, senator, Irish Times columnist, and former Tanaiste (deputy prime minister), Leader of the (now defunct) Progressive Democratic party, Attorney General, Minister for Justice, and leading advocate for the neo-liberal policies which devastated the Irish economy in 2008-2011, has written a column in the Irish Times basically supporting the Karlsruhe judgement.

This is hot on the heals of Fintan O'Toole taking McDowell to task for his new role of deficit-scold-in-chief, having been entirely profligate while a Minister of the disastrous 2002-2007 Fianna Fail Progressive Democrat government. As I noted in the comments to that article:

"Deficit Scolds" is the term of art to describe those far right economists (like Rogoff) who criticise all spending when the Democrats are in power and give free licence to Republicans to run up far bigger deficits whenever they are in power - usually on tax cuts for the rich. As Dick Cheny said: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" when it comes to rewarding the rich, even if this is the most economically inefficient form of "spending" any state can opt for. Michael McDowell fits the description admirably.

But it is his view on Karlsruhe that concern me here. I have responded, in the comments, as follows:

Read more... (26 comments, 864 words in story)

Test Test Test

by Frank Schnittger Fri May 15th, 2020 at 12:14:18 PM EST

The data above (sorted by total deaths per country) is taken from Worldometer with the exception of two calculated column (in red) of confirmed case mortality rates (deaths/confirmed cases) and % positive tests (confirmed cases/tests) which I have added to illustrate the degree of testing which is happening in each country. Obviously the more widespread and intensive the testing regime, the lower the % positive rate you are going to get. Conversely, countries which only test the most obvious cases, usually on admission to hospital, will return a much higher % positive rate.

Read more... (39 comments, 978 words in story)

The Joys of Spring

by Frank Schnittger Mon May 4th, 2020 at 02:04:15 PM EST

One of the reasons the lock down in Ireland has garnered less opposition than might be expected is that we are currently enjoying glorious May sunshine having had a much sunnier than average April. Temperatures of 10-15 degrees with an absolute max of 20 degrees recently may not seem like much to our European neighbours, but hey, this is Ireland, and we will take this kind of weather any day.

As I write my 6 month old grand daughter is enjoying her first outdoor bath in warmed water under a clear blue sky and a light breeze in blissful 12 degrees sunshine. Many Irish people regard 20 degrees as hot, and 25 degrees an almost unbearable heatwave. There is a reason our forebears migrated northwards out of Africa, but I have always wondered why the war loving Vikings focused on polar climes. Surely population and military pressures from the south couldn't have been that bad?

Read more... (13 comments, 877 words in story)

Growing Old?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 29th, 2020 at 03:33:58 PM EST

As an old radical I now sometimes find myself in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of defending a conservative party led government. There was a time when I couldn't locate myself anywhere on the Irish political spectrum, such was my disenchantment with everything that passed for politics in Ireland.

I could just about associate myself with campaigning groups like Amnesty International and the Irish anti-Apartheid movement but never felt comfortable with the idea of joining any political party. As Groucho Marx is reputed to have said: I refused to join any club that would have me as a member.

Read more... (11 comments, 2337 words in story)

Growing old?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 29th, 2020 at 03:31:10 PM EST

As an old radical I now sometimes find myself in the unaccustomed and uncomfortable position of defending a conservative party led government. There was a time when I couldn't locate myself anywhere on the Irish political spectrum, such was my disenchantment with everything that passed for politics in Ireland.

I could just about associate myself with campaigning groups like Amnesty International and the Irish anti-Apartheid movement but never felt comfortable with the idea of joining any political party. As Groucho Marx is reputed to have said: I refused to join any club that would have me as a member.

Read more... (2107 words in story)

Of Corona bonds and viruses

by Frank Schnittger Sun Apr 26th, 2020 at 11:41:39 AM EST

There is no doubt that having a common currency like the Euro has been a net benefit for most members, most of the time. For a net exporting country like Germany it eliminates one barrier (currency fluctuations and exchange costs) to trade. For a small economy like Ireland it can also avoid the wild fluctuations in currency value experienced by our previous currency, the punt, which could be gamed by a medium sized hedge fund. Businesses crave predictability and eliminating exchange rate fluctuations and costs helps provide that.

Read more... (45 comments, 1161 words in story)

Nirvana around the corner?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Apr 23rd, 2020 at 02:41:24 AM EST

Letters to the Editor, Irish Times. The realities of forming a government

Sir, - If we are to believe Fintan O'Toole and Una Mullally, nirvana is just around the corner and all we have to do is boot Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael out of power (Fintan O'Toole, "FF and FG have produced a colouring book for adults", Opinion & Analysis, April 21st; Una Mullally, "Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael exposed as intellectually dead", Opinion & Analysis, April 20th).

There is no mention, never mind analysis, of the alternative policies on offer from the vast majority of TDs who were elected in February on a platform of booting Fine Gael out of office, and who have as yet, unaccountably, failed to form an alternative government.

Could it be that these change- supporting TDs are all clamouring to join the opposition because they realise that anything but nirvana is likely to be on offer over the next few years?

Not only will the economy have to be rebuilt from a base at least 10 per cent lower than we achieved in 2019, but the costs of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, together with the costs of Brexit, global corporate tax reform, global trade wars, and combating climate change will have to be borne before we can even think of regaining the average standard of living we enjoyed in 2019.

Certainly we can address issues such as income inequality, housing, healthcare, childcare and care of the elderly, but we will be doing so, in all likelihood, out of an economy and tax base far smaller than we enjoyed in 2019. The notion that some of us are not going to have to pay a lot more tax so that more of us can benefit is fanciful. We will be lucky to retain existing benefits even if we all pay a lot more tax.

Certainly, in the short term, we can borrow more to ease the pain. [Last Monday] We paid off a €10.6 billion debt taken out in 2004 which was costing us €450 million a year in real money ("State will save close to €450 million a year as it redeems a €10.6 billion bond", Business, April 20th). Right now we can replace that borrowing at near 0 per cent interest rates, but how long will that last when almost every nation on earth tries to tap the debt markets on a vast scale?

And with Italy on the verge of bankruptcy, I wouldn't be counting on the EU and ECB to come running to our rescue.

As the Chinese curse would have it, we live in interesting times. - Yours, etc,

FRANK SCHNITTGER,

Read more... (1562 words in story)

Comparing different approaches to Covid-19 containment

by Frank Schnittger Wed Apr 22nd, 2020 at 01:05:52 AM EST


Table 1 - countries listed in order of cases per million people (Source Real Clear Politics). All data taken at midnight GMT 21/22 April.

We are used to seeing these league tables with the USA, Italy, Spain, France and the UK on top, but when you adjust the data for population size, it turns out that Luxembourg, Spain, Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland are the hardest hit so far. Of course that may also be due to the fact that these countries have tested more than others - see table 4 below.

Read more... (56 comments, 922 words in story)
Next 20 >>

News and Views

 July 2020

by Bernard - Jul 5, 76 comments

Your take on this month's news

 Dog Days Open Thread

by Bernard - Aug 8, 1 comment

I had a joke about infinity...

Occasional Series
Click for full list