Sunday, 28 June 2009

Economic crisis and the meaning of politics

I have read an interesting interview with George Soros. For those who do not know he is a Hungarian financial invester who earned a lot of money on currency speculation (British pound in the 1990) and parallely started giving a lot of money to the developement of democracy in Central Europe (Open Institute). He warns that we still do not know the real magnitude of the economic crisis and that he believes it will be much deeper than we imagine.
For some years now the Chinese model of state capitalism will prevail. The role of China, India and Brasil will grow while that of US will fade. Nothing will be the same cause the fundamental belief of recent 20 years - that markets tend to automatically seek equilibrium has proved false. And that living on credit has finished when nobody wants to risk another credit.

What is the impact of the above on the politics in general? I think that politics will have to move back to the area which it has left to the specialists - bankers, insurers etc. The new agenda will paradoxically be: not only 'better regulation' but we cannot trust markets - financial markets especially.

But unfortunately Barroso, who put better regulation as a paramount preoccupation of his first term as Commission President, he failed to deliver in the view of the public (at least from our current perspective). I do not want to say that he is guilty for the financial crisis. The whole economists community is guilty for the epistemic mistake we took as a new truth. The problem with Barroso is that in normal times his conciliatory approach, niceness would win him another term. I am afraid (am I?) that this will not prove to be a winning policy this time. Politics needs scapegoats and somebody who has been perceived as supporting liberalisation and markets is a perfect bird to shoot at.

The paradox is that the subjective 'losers' of the last European elections - the Socialists are now rediscovering the meaning of confrontational politics. Probably to a large extent due to the approaching September elections in Germany, Mr Schultz is flexing his muscles in the name of Socialists. And as says Euobserver ( the Socialists and Greens want to block a quick confirmation of Barroso for his new term. If this political position wins, there is a great risk that the grand coalition in the EP (PSE and EPP) shall be jeopardised once and for all. If Barroso is elected with the votes of EPP, Liberals and the New Conservative Block (together 401 votes - simple majority needed out of 732 MEPs) this will alter the consesus which has prevailed over the last 30 years (with the small exception of EP presidency by Pat Cox).

But coming back to the larger world context, this will not be business as usual anymore. Probably next 10 years will show an unprecedented level of international strain and conflicts. Soros predicts that international institutions will roll back - they will lack the backing of state leaders. I think there is great time now for a new analysis of the political consequences of the Great Depression. We talk about Hitler as the main cause of the WWII but we often forget in what situation he came to power. A situation when the German (Weimar) parliamentary democracy faced 25% of unemployment rate (6M jobless). But we often lose from perspective that the 30ties were the years of growing authoritarism and that international strains were partly a result of its use for domestic purposes (have to think more about this aspect...).

Coming back to the main thesis, politics will no longer be as we used to perceive it to be. It will step back into the areas of economics/monetary relations left to the markets.
Europe needs to prepare for increased tentions both inside and outside. This paradoxically can be positive for the legitimacy of EU as a political project. It will increase the political competition in the EP (more conflicts, more media coverage) and in the international arena there will be a need for a concerted action, otherwise no single EU state will be able to influence the situation. I hope only that the world will not repeat the short-term trade policy of 'beggar thy neighbour' of the 30ties. So far OECD has hailed the world leaders for sticking to the WTO rules and not increasing protection. But with the situation getting worse/stagnating, the quick wins such a policy might offer is a serious temptention. And as Oscar Wild once said: 'I can resist anything but temptation'.

To sum up, the next years will be far from boring. And both the next Commission and hopefully External Action Service shall have a lot of work to do. This is a test they cannot fail!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Solana and the future of external service

Read today a very interesting aricle about Solana's views on the future of the external action service foreseen in the Lisbon treaty ( It is funny how sometimes a simple truth can escape our political intuition. Solana is right! There should not be a revolution in merging national embassies with the Commission Delegations. It should be really a gradual process. We say in Poland: Hurry up slowly :).

I wonder what would say of my colleagues from DG RELEX who are sitting at their desks waiting to become part of the new elite. External Action Service is probably already provoking sleepless nights to many 'decideurs'. How to square the circle of exclusive Commission competences (trade), the mixed ones (developement) and all those which are still perceived as the remit of the nation state? How to choose the diplomats who shall serve there? Should DG Developement be part of it. What about EuropeAid and ECHO? What should be the proportions between officials from Commission, Council Secretariat and Member States? And then comes Solana and says: this should be done progressively. What a simple solution. So we shall slowly detache national diplomats to join EU Delegations, we shall foresee a selection board to have balance between Member States.

But a bigger puzzle is facing European leaders . If the ratification of Lisbon treaty is delayed (even after the foreseen yes of the Irish) let's say till January, there will be a long transitory period with unclear attribution of portfolios and choice of Commissioners. Poland for example would like to have one of the economic portfolios (industry, budget, internal market). If however we receive sth still sexy but not strictly economic, they the choice of the Commissioner might be different. Mr Lewandowski does not seem keen on non-economic issues. I imagine the same for other countries. Top level politicians do not accept everything or nothing proposals. And no political system deals well with leadership vacuum. I expect that 4 Commissioners that have been elected to EP will be soon out their current jobs. So anyway a reshuffling is on its way.

On the site of the European Policy Centre ( there is an interesting publication with different views on the shape of the Commission. Antonio Missiroli developes a vision of enhanced role of vice president and totally novatory split of existing portfolios. One of his suggestion is to increase the standing of the Bureau of European Policy Advisors (BEPA). I find his proposals really interesting and revealing. I would like one day work in such a forward looking think-tank. But career path in European instutions is a subject of its own merits, so maybe... another day.
Wait for comments. It functions now :)

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Depeche Mode and Europe - I just can't get enough

I was yesterday at the concert of Depeche Mode in Werchter. I want to comment not only on their music but on the visual aspect - the pictures, films showed in the background.

I must say this was really inspiring. One that struck me most was the photos of different armies, vehicles, planes symbolising the war and the attitude of people towards strength and power. I think we keep on forgetting about the European war 1914-1945 (I know this is a controversial way to put it, but I will explain it one day). I think we forget very easily the attractiveness of pure power, of authoritative speakers who through their charisma manage the minds and hearts. I think we do not want to admit that a beautiful fighter plane which can go fast and destroy precisely what was marked, gives shivers to many guys, me included. I am 33 and heard a lot about war, conflicts and fighting. But only yesterday I could understand the war excitement which accompanied soldiers walking onto the front in 1914. I think we should be able to show this enthusiasm and show the picture of destroyed towns and burnt corps. Without this we shall never get it that our passions can drive us to extinction.

The other song was about sexuality. This showed two girls approaching each other. Then it got more blurred - as I heard, this was censored. But still I realised how far we have gone from the medieval times when Catholic church was setting the rules of what is allowed and what prohibited. I am reading a book European history (Est-ce que l'Europe a un histoire). And though it is true that Christianity has marked our past and is still present for many of us, the liberation of sexuality has been a huge step that i.e. the Convent failed to admit. There was also recently in European Voice an article about the role Catholic church plays in Ireland. When you put sexuality and religion next to each other you see how much tension appears. I do not want to say that Depeche Mode has the right answer to all questions. For me what they showed was rather a 'signum temporis' - sexuality is no longer a taboo, and I think rightly so.

Third picture was two faces next to each other. One seemed to be an old white guy with silver her. The other looked like a Black kid, teenager. During the song, slowly some parts of each picture got blurred and we could accompany a slow transformation of the grey guy into the Black kid and Black kid into the greyish guy. I did not know this song, but it made me think about the race, immigration and divide between the autochtone (eng. native) and allochtones (eng. others, strangers). The topic of who we are and who we become. I know I do not discover anything new, but if a kid can change into an old guy from another race, it makes you think how many prejudices there are in our hearts.

Last picture I want to describe was the famous crow sitting in the middle of the desert, with his blinking eye shown at the top of the screen. For me this was a picture of calm solitude. The bird was wise, alone. I do not know if it was a symbole of death, eternity what else can you imagine... Anybody want to add a better description. But it was amazing - the bird was calm, eternal.

Maybe I should read more about Depeche Mode and their symbolism before I share it with you. But music is eternal. And DM has something, I do not know how to say... transcendental. I think their music describes a lot of feelings of our times: depression, fear, passion, reflection, wanting to be part of a rhytm, crying. I think a guy needs to have real guts to sing about this in the way they do. It is a paradox when real masculinity is the courage to say that we have so much feminity. Or maybe this split is artificial; we are the much more similar than the tradition makes us think. Guys are crying and girls are sexual. Simple... maybe not so for all.

Anyway, DM gave me more inspirations than any preamble to the 'European' treaties. Maybe in fact they are hiding more than they reveal. Maybe one day we should talk about the transitions that we have gone through. This should teach us more distance into culture, social behaviour, shaming and liberation. There is a lot going on which the politicians have not captured so far.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Nomination of the next Commission

I have come across an interesting book written by Julian Priestley, aormer Secretary General of the European Parliament. '7 battles that shaped the European Parliament'. I read the chapter about the growing power of MEPs in the process of nomination of the European Commission.

I know that theory gets boring after a moment. But when you see the internal 'cuisine', the battle between personalities, the power of argumentation it really gets interesting. I am looking forward to the exercise this year. Let's say that Barrosso managed to scare all the rivals away. But when he will choose the fellow commissioners and attribute their portfolios, he will be under growing pressure of the EP. And the funny thing is that once you please one side of the spectrum, you make angry the other. Poor Mr Butiglione who tried to remain catholic while being questioned about human rights and non-discrimination. His failure is another sign that the new Europe is becoming more disengaged with the religion.

And I think that after the cold shower during the 2004 nomination Barroso will have to play it harder with the Member states governments. So I am waiting for the drama which will unfold soon.

I wonder what is in the heads of the newly elected MEPs. This must be a moment: you have been chosen for 5 years. You have a lot of time to realise your dreams and ambitions. You know you will spend a lot of time planes and trains. So you become a Hermes (transmission) and a little Zeus (you will decide about the future of the Union). You know that you might become marginalised in your home country. You know that the 736 will decide together how they go into history. Shall it be another Parliament known for its secret wars and meagre influence or shall they make it to the headlines and scoops. What is in the minds of the former Commissioners. Do they want to lend safely or actually they see a potential to change sth that they could not from inside?

Are they studying the CVs of fellow MEPs? Do they read biographies (like the one of Chris Patten or Giscard d'Estaing)? Do they get quick lessons of survival French? Do they check the airlines flying from Brussels to their home town? Are they rather afraid, messianistic, idealistic or cynical? What for do they want to fight. It is at the end only 60 months till the next elections. Do they prioritise? I will try to follow it as much as I can and write about what I find out.

Monday, 8 June 2009

European discussion - UK and JHA

So finally we have a European discussion. Who gets how many votes, who wins, who loses. The demise of Labour in GB is really estonishing. It really shows that there is not such thing as a party that can rule forever. Maybe this is the best aspect of democracy that it forces people to compete? Ok, they not always compete with ideas. There is also marketing, negative campaigns and so on. But still people need to think how to win with others. And the periodic changes in UK are really interesting. After the 18 years of Tories, we had 12 years of Labour. How long will be the next domination, if such occur... Or maybe a change of voting rules and end of two party system? Liberals and UKIP would not mind.

The results in UK are really putting its political class with a fundamental question. Shall we continue with the European project; do we want to speak with others about things that should matter to us.?It is interesting how the internal pluralism of British society (Welsh, Scotts, Pakistani, Indian, Poles) is putting its back to the external pluralism of the EU.

I am looking forward to the establishment of the conservative group in the European Parliament. They will be like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but still they can be interesting dinosaurs. What proposals shall they put for climate change, globalisation, transmissable diseases? Maybe they can propose a balanced deal to the issue of immigration... can they? I was recently thinking that the Justice, Home Affairs and Security Directorate General will soon become the key battleground for the European project. Not the Afghanistan question, not the fight with the economic crisis but the question of living with strangers seems the most fundamental now.

Polish corner:
There is a young MEP from Poland - Rafal Trzaskowski who has just made it to the hemi-sphere in Strasbourg. He was given a great chance and succeded. I hope that in 5 years time he will have established his name and shall continue political career that has just started. Being 37 he can understand better what are the preoccupations of the younger generation. I wish him luck.

The other phenomenon which attracks attention is the success of the French coalition of ecologists. Having on one list Verts, regionalist parties, Jose Bove and former anti-corruption investigator proved to be a very successful recipee. They managed to do the same as Jospin in 1997. I wonder if they manage to keep their cohesion for longer. If yes, we can see an emergence of an interesting political current in Europe. If they join forces with the European Free Alliance from Skandinavia they could overtake the Liberals. Maybe I am wrong but it is nice to speculate sometimes.

The question now is what to do with Barrosso. I do not see any contenders, do you? It is not a sign of a vivid polity, where nobody dares to challenge the incumbent. What is the merit of winning if there is no competition... It seems that monarchy is not a disregarded option in Europe. I stop here.

Friday, 5 June 2009

next Commission - hoping for waves

I hope that the choice of the next Commission's president and the college will not go smoothly. Why? Because Europe needs open conflicts and there is not a more stimulating conflictual situation as fighting for the jobs and portfolios.

Ideally Jerzy Buzek should become the President of next Parliament only after a tough battle with the Italian Mario Mauro. Jose Barroso should get a grilling during his hearings. And if he fails to convince that he did a good job during the last 5 years, he should not get a second chance. Conflict is a good topic for media coverage, so in this way EU should get a lot of attention. I do not mind a total blamage of the transitory Czech government. Europe has been consensual for too long.

I want the new Conservative fraction in the Parliament (British, Czechs and Poles) to question things that have not been questioned so far. And I hope that their criticism shall be rebuked with force by serious arguments from the other sides. We need heated debates in the Parliament. We need close votes where the result is not known until the very end and depending on appearance of one MEP (being ill or late). People and media like thrillers and circus. They should get it. We need dramas. A candidate in tears because he did not get the job he was promised. We need more spices and less consensus, meritocracy and diplomacy. Controversies are good. If we really want to create a debating space in Europe we need to create topics.

The Irish shall vote again on the Lisbon treaty. They deserve a big discussion before. They have shaken up the Union - this should be said openly. But we should not confuse the diplomacy, parliamentary adoption and referendums. There is space for each of them in the European polity. But the stakes should be clear. Referendums should be on clear issues and not on technicalities. I think that Irish politicians failed in their unability to decide to change the Constitution. XXI century will be a time to make tough decisions. And procrastination will have serious consequences. This comment should be addressed to Belgian politicians too, but this is another story for another time.

Personalities matter so let's choose those that appeal to us. I have made my mind already :).