Posts Tagged ‘europe’

It’s not just the politicians that should rethink things

November 10, 2016

First Brexit. Now Trump. It seems fairly clear who holds the responsibility for this: those smarmy world leaders that are at the heart of the political establishment, which now has been very much shaken and could even be crumbling. They didn’t take Greece’s pain seriously. They chose to bail out the banks rather than let them gracefully unwind. They trounced all over Keynes’ legacy and dogmatically welded themselves to the idea behind austerity and then, when people pointed out that actually curtailing spending might not be the best way to stimulate growth, growled and snarled.

But this initial analysis is simple and unfair. It is certainly true that the politicians have for too many years acted with contempt for a large portion of society, but it seems that they are not alone.

Where are all these Trump supporters? Where are all the Brexit voters? Hidden? Ashamed? Frightened of being seen to rock this cozy establishment?

On social media, the only comments I seem to be reading is that the world is in some sort of crisis and a kind of incredulity that people could actually consider voting for Brexit or electing Trump. I.e, are people really this stupid?

But this misses the fundamental point of what has driven people in this direction, and until people start reflecting on that society is going to have a hard time stitching itself back together. Yes, politicians have acted with arrogance and contempt that beggars belief, but they appear not to be alone.

Suddenly, those who for years have lent their support to the political establishment find themselves in the minority, and that is an uncomfortable feeling.

With Brexit, I was strongly divided. I saw the benefits that staying could bring, but I also see the EU as an undemocratic supranational entity that does things its own way with little regard for due legal process upon which our societies have been built.

Had I been able to vote in the US election, though, there is not a snowball’s chance in Hell that I would have chosen Trump. There was nothing in his rhetoric that endeared me to him and, although Clinton had her baggage, she was the least bad choice of the two.

But recoiling in horror from the outcome and despairing at the stupidity of the supporters of Trump – or for that manner the voters for Brexit, who I do feel some affinity towards – just misses the point.

Something is changing with our societies and people are rocking the boat.

Politicians must start to understand why. We must, too.

The awesomeness that is New York

October 3, 2012
Image

The might of New York – a better picture will be forthcoming shortly

It’s quite impossible to walk through downtown Manhatton without being overawed by the concrete jungle towering above. During my week in New York, I have tried time and time again to stroll nonchalently through the monolithic structures towering overhead.

Today, stomping my way towards the Empire State Building (one of the singularly most impressive buildings in the city, even though it may no longer be the tallest), I determined not to look up at the looming giants above, and certainly not to let any feeling of wonderment to cross my face. But it was all for nought.

The city truly is remarkable. Not only because it is a city of mightily tall buildings, but because there are so many of them, crowded together in such a small place.

Over the weekend, I took a trip to the Statue of Liberty, itself the equivalent of 23 stories. It was erected at the end of the 19th century, at a time when the tallest building in Mangatton was a modest five stories. Then, in the first half of the 20 century, everything seemed to go crazy – and the world of the skyskraper was born.

New York is a city where you really feel the might of America.

Coming back today from a number of fruitful meetings, I witnessed a thoroughly peculiar incident on the city’s metro. People were laughing. The metro was horrendously crowded, the press of weary city types pressing closely together made things uncomfortably hot (despite the air-conditioning, I should add; London take note: the tube here has air-con!) and everyone was no doubt tired. But people were laughing! Complete strangers cracking jokes with one another.

I was so shocked I decided to look around the tube. Okay, there were quite a few people gazing wearily at the floor, but many others appeared relaxed, lying back, glancing around from time to time at other passengers, as the vehicle trundled through the labyrinthine tunnels of underground New York. There seemed to be no taboo on meeting people’s eyes.

These are just two positive observations from my time in New York, which perhaps give some indication of why America will continue to do well in an era of the rising Asian tigers, and why Europe is destined for weary decline, unpleasantly sandwiched between the East and the West.

Power and optimism.

Democracy. Pah.

November 10, 2011

So. Two European leaders have fallen in the space of a week. George Papandreou of Greece. And Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. It was probably inevitable.

Well, Silvio Berlusconi probably won’t be too missed. Sure, he had a core base of support – that was, after all, why he kept getting elected. But this core base was weakening all the time. The rest of the free world tended to regard him as rather a joke. I never ever met an Italian abroad that had any time for the guy. Either these Italians were terrific actors or they really were running away from their country because of the man in charge.

And George Papandreou? Well, the world probably wouldn’t have known who the fellow was if Greece hadn’t been thrown centre stage by appalling economic misfortune. He’s gone. Few will shed a tear.

And in their place?

Well, here come the technocrats…

The question is: is this a good thing?

The elected politicians have so effectively buggered things up that one is tempted to think that, yes, appointing unelected officials to the countries of Greece and Italy might actually not be a bad idea. Perhaps Spain, Portugal and Ireland could do with a dose of this too. Hell, how about my own country, the UK, how about having unelected officials telling us how to run our lives? That would be neat. Especially if they stick two fingers up to the Conservatives and Lib Dems and tell people that, actually, as a matter of fact, education is important and screw all you hypocritical suits who want to deny a free choice of education to the masses.

It looks as though Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner, might form one of the central planks of Italy’s technocratic government. I’m finding it hard to resist clapping my hands together and exclaiming “yay!”, which would be highly unprofessional.

Having covered competition policy in Brussels for a couple of years, I know Mario Monti reasonably well. I know how he works. I interviewed him on countless occasions. Out of all the commissioners I ever saw whilst in Brussels, it is Sig. Monti that I hold in highest regard. Throughout his five year tenure, not once did I see him falter. Not once did he waver in the face of unfavourable press coverage. He simply kept his head down and got on with the job that had to be done, which is namely to make sure there is a favourable and open playing field for everyone in Europe. Never once did I see him try to glorify his position. He did what had to be done. Yes, I have tremendous respect for Sr Monti.

I might point out here that, within the European Union, the competition policy is the most powerful dossier to have. In actual fact, the Competition Commissioner could even be considered more powerful than the President of the Commission. This is because most decisions within the Competition Directorate are not subject to codecision procedure. They do not need to be approved by the European Parliament or the Council. Whatever the Competition Commissioner says – subject to approval by fellow Commissioners, who usually wave things through – goes.

This makes perfect sense. It removes politics from the whole process. Imagine if approval for state aid was subjected to the same political wrangling that we usually see within the European Parliament and Council. Or if cartels were built and destroyed on the whims of member states. Europe just wouldn’t function at all. This is why carte blanche is given to the EU’s Competition Commissioner. And Sig. Monti performed the job admirably.

Is this what we need in those EU member states, like Greece and Italy, that have squandered the wealth of their citizens? Some level-headed technocrat, appointed at the whim of Germany, and who can sort are sorry mess out.

I would say that this is an extremely dangerous precedent and points to all that is wrong with the EU.

For all it’s obvious shortcomings, democracy is one of the greatest strengths that Europe has. If we don’t like what a politician is doing, then all we have to do is turn up at the ballot box and vote him (or her) out of office. The entire world might criticise Berlusconi for being such a womanising clown, but the point is that he was voted into office in a free-and-fair election. Of course, as my Italian wife might point out, democracy only works so far. Berlusconi is no doubt able to dazzle the public through his wealth and glamour. His media empire helps a great deal, too.

But, at the end of the day, European voters aren’t stupid. Politicians might think they are, but they aren’t. Just because me and my wife (and just about every Italian I meet) think Berlusconi a clown, doesn’t mean that this is representative of what the Italian population as a whole thinks. It just, unfortunately, reflects the circles that we move in. People are voting for Berlusconi in large numbers. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been in office.

I don’t read the Sun. That doesn’t mean that the Sun, the bestselling newspaper in the UK, is inherently wrong. It just means that I am out of touch with the way that most people in Britain think.

Are you seeing where I am going with this blog entry yet?

Is it really right for a small break-away community of European countries, led by Germany, to force an unelected government on Italy? Even if one of the Italians that I admire the most in the whole world would play a key role?

Democracy may not be great. It may have more gaping holes than a wedge of Swiss Cheese.

But right now it is all we have. So please don’t take it away from us.