The decline and fall of the final European Empire?

Posted November 16, 2017 on 7:35 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

Well, what is going to happen to the European Union in the next decade? Will it go the way of all the other attempted regimes that have come and gone since the good old days when the French, the Prussians, the Spaniards, the Habsburgs, the Nazis, the tsars, the southern Slavs and the British all spread their wings and tried to bring in their European neighbours under their protective? cover. Amazingly all of the above failed, often in deadly wars, except, arguably, Russia, with a new tsar, who shows no sign of giving up its far eastern colonial holdings, and instead  seems intent on recovering some of its old territory.
But how is the most recent attempt to bring about a united Europe doing, this time  with a capital in Brussels? If you think it is going swimmingly there lately, you haven’t been lolling around in Europe watching the whole concept of the European Union  totter while suspecting that it is slowly falling apart. The Brits have pulled one major foundation stone out, without apparently knowing what they were doing, and their absurd departure has opened possible flood gates throughout central and eastern Europe.  As in now stands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary form a solid inward-looking border buffer zone from the Baltic Sea to the Balkans with little or no loyalty to the idea that Brussels should wield the machinery of power over them.  And east of them is the wilderness, with corrupt governments ruling in half a dozen EU member states.   And no one knows where Austria will actually land – east or west -when its new government is finally announced.  Let’s face it, the EU  is now completely dependent on the resources of Germany and France, with a dash of support from the Nordic countries.  May the power be with them.

No Comments

A Warning From France

Posted April 26, 2017 on 9:50 am | In the category Election, Europe, Germany, Politics, TRUMP, Uncategorized | by Jeff

The news from France this week was marginally positive with the caveat that a crypto-fascist did come in second and will be in the run-off for President. But for now it seems that the run of Crazy might be winding down after its success in the UK Brexit vote and the election of America’s Chief Clown. Since then the Netherlands has avoided electing neofascists and now France – in the first round of what is one of the West’s most significant electoral tests since the rise of Hitler – has apparently taken a first step towards political sanity. Recognizing that if Macron wins the presidency he will most likely not have a Parliament of his own party, which will likely return France to its tried and true politics of avoidance of real issues and solutions. So the relief may be temporary.

But perhaps the most interesting lesson of this election is that France’s traditional political parties failed to place a candidate in the runoff. And that was the preferred result with the other two major candidates representing, in one instance, the historic corruption of French politicians, and in the other, the amazing capacity for craziness of the French Left. Now it is up to Macron to maintain his lead over Le Pen in the runoff and bring some reassurance not only to France but to the entire EU by waging a serious, competent campaign.

For the U.S. the warning from France was another shot across the bow of our major political parties. It is a reiteration of the warning provided by Trump and another reminder of the failure of both parties to connect to the people with policies and programs that people could understand and respect. The fact that the Republican Party now controls the Congress AND the presidency is less a positive review of their policies than a bizarre accident of fate: long-time self-identified Democrat Donald Trump ran in the Republican primaries because he understood that the competition was composed of losers like Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, etc. It is instructive that the only traditional, mainstream Republican candidate was John Kasich and he never gained any traction.

The Democrats had Hillary Clinton whose campaign never articulated a serious and convincing reason for her candidacy. “It’s her turn” was simply not enough for the millions of people who have seen their quality of life dissipate, the unfairness of the American economy, and the quality of political discourse turn into people simply yelling at each other. It did not help that Clinton had enriched herself with Wall Street speeches and then run a campaign that cheated Bernie Sanders’ followers out of a fair shake. But her failure was a lack of recognition of the depth of anger and despair among a swath of non urban voters in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. While Clinton won the popular vote she lost where it mattered among voters who are simply pissed off. And the blame is not hers so much as the Party’s, which left a large part of its membership behind and never articulated a measure of progressive hope.

The lesson from France – and from the UK and the U.S. – is that there are a lot of people who are angry, who have been left behind, who believe they don’t matter, and who have understandably lost faith in their politicians and their political parties. And then there are the 50% who don’t even bother to vote. Easy to blame them but maybe they need to believe in something for which to vote.

The warnings have been made and it is time for political parties to move beyond serving the needs of their primary funders and candidates and on to the needs of the people they claim to represent.
France’s runoff election is on May 7, and will be followed later in the year by elections in Germany. We shall see what lessons come from those events.

2 Comments

TRUMP IN CONTEXT

Posted March 10, 2017 on 5:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Politics, Press, TRUMP, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Liberalism itself has failed, and for a pretty good reason. It has been too often compromised by the people who represented it.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

So, is Donald Trump just the tip of the iceberg? Elections coming up in Europe might help tell us whether the age of Western liberal democracy is heading towards the exit.

While we rightly pay a lot of attention to the national disaster known as Trump it may be that he is only the first among many. The first clue that the West was heading into stormy weather was the UK’s Brexit vote – a vote that forced the Prime Minister out of office, replaced him with a pale imitation of Margaret Thatcher and has proven to be a first crack in the European Union. Then came Trump’s surprise win which has produced the beginnings of a major make-over of America’s economic and social reality, and not for the best.

But obsessing on Trump allows us to ignore a trend that has been developing for some time. Recent or upcoming elections in France, Hungary, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Poland have all indicated that Western liberalism is in decline. Poland now has a nationalist government with a shaky relationship to the EU; NATO member Turkey has effectively eliminated a free press while it heads toward a major policy conflict with the U.S. over Turkey’s unwillingness to accept American collaboration with Kurdish fighters in Syria; France is looking at a national election in which the National Front’s right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen is almost surely going to be one of the two finalists for President with a serious opportunity to win; The Netherlands’ parliamentary election this month is very possibly going to hand a victory to Geert Wilders’ extreme right-wing Freedom Party; and Hungary has already elected a Prime Minister who has turned the country against much of what have been Western values. Add to these, the strong arm tactics of Netanyahu in Israel, the rise of Russian influence in Serbia, and the rising risk to Merkel’s reign in Germany and we have the approach of a new world order.

There has been considerable press discussion of the role of Russia in all of this but the press might better put its efforts into exploring the failures of the West to develop and maintain working economies that provide jobs and benefits to restless, discouraged populations. There are exceptions – notably Germany and Canada – but by and large the West has produced an environment in which the gap between the rich and everyone else is growing, the opportunities for high quality lives have diminished for most people and economic growth is almost non-existent.

While Trump’s electoral victory no doubt hinged on many issues, in the states where it was decided, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin – the economy rose to the top. Whether Trump has the solution is highly questionable but a moot point. Probably he does not, but the Clinton campaign managed to largely ignore the issue and the people who felt it the most. This issue may also be playing out in France, the Netherlands, the UK and the rest of Western Europe. “It’s the economy, stupid” was the mantra that Bill Clinton ran on successfully in the 90’s; it may still reflect the dominant issue that affects the most people throughout the world and that determines the winners and losers of elections. So investment in defense grows while investment in production declines and the quality of the lives of the people our defenses protect remain in the background. Go figure.

No Comments

One last chance for Cyprus

Posted January 13, 2017 on 8:35 pm | In the category Erdogan, Europe, Greece, Turkey, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago and the always somewhat fragile agreement between Northern Ireland, part of th eUK  and the independent Irish Republic there is only one place left in Europe where a dividing line separates parts of what had once been a united country: Cyprus.    A Nomansstrip runs through the capital city of Nicosia, and beyond, that divides the country into a northern part, with an ethnic Turkish population, occupied by Turkish troops from the mainland, and an independent southern part populated by ethnic Greeks.  Previous attempts to unite the two parts have failed but once again discussions are going on.  Much depends on the approval of the Turkish government in Ankara, which is by no means a certainty, as well as agreement on land exchanges, and a method for organizing a single government for the entire island, built on two somewhat autonomous provinces.  There are many problems to be resolved, but also much to be gained if agreement can be reached.  It would in particular  be a very welcome development for the European Union, to which the southern part belongs – and the newly united one would  presumably enter – as it would be a demonstration of trust in the future of the EU despite the unwitting British effort to demolish it.  Stay tuned!

No Comments

Now you CETA, now you don’t

Posted October 14, 2016 on 5:57 pm | In the category Canada, Europe, Germany, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Picture this scene. You are sitting in the splendid bier garden in front of the splendid Jagdschloss on Rotkreuzplatz in splendid Munich on a splendid June afternoon, minding your own business while meditating on the Augustiner situated in front of you, when someone comes along and staples a poster on one of the trees affording you shade. Oh no, the political junkies have dared to come into an area off limits to them. One of the Lederhosen or Dindl servers will soon remove this poster but what is it all about? Why, it says STOPP CETA!
What is that? Never heard of it. Read on and you find out it is the proposed Canada-European Free Trade Pact. They never pay any attention here to Canada, unless the hockey team is pummelling the German one, so what do they care about a free trade pact? As it turns out, by mid-October this is the headline event in the papers. On October 27 Prime Minister Trudeau, his photo once again prominently displayed (Journalists just eat up his good looks and youth on a continent where politics is dominated by unappealing old men – Merkel is an exception but not on the youth side), is supposed to sign the CETA agreement, already approved by the EU representatives. But now that the UK has bizarrely left (or so it seems) the European club, the fractures in the among unity of the rest of Europe are becoming more and more evident.
It turns out that CETA, and any foreign agreement approved by the EU must after that be approved by the parliaments of each country. BREXIT has changed the rules on this.  If the Brits can just take their ball and go home, so can anybody else on the supposed team. And anybody else includes some real wild cards these days; Hungary, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, even Denmark and the Nethelands, have very different views about immigration and globalization, for instance, than do Germany and Sweden.
But experts are willing to bet that all of these countries will sign the document when it is on the table in Brussels on October 27.After all, as has been pointed out by many leaders, if you can’t make a free-trade deal with Canada, the non-European land that is closest in its laws and general views to those of Europe, who could they make a deal with?
But they had all forgotten Belgium, the least governable country in the EU. It turns out, as they now all know, that the Belgian constitution says that each of the three main parts of Belgium – the French-speaking Walloons in the south, multilingual Brusselians in the centre and the Dutch-speaking Flems of the north – must agree unanimously or the government in Brussels cannot give Belgian approval. And now it is the Walloons who seem to be leaning to saying no, thus scuttling the whole deal, which took 7 years of negotiate. No doubt they we will be facing tremendous pressure in the next two weeks – the French President is there as we speak – but it may be that this CETA Non-Pact will signal the end of a functioning united Europe – and of the Euro, if it does not get signed on that table on October 27.

No Comments

The Brexit and other comedies

Posted July 19, 2016 on 4:33 pm | In the category Europe, Palin, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

Remember the good old days when the very concept of British comedy was not an oxymoron? Shakespeare had several good shows, Alec Guiness and the lads were terrific as a bunch of bungling robbers or, on occasion, even ladykillers. The Carry on Boys carried on in their (to many folks) hilarious ways and Marty Feldman and the crew added a touch of lunacy to the overall mixture. And let’s not forget the young Peter Sellers as a union boss, an Indian second-string actor mistakenly invited to a Hollywood party, or the many-gendered leaders of a mock republic. And to top it all off, there were the incomparable Pythons, who dominated tv for nearly a decade, adding such signature lines   to the general vocabulary as the brave Sir Robin’s admonition to the  band of  (un)happy warriors to “run away, run away” when under pressure, or Sir Gawain’s analysis of his physical condition – “it’s just a scratch” – as his limbs are lopped off  by the giant guardian of the road.

But is has been several decades since the Pythons ruled the comedy world, and it is with a sigh of relief that the world (or at least the European part of it) was treated to a new English comedy team arguably outperforming even John Cleese, Michael Palin, Erik Idle and the lads in their cleverness and creativity on the comedy front.  Now the cast of characters in this fiasco  is supposed  to include a prime minister, who demanded a plebiscite on leaving Europe, on the assumption that it would lose and his female replacement, when it didn’t,   the leader of the opposition (or one of the oppositions) and a windbag of a mayor with a Trump-copied hairdo, who has learned only one thing – to turn with the wind. And amazingly these were all real people, and they got the chance to act out their roles in real history, if their is such a thing, (can the US election really be real?)  and they succeeded in acting with a comic touch that impressed even veteran theatre people, though some thought that their frequent attempts at farce were a bit much.   And then, to top it off, each of the leaders of the Brexit, boys, taking the brave Sir Robyn’s advice to heart, jumped ship after they had won, which they could hardly believe and had no idea of what to do afterwards. (They are not the only ones)  The cartoonists of the German papers could hardly believe their luck as they sketched out the clownish crew racing for the row boats to escape in.  Now some critics have pointed out that this is a  plot too heavily drawn from French bedroom farces (and this at a time when the French Prime Minister is most memorable as the guy who hopped on his vespa wearing a moonman helmet in order to scoot off to his mistress one evening while his bodyguard followed in a car, or was it a bike?). In summary, the prime minister, assuming that his plan would fail, actually had misread the tea leaves and was forced to resign when the votes were counted, the  loud-mouthed supporters of leaving Europe actually had no intention (and no plan) of actually doing so and disappeared as fast as they could, and the new female prime minister immediately named the most outlandish of the Brexiters to be the new foreign minister.  He was met with derision of course by his European counterparts, some of which are real heavyweights unused to clowns and said so.

My brother and I had the great pleasure of being part of an overflow crowd on the day after Brexit in front of the large public-viewing screens in the Löwenbräu Biergarten in Munich, watching the European soccer championship quarter-final match between the Icelandic team, drawn from a country with 330,000 citizens, and England, drawn from a country with about 20o times as many people.  There was a table of Englishman near us, and a table of Icelanders not far away, and they of course each cheered for their home teams, though the English table became silent as the game progressed.  The rest of the crowd was made up mainly of other Europeans , who cheered loudly every time Iceland had the ball and marched triumphantly out onto the streets after Iceland won.  It was of course to some extent just a show of overwhelming support for a complete underdog but it was also certainly also a sign of the dark future for Great Britain’s future relationship with Europe.  And maybe that’s not so funny after all.

1 Comment

Is Humpty Europe going to fall?

Posted September 17, 2015 on 5:30 pm | In the category Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Like the fate of Humpy Dumpty, the decline and fall of the European Union – an event that has been long predicted by Euroskeptics – seems to be  gathering steam  from the southern Hungarian border to the English Channel. It is actually too early to proclaim that the Union, that had been so remarkably successful in tearing down the previously carefully guarded national borders of Europe, is just about to fall, but it has certainly moved closer to the edge, and if it goes over it is certain that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will never put Humpty Europe together again. And neutral observers are watching in horror as the walls between European states are being put back up, only 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it is not because of the economic crisis that threatened European unity in the face of  the prospect of Greek bankruptcy (see the contribution of Mr. Jeff of July 14) which certainly didn’t help any sense of a united Europe, but was salvageable through masses amounts of money and also did not include the states that maintained their own currency, notably the UK and Scandinavia (minus Finland)

Now the fall is much more imminent because the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees – including many from the Balkans who are really economic refugees, and no doubt a fair number of potential terrorists from the war-torn Middle East and Africa – has literally torn away the platitudes that speak of European unity. For good reasons, the refugees want to end up in Germany or Sweden, or perhaps Austria, the only countries that have indicated they would welcome them,  But to get there they would have to get across the dangerous Hungarian-Serbian border that is now clearly marked with a razor-blade fence. The United Kingdom, which never signed the Schengen accord that opened European borders, has been markedly uninterested in providing safe haven that is remotely similar to its actions during World War Two. Smaller  wealthy countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have disrupted travel into or through their borders. Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France and others are understandably very unhappy with the inevitable growth on their soil of very right wing anti-immigrant parties. Amazingly, 70 years after the war that it organized and lost catastrophically, only Germany (and perhaps Sweden) has made a convincing public stand that it would welcome open borders for the refugees.

This is no doubt to a large extent because of the convincing insistence of its leader, Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, that it is its moral duty to show a human face to desperate people in need. But Germany too now seems to be reaching its breaking point as it foresees as many as 1 million refugees  arriving on its soil by the end of the year  and has made no progress in getting other European countries, other than Sweden, to share the burden. While a very right wing party still seems out of the question in  once fascist-controlled Germany, the prospect of a truly welcoming arrival for so many refugees in one country also seems more and more to be a naive prognosis. Germany too will have a great deal of domestic (and economic?) problems hosting such gigantic numbers.  There is still some time for Europe to get its act together, but it seems increasingly probable that the various performers will be able to act as an ensemble.

1 Comment

Merkel, Schaeuble and the Beginning of the End of a United Europe

Posted July 14, 2015 on 8:38 am | In the category Economy, Europe, Germany, Greece, Merkel | by Jeff

So, the Eurozone and the Greeks have dodged a bullet…or have they? and should they have? Below is a slightly edited exchange between an American former expat retiree and his friend who has lived in Europe for over twenty years. The former (A) lived in Munich and Prague for ten years; the latter (B) an American lawyer/businessman who has lived and worked in Europe for over twenty years.

A: What are your thoughts on Merkel and her Finance Monster – ur – Minister?

B: Repulsion. Same as for Greek governments of all denominations. Lying #### the lot of them. . Plague on German Volk and Greek governments. Tyrants and enslavers. There are no tyrants but that there are slaves. Politicians (particularly Greek ones) are slaves to the indulgence of their own power and so sell their people into slavery to keep their personal indulgence. And Hollande, …. He is a nothing. He was fighting Merkel just so as to keep France punching far above its weight for another few years.

In my opinion Greece should vote itself out of the Euro and the currency would soar (to my benefit admittedly). That not good for Angela. Good for Greek people who could get on with their lazy ways and devalue their currency whenever it was convenient for them. Good for principles. Good precedent for Portuguese, Spanish and probably Irish people. Bad for their incumbent governments.

If the people do not want an EU then there should not be one. If they want one they should have fiscal and political union and give up nation states except during the World Cup. That is the point my favorite economist misses. Wolfgang Munchau (Financial Times) is usually better but I think he has never known a non=integrated Europe and often forgets that indeed it is a utility for the benefit of people. Mostly of little people. :

A: Most of what I have read leading up to last night’s “negotiations” started with the premise that the Euro without political unity of some sort was doomed to struggle if not fail. Pickety, Stiglitz and Krugman, and many other professional economists have suggested that the best answer for Greece is to leave the Eurozone and work out their troubles with a new Drachma. In fact as Munchau says, it might be good also for other countries. (i.e. Ireland, Portugal, Spain) I have felt that Germany had simply found a new way to dominate the rest of Europe for its own parochial benefit, this time in a less obviously malign way. And sure, the Greeks have been led by crooks for years and many Greeks don’t work as hard as they might….and of course not as hard as the Germans claim to work. But austerity is a self indulgent exercise designed by Schaeuble, implemented by Merkel for the self interest of Germany, and the rest of Europe ends up participating in their own damage. As for the Greeks sleeping in the street waiting for the ATM s to,open and picking through garbage, they are simply collateral damage.

It is especially galling for me to see Merkelmania produce a heroine out of a local politician playing to her Calvinist voters while humiliating a fellow European country and forcing that country to accept absurd, counter-productive austerity programs designed to impoverish itself so it can accept so-called bail out money, which they then give to German banks. Ergo, a perfect ploy by the Germans, who then applaud themselves for their moral stance. This is not going to end well.

2 Comments

The Lion and the Lioness Part Two

Posted February 17, 2015 on 10:24 pm | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

As predicted in the same-titled blog of not so long ago, (Part One), a 60 year-old woman who does not care about charisma, and lives in a modest apartment in Berlin, rather than a mansion, is now the undisputed most powerful woman in existence. Angela Merkel has also earned the right to at least  be considered the most powerful and respected political leader in the world. The German Kanzlerin seems to be the only one still willing to take her position seriously.as someone who just might be able to talk to enough lions who might be convinced to see solutions other than aggression, killing  and warfare to solve the world’s miserable problems these days.  She may well fail, but at least somebody is trying.

Seconded only by a large security detail, and in Europe by the President of France, die Kanzlerin pushed herself to the edge of exhaustion by visiting Kiew, Moscow, Munich , Berlin (f0r a pit stop)  Ottawa, Washington and Minsk in one week, delivering speeches and talking with  leaders who are missing in action in all of them except Russia, where Putin is very much in action.  By skipping London and spending as much time in Ottawa as in Washington, whose leader recently refused to meet either with the President of Israel or the Dalai Lama, Merkel made a statement of her own about the  support she could have expected but has not received in attempting to stop an all out war in Europe.  She herself has said that all that it has resulted in only a shimmer of hope.   But that’s one more  shimmer than anyone else has been  willing to risk his/her own health to produce.

4 Comments

The Lion and the Lioness

Posted November 26, 2014 on 3:07 am | In the category Europe, Germany, Russia | by Mackenzie Brothers

The fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago left a vacuum at the top of the two countries that have dominated Europe  for almost a century, or at least since Great Britain made it clear it didn’t really feel itself to be part of Europe , and which has trouble understanding how little greatness it still possesses and France began electing leaders whose main claim to fame is that  they take Vespas to visit their mistresses,  followed by paparazzi, a scene that seems to have stepped right out of a parody of La Dolce Vita.   Speaking of which, I’ll bet you will know the name of the last visible prime minister of bankrupt Italy, but not of the current one.  And if you take a look at the photo op of the 20 leaders who recently  gathered at the G20 meeting in Brisbane, you get high marks if you can identify more than five of these minnows.  But there are two among them you should know, one of the two women in  the photo, a rather nondescript looking German woman, and a tough-looking Russian, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.

These two have known each  other for most of the time the wall has  been down, can speak each other’s languages,  and supposedly held lengthy private conversation in Brisbane without interpreters, and they didn’t hold them in English.  No one could claim that this daughter of a Lutheran minister in an  atheistic country dominated by the Soviet Union and the KGB’s man in the historic East German city of Dresden are friends..  But  a sort of grudging respect for each other – and each other’s country – seems to have become one of the casualties of Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine and his potential plans to reclaim other former parts of the Soviet Union.  It seems that  Frau Merkel has finally had enough of the bully she long tolerated on the assumption that bluster and theatrics were an  acceptable price to pay if German-Russian relations remained reasonably stable.  And by displaying over the years a quiet  resolution to manage Germany with moderation and respect for its newly-won dominating position in  Europe, she seems to have also now won the right to strike back at an aggressive Russian and currently has the highest domestic approval rate – after 15 years on power – of any leader in the world.  Putin is also very popular in Russia and we can only hope that  economic and political pressure will now convince him to withdraw the troops, settle down into reflected glory of Russia that has certainly regained the word’s attention under Putin’s rule and let the world worry about great problems threatening all of it elsewhere.

1 Comment
Next Page »

Powered by WordPress with Pool theme design by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds. Valid XHTML and CSS. ^Top^