Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Srebrenica and the Western left

An interesting spat developed earlier this month in the pages of the Guardian, over an interview with Noam Chomsky by the journalist Emma Brockes. It focused upon a book by Diana Johnstone, entitled Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato and Western Delusions, which was withdrawn by its Swedish publisher after a swarm of controversy in the national press there. Fairly or otherwise, this controversy focused on Johnstone's claims about a number of the atrocities committed during the conflict in the Balkans during the 1990s, and in particular on the events in Srebrenica in 1995. Cental to Johnstone's argument in this regard is that there is little actual evidence to support the oft-quoted figure of 8000 innocent muslim men massacred. She notes that:

Six years after the summer of 1995, ICTY forensic teams had exhumed 2,631 bodies in the region, and identified fewer than 50. In an area where fighting had raged for years, some of the bodies were certainly of Serbs as well as of Muslims. Of these bodies, 199 were found to have been bound or blindfolded, and must reasonably be presumed on the basis of the material evidence to have been executed.

She then concludes:

War crimes ? The Serbs themselves do not deny that crimes were committed. Part of a plan of genocide ? For this there is no evidence whatsoever.

The book containing these and other assertions was withdrawn by its Swedish publishers, amid accusations of atrocity denial from the national press. Chomsky publicly defended both the book and its author; he did so, however, in defence of her scholarship and her right to free speech, not on the content of her actual claims. It was this distinction that seems to have caused the tiff in the letters pages of the Guardian.

The interview was removed from the online edition of the paper following complaints from Chomsky - a letter, and then an open letter, to the newspaper. His complaints centred around the headline for the interview - a piece of text removed from the context and printed in large, bold text at the outset. It stated:

Q. [Brockes]: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated ?

A. [Chomsky]: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.

To the extent that the interview touched only on the issue of free speech, and not on the content of Johnstone's claims on Srebrenica, the headline does seem misleading, to say the least. Little surprise then, after being subjected to the full force of Chomsky's eloquent sophistication, that the Guardian decided to pull the interview.

As luck would have it, however, this very subject gives us a chance to have a look at some of the early work coming out of the Henry Jackson Society, the new UK neoconservative group on whom I posted last week. Two early papers deal with this very issue, one directly and one in more general terms. I should, at the outset, state that i am in absolutely no position to judge the claim and counter claim here in substantive terms; however, several interesting issues of scholarship more generally are raised, both by the arguments proposed and the meanings enacted by the two groups of texts.

Firstly, for example, the author of the HJS papers, one Marko Attila Hoare, makes an interesting allegation in terms of Johnstone's claims: that she has done no original investigative work; that her sources are overwhelmingly English language, despite the fact that she writes on the Balkans; and that she doesn't even speak one of the languages of the region. These are, in certain circumstances, very valid points; however, they seem to me to miss one of the main thrusts of Johnstone's work, which was not to provide an account of what actually happened but rather to weigh up the imbalance between how the West reported events, and the actual evidence available to support these reports. As she herself notes:

My book does not attempt to recount what happened at Srebrenica, but to point to the political symbolism of such events, marked by the media tendency to dwell on some and not on others, to repeat the highest of casualty estimates when there is no scientifically established number, and above all to simplify and dramatise an unfamiliar and complex reality by resorting to analogy with Hitler and the Holocaust.

A more powerful argument, perhaps, is the one that Hoare makes in terms of the "left" in general: that it is characterised by a far-too-ready willingness to adopt any stance, to support any cause, that is aligned in opposition to the liberal-capitalism consensus of western Europe. He suggests that, thus blinded by its hatred for one, it ignores, accepts or even glorifies the crimes of the other. This seems to me an exceedingly important point, and one that rings true in many contexts: all too often, radical scholarship is a smokescreen for poor scholarship, for immature posturings and territorial pissings that have altogether too much to do with negative self-definition, and altogether too little to do with a genuine attempt to understand both, or all, sides of an astoundlingly complex situation.

Hoare's insistence on this point, however, would have a whole lot more force if he had managed to enact, in his language, the type of scholarship he is implicitly endorsing; instead, however, he does exactly the opposite, using distorting analogies and reductive generalisations in order to demonise his interlocutor and browbeat his audience into agreement with him (exactly the allegation that he lays, perhaps not without justification, at Chomsky's door). Firstly, is his choice of target. I have not read Johnstone's book; I have, however read her contribution to Tariq Ali's
Masters of the Unverse: Nato's Balkan Crusade, in which she makes a series of similar claims. Many of the authors in this book did rely far too much on the demonisation of the oppostion, and the rubbishing of their scholarly works, for my taste; this was not, however, my impression of Johnstone's piece, which maintained a balanced tone throughout. Her own recent contribution to the Guardian seems to confirm this, largely free from the sensationalism or affected disinterest that characterise both Chomsky's open letter and Hoares opinion pieces.

The other point, which, as her earlier quote suggests, will not have surprised Johnstone, is Hoare's continuous attempts to reduce the Balkan wars to the "goodies" versus the "baddies" by a constant stream of analogies to the Holocaust. The piece on massacre denial begins with the "parallel" between Chomsky and David Irving, the Holocaust-denying historian who was recently arrested in Austria on those charges. The following passage, worth quoting at a little length, exemplifies this perfectly:

To sum up Johnstone’s position on Srebrenica: she blames everything that happened there on the Muslims; claims they provoked the Serb offensive in the first place; then deliberately engineered their own killing; and then exaggerated their own death-toll. She denies that thousands of Muslims were massacred; suggesting there is no evidence for a number higher than 199 - less than 2.5% of the accepted figure of eight thousand. And she eschews the word 'massacre' in favour of 'execution' - as if it were a question of criminals on Death Row, not of innocent civilians. It is as if she were to claim that less than 150,000 Jews, rather than six million, had died in the Holocaust; that the Jews had provoked and engineered the Nazi killings; that these killings had been 'executions'; and that the Jews had then exaggerated their death toll.

The trouble is that Hoare's piece is almost completely devoid of any attempt to rebut the specific claims made by Johnstone, except insofar as they go against what is "generally accepted", or has been established by international investigation. As Johnstone's aim is to call these processes into question, Hoare's position seems more than a little circular. And, of course, it carries with it the deeply unpleasant and unwarranted implication that all those who question the received wisdom in questions of war crimes or other atrocities are crypto-fascist Holocaust deniers.

The holocaust theme is taken up at every available opportunity, and reinforced through usage even when not directly linked to the claims of his targets. The more general piece, for example, on Srebrencia and the London Bombings, begins with the claim that "
At Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, Christian Serb fascists - Chetniks - massacred about eight thousand Muslim men and boys. A few days before the tenth anniversary of the massacre, British Islamic fascists massacred over fifty people in London." And again, he notes that, in the early stages of the Balkan conflict "John Major’s Britain and Francois Mitterand’s France fought hard to appease Milosevic". (For those who do not know, the term "appeasement" is an extremely loaded one in the English language, particularly when used in the context of international relations, as it was the name of the failed policy of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his attempts to avoid war with Hitler. At best ikt conjures up images of woeful naivety; at worst, craven cowardice; and always in the face of the Nazis.)

It is difficult to see what links the notion of fascism in these two situations (the Serbs and the London Bombers) beyond a penchant for illegal massacre (with which Hoare disagrees); we may ask whether this is an honest use of the term, or an attempt to reduce horrific yet deeply complex situations to the black/white of the Holocaust, with all that this term implies. This is not to suggest that complexity can excuse the massacre of innocent civilians - of course not, nothing can - but that the invocation of the rhetoric of the Holocaust casts a shadow over the entire debate about what can, should, must be done; and that this shadow removes the complexity necessary for us to make mature ethical and political choices about the past and the future.

This is the most disappointing thing about Hoare's critique; there are some important points to be made about certain trends in left wing thought; they are, however, buried beneath Nazi analogies and other, almost hysterical language that seems designed to bully the reader into agreement (but is more likely to alienate all those who do not already agree). For example, he raises the issue, particularly important in terms of his recent letters, of what Chomsky does actually think of the reporting of the Srebrenica massacre; whether it was indeed "exaggerated" or not. Like so much done in this field, however - and so much of the work that Hoare justly criticises - it does so not so much as to invite an answer, or conversation, on this point, but rather as a weapon in a war the sides in which have already long been decided. But should we expect any more from a society that is determined to use force to spread democracy, and that comes into existence at precisely the time when this idea seems to be at its shakiest in practical terms, as Jack's post below, on Iraq, suggests?

In a sense, however, (although I suspect an accidental one) Hoare's critique functions brilliantly: not only does he rightly criticise, in the substance of what he rights, a type of writing that gives rise not to mature ethico-political converstaion but only to a series of ever-more-polarised and reductive knee-jerks; he also enacts it, he exemplifies it, in his prose. We are thus left with a very full sense, much fuller than a mere description could ever hope to furnish us with, of exactly how disagreeable it is to read writing of this sort. I finished my (admittedly brief) reading around this subject absolutely none the wiser over what happened in Srebrenica in 1995, but with a sense of despair over much of what passes for scholarship, on both sides.

Perhaps ironically, the only actor in this saga not to leave me with with this impression was Johnstone herself.

American Public Opinion and the War in Iraq

John Mueller published an interesting article in the latest Foreign Affairs issue on waning public support for the American military campaign in Iraq. In brief, he argues that the pattern of American public support for operations in Iraq has followed the same trend it followed in America’s other major post-Second World War military engagements, Korea and Vietnam. That is, strong, initial support for military operations (i.e. rally in support of “our boys over there”) which falters inexorably as casualties increase. Mueller asserts that, despite President Bush’s best efforts to rally support, public backing will almost certainly not increase substantially. This means that Bush will be forced to embrace an exit strategy for American troops that commences sooner rather than later. Mueller goes on to suggest that America’s post-Iraq foreign policy will be similar to its post-Vietnam foreign policy, i.e. more constrained and much less willing to send troops abroad. I want to make two points in connection with Mueller’s article. First, from a scholarly viewpoint, his depiction of American public opinion as structured, coherent, resistant to manipulation and changing in a logical manner seems to buttress the more recent scholarship on public opinion’s role in American foreign policy and to refute much of the traditional “Almond-Lippmann” consensus. Second, from a political standpoint, Mueller indicates that, vis-à-vis the Iraq issue, public support for Bush especially and Republicans to a lesser extent will slip regardless of any policy suggestions put forward by the Democrats. With 2006 midterm elections in mind, this suggests the following campaign strategies for the two parties: for the Democrats, avoid detailed policy proposals for Iraq other than sober, moderate generalities (the recent calls by Senators Biden and Obama for orderly, gradual troop withdrawals seem to follow this pattern); for the Republicans in Congress the strategy should be twofold – downplay the war as much as possible (a difficult task but not impossible) and when forced to address the Iraq issue, mirror (but not too obviously) Democrat calls for orderly, gradual troop withdrawal; early indications are that the President’s team has begun to accept the inevitability of beginning significant troop withdrawals before the 2006 elections (November in the U.S. and December, I believe, in Iraq). Most reports indicate that Iraqi troops are nowhere near ready to fight the insurgency alone. That and the likelihood of irreconcilable sectarian differences between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis do not bode well for the country’s future. It also augurs badly for Bush’s legacy, which will be based largely on the success of his Iraq policy….

Racism and Italian Football

Another sad story from Italy.

The protagonist is an African football player of the sicilian team, Messina.
Booed by the opponent's supporters, he grabbed the ball and headed towards the bench: he didn't want to play anymore.

Such is the frustration of some players, and little has been done so far to penalize or exclude supporters who display such bad behaviour. A full report of the story can be read here (in english).

Unfortunately, the story is not limited to football pitches. Racism, in a country like Italy that has only recently came across massive immigration, is a huge problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Before it is too late, and becomes a plague.

Italian parties, on top of a fully fledged economic reform, would be much better off if they suggested a strong civic reform aimed at educating people at least as far as the basics are concerned.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Italy can deal with its decline

The political campaign for italian elections is beginning to be very interesting.
Following the article in the Economist that described Italy as bound to slowly decline, Italian major coalitions respond with strong arguments (facts will only matter though).

Both Prodi and Berlusconi (in italian) now claim that they will engage in deep reforms that will involve great sacrifices on the part of the population.

Sadly, this confirms that Italy is going down the slope, and only muscular reforms will be able to invert the trend. Hopefully, however, the stagnant situation will give an incentive to find real solutions to actual problem. If Italy takes this idea seriously, it could lead the rest of European States out of the present European crisis.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Supranationalist 8: Italy and its decline

Few months before Italian elections, and few days after the beginning of the political campaign, the Economist publishes a survey on Italy entitled 'Addio, Dolce Vita.'

The British magazine is pitiless with Italy and its leaders. Berlusconi is, rightly, described as a man tarnished by financial scandals and mismanagement of Italy. Prodi does not get much better marks, although he is slightly less troublesome than Berlusconi. But both are described as incapable of pulling Italy out of its crisis. Both are considered to be too old (nearly 70), and too dependent on other parties in their coalition that limit the changes of succesfull reforms.

What to do with such a hars judgement? I, for one, agree that Italy is not doing very well and that, at present, there are no real and credible leaders to make us hope. However, as many times before, I stress the importance of a more general, European, crisis that has to be deal with both at national levels and at the European level.

The economist, in its blind anti-european stance, only sees nations and its individual problems, and believes that the mere strengthening of market economy would do us good. The reality is different, Europe as a whole is in a profound need of social as well as economical reforms. Possibly, it needs a cultural revolution, that could bring people closer to a supranational ideal and away from a narowly national one.

This would involve the readiness on the part of people to move around Europe seeking the best compromise between job opportunities and welfare protection. In this case, the market could really make a difference by allocating prizes to those Europeans willing to sacrifice part of their shaky national status for the sake of an improved European polity.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Blair and Europe: a disappointment

Tony Blair is a Janus faced politician. His capacity to warm audiences with his speeches hardly matches with his incapacity to deliver on his promises.

Europe is a good illustration of Tony's gap. In June, we welcomed Blair's speech to the European Parlaiment for his vision and apparent leadership.

Today, we can only take note, along with other observers, that Tony Blair will not be able to achieve half of what he has promised.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

New Italian Electoral Law: Destroying the Italian Democracy

As a follow up to Lorenzo’s article on Berlusconi’s new electoral bill, as result of a request from some Italian friends, I read and summed up an excellent power point presentation (in Italian) on the political effects of Berlusconi’s electoral reform. If anyone wishes to receive a copy of this presentation please leave a comment on this blog entry giving us a clue of how to contact you and send the PP presentation to your e-mail address.

According to several public opinion surveys Prodi’s Center Left Coalition would receive 51% of votes, while Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition gets, in the most optimistic scenario around 47%. Berlusconi is aware of this and he decide to embark on the electoral reform (less than a year before the elections, during the campaign) to mitigate the effects of the popular will, thus, to stay in power.

To understand the effects of the electoral change one has to bear in mind that the two Italian major coalitions (occupying almost the entire political spectrum) are very different in nature. While Berlusconi’s coalition is composed of a small number of political parties that individually receive more than 2% of votes (Forza Italia, Allenaza Nazionale, UDC and Lega Nord), Prodi’s coalition, albeit more popular, consists of numerous political entities that remain below 2% of the votes, however, altogether they receive from 7% to 10% of votes. These members of the centre-left coalition are: Italy of Values (Di Pietro); The Italian Communists; Socialists Union (SDI), Popular Party (UDEUR) etc.

Berlusconi’s electoral engineering introduces two mechanisms.

First one introduces a threshold of 2% for political parties that are part of a coalition and 3% for those that are outside of the coalition. All the abovementioned members of the Prodi coalition in this way lose the right to be represented in the parliament. In this way the centre-left coalition goes down from 51% to 44% of votes that can actually result in assignable parliamentary seats. The same mechanism does not affect the centre-right coalition because as previously mentioned they all individually receive above 2% of votes. In this way Berlusconi’s coalition will still receive its votes on the basis of intact 47% of popular vote. Hence, they will surpass Prodi’s coalition in the percentage of popular votes that is to be considered for assignable seats. Still, despite the first change, according to the present electoral law the Centre-left coalition would receive the so-called majority premium on the basis of the overall number of votes (51%) despite the introduced threshold. In this way, overall Prodi’s coalition would still be victorious over Berluconi’s.

Second mechanism of the new electoral bill takes this fact into account and establishes that the majority premium does not get assigned on the basis of number of votes but on the basis of percentage of votes that results in assignable seats (thus 47% for Berlusconi and 44% more or less to Prodi). In this way, despite its unpopularity Berlusconi’s coalition will still manage to stay in power.

Berlusconi will defend this law, and some of his partisans already do, arguing that it is perfectly in compliance with European standards, which is probably true in some sense. What is, however, not in accordance with principles of any decent democracy is making the change of the electoral law on the eve of the elections. Electoral law must represent a broad societal consensus (must reflect the genuine will of the population) and should not be engineered according to short-term political needs. Changing the electoral law is a feature of a banana republic not of an established democracy such as Italy. In this way Berlusconi not only goes against the electoral will of the Italian population but continues his endless damaging of the Italian image abroad. Media monopoly beyond decency and best democratic practices is no longer sufficient, now he needs to change the very electoral law to stay in power. It is not enough to remain passive in front of such undemocratic processes, it is not enough to wait and hope that the electoral results will be such that Berlusconi will anyways lose. Something must be done to stop this electoral law. In this way we try to help our italian friends and to contribute to the international raising of awareness of the magnitude of, what could even say, the electoral fraud in Italy.

Rorty and the Mission of the West

Following up a link on Euan's post to Rorty's speech in favour of Western intervention in non-Western countries where the aims are to alleviate suffering and oppression, one thing that struck me on reading it is that Rorty seems ignore the possibility that a sense of the intrinsic value of culture is consequent upon Western intervention. Arguably, it is precisely when societies have reached a certain point of development at the level of political institutions, general welfare and population mobility that 'tertiary needs' like the desire for a deeper sense of cultural identity are felt. A greater sense of cultural identity might in turn provoke resistence to further Westernization.

New neo-conservative society launched in the UK

The UK's neo-conservatives have a new home: the Henry Jackson Society. Launched in the last week, and named after the US Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the society is not beating around the bush. Its aims are announced very clearly on its homepage:

The Henry Jackson Society is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote the following principles: that liberal democracy should be spread across the world; that as the world’s most powerful democracies, the United States and the European Union – under British leadership – must shape the world more actively by intervention and example; that such leadership requires political will, a commitment to universal human rights and the maintenance of a strong military with global expeditionary reach; and that too few of our leaders in Britain and the rest of Europe today are ready to play a role in the world that matches our strength and responsibilities.

There is much that is interesting about this. Firstly, the name: Jackson was a Democrat, and a reasonably left-wing one at that. He was, however, dismayed by the failure of the left to seek to promote the values of liberal democracy abroad, often by implication thus approving, or at least not taking sufficient action against, some pretty brutal regimes (Something like Richard Rorty's provocative claim that, far from being immoral to export our values to foreign countries, "it would be immoral not to"). The Guardian has an interesting analysis on the schism that this provoked in the left in the US, suggesting that the UK is ripe for something similar, with old left/right distinctions on the role of the market in health, education and other services, not to mention foreign military intervention, becoming more and more blurred under Tony Blair.

Also interesting is the role perceived for Europe in the above paragraph. The EU is first put on a par with the US, but this equality of footing is immediately and significantly qualified by the phrase "under British leadership". The implication is clear: it is to be the "new" Europe, led by the UK, that is to prevail - the Europe that approved the Iraq war - and not that of France or Germany. In short, it is to be the Europe of which US neocons approve that is to come to the fore.

Lastly, there is an unashamedly imperialistic tone (and I suspect that members of the society would not complain overly about my use of the term "imperial" here), in that the West is to "shape the world" in its own image, to adopt a "leadership" position at the head of a military machine with "global" reach and concerns. To this extent, it is not even the "new" imperialism of economic globalization that is envisaged as the main tool for spreading democracy, but its much older, armed relative.

All of this points to, if not a change in direction, then at least a significant clarification of rhetoric for certain areas of the British political spectrum. It will be interesting to see, in the weeks and months to come, what influence, if any, this society will have on the foreign policy debates in the UK; and, crucially, from what "sides" it draws its adherents.

One Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, has already signed up.

Where to live in Italy

For all those who wish, dream, to live in Italy, here's an Italian classification of the best places to consider.

Here's an excerpt:

"Mantua is Italy’s paradise and Vibo Valentia the country’s “inferno”. That was the verdict of the Legambiente survey to classify of cities and towns in Italy by their quality of environment. The results sum up the two main trends highlighted by “Ecosistema urbano 2006” (Urban Ecosystem 2006), the environmentalist association’s annual study. People live increasingly well in small to medium-sized towns, and worse in the cities. The contentment gap between provinces and big cities is growing, as is the rift between the improving North and a worsening South."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Supranationalist 7: Balkans in the European Federal Project

Recently, as the negotiations on the future status of Kosovo were about to start many politicians, governments, think tanks, came out with their proposals regarding the future status of Kosovo. Recently, Transatlantic Assembly was directly included in this international debate (here, here and here). These writings included an exchange between Goran Svilanovic, ex-Foreign Affairs Minister of Serbia and Montenegro and myself.

Current Serbian and Albanian position regarding Kosovo’s future status seem completely irreconcilable. While Serbs stick firmly to the position that independence is not an option (extensive autonomy yes), Albanians are ready to accept only independence and are rather anxious that this occurs in the near future. Because of these irreconcilable starting positions, there is much reason to fear that the negotiations on the future of Kosovo by means of shuttle diplomacy (just started) will fail. While the European Union offers full financial assistance during the negotiation, while it offers financial assistance both to Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo, it fails until now to offer a full, constructive proposal for the future status of Kosovo. This is due to the lack of common foreign and security policy (read, due to the French and Dutch “no votes”) but also because of internal institutional and conceptual “illnesses” of the EU.

It is repeatedly mentioned that the prospective of EU membership has the ability to stabilize the region of the Balkans and play down the negative effects of the complicated inter-ethnic structure and conflicts of these states. Usually, this refers to the EU membership perspective and aid packages offered to the Balkans in the mean time. Nevertheless, this is not enough, in order to effectively and in the long run, solve the Balkan complicated puzzle, the EU needs to transform itself.

This blog entry wants to suggest New European Federalism as a way to solve the Balkan situation. Only by transforming itself in the direction of creating a new post-national federal constitutional structure can the EU effectively reconcile secessionist claims of ethnic communities (e.g. Kosovo Albanians) and the concern of the states that are to suffer from the secession (e.g. Serbia).

This brings us to the idea of internal enlargement presented 17th January in our blog. There I quoted the Stateless nations inter-group of the EU Parliament, who during the European Convention argued, “the new Constitution has to contain mechanisms for the practical exercise of the right to internal enlargement, as a concrete modality of the exercising the right to self-determination in this particular historical process.” As we now, not only that there proposal was flatly rejected but the very constitution failed. Let us however, assume that such a proposal was adopted, what would it actually mean in the conceptual and institutional sense?

Firstly, it would allow territories who seek extensive autonomy (even independence) from the central state to exist as independent entities at the European level. In this way, Scotland, the Basque Country, Catalonia, Corsica, but also, Kosovo, Republic of Srpska, Montenegro and whichever other entity that satisfies qualified democratic requirements for more autonomy would be allowed to proceed towards this path. On the other hands, the central state would receive reassurance that both its stability and the protection of the population living at the territory of the secessionist entity would receive full appreciation from the EU. In the conceptual sense this would be done through institutionalizing the concept of shared tripartite-shared sovereignty between the member state of the EU, EU and the secessionist entity. The breakaway entity would not need to insist on full independence because in the functional sense it would already enjoy the rights equal to those of any Member States of the Union. At the EU constitutional level appropriate change would have to occur in order to make the internal enlargement meaningful.

For Kosovo this would mean that once Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo enter the EU, Kosovo could, bearing in mind that the vast majority of its population wants secession, be allowed to exercise internal enlargement. This would mean that it would exist as an independent entity within the EU, however, it would maintain links with the state of Serbia. These institutional links (and checks) would not burden the Kosovo entity but would assure that parts of the Kosovo population that did not consent to, internal enlargement in this case, get fully protected. In the institutional sense this would be an additional instrument to the protection of every individual citizen of the Union through its Charter of Fundamental Rights (assuming again that the EU Constitution was adopted). It is only in this sense that the entity that exercised internal enlargement, would be ‘less independent’ than the Member State of the Union.

As it was mentioned in the blog entry on internal enlargement, “recognition of the right of secession, or if not an explicit constitutional recognition then at least existence of the political opening for such an outcome, is a sign of the elevated quality of a democracy of a particular country”. It could theoretically exist outside of the EU, but it is the supranational framework that makes it ‘painless’ for the State and the population of the breakaway entity that does not benefit from such political and institutional outcome. Thus, only if the EU member state create the political framework for the institutionalization of the internal enlargement of the EU, can they hope to offer a long lasting formula for the Balkans.

Welcome to Jack Thompson-New Member of the Transatlantic Assembly

Clean Up the Italian Parliament!

Beppe Grillo, an Italian Comedian, launched a campaign on his blog (in english. This blog is probably the most well read in Italy) against those Italian MPs who have been condamned by the Italian Justice, but are still representing us all, either in the italian Parliament, or in the European Parliament.

His manifesto, "clean up the parliament," has also been published by the International Herald Tribune.

Grillo emphatically asks whether there is another country in the world where criminal convicts are allowed to keep their seat in the democratic institutions.

The Future of Germany and Europe

Angela Merkl is officially the new German chancellor from today, Tuesday November 22. It has taken few months to put together a squad of ministers taken from a grand coalition, as the elections did not give a clear winner.

Many Germans have already complained about the instability and uncertainty coming from this situation. We can only hope they are wrong.

German elections are not only of national concern. They are of course of European concern, and Europeans have all interest in a healthy German economy and political stability.

The engine of Europe, France and Germany, has taken a rest if not a halt. Their economic, political, cultural situations are shaky. But they are not the only ones, their crisis mirror that of many other European countries. I laugh when I think that the Economist pointed at Italy as the European patient few months ago.

As usual, the Economist caricatural headlines do not grasp the subtlety of more general trends in politics. They could not see that European patient is Europe itself as represented by its member states.

From now on, Europe has to take seriously its own crisis. Let's look around, 'The Old Continent', Europe, really looks older and older ( in the sense that there are fewer younger people and a growing number of elderly). It is slowly transforming itself in a huge open air Disneyland, for wealthy american and chinese tourists. (When tourism is the primary source of revenue, a polity should start worrying, I believe).

In order to create a future, Europe must invest on the potentiality of its new generations. Trust them. Nurture them. Otherwise, they will all leave for more interesting places. And Europe will become more and more a sort of Club Med for Elderly, so long that the state pension system will not make it collapse.

Come on Europe, you can make it. But you have to go through some pain and reforms, otherwise you'll be stuck in your 'glorious' past.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Modern Ius Gentium

Jeremy Waldron has recently offered a theory of the use of foreign law in american courts based on his interpretation of Ius Gentium. You can find the text on the Harvard Law Review, now available for free. What Waldron deplores at the outset is the lack of theoretical awareness displayed by both advocates adn opponents of the use of foreign law in American Courts.

As an antidote, he offerst the notion of Ius Gentium interpreted as a 'general common law,' that is a law that belongs to a global patrimony of reason and goes beyond the law inter gentes, that is the law stipulated by two or more parties in their own interest.

Following his interpretation of Ius Gentium, he recharacterize the kind of disagreement going on at the supreme court as one between those who see 'law as will' v. those who see 'law as reason.' To conclude he warns that even the latter category has to confront deep seeded problem concerning 'the rational relation between what we are wrestling with (our actual question) and what others have figured out (that is our patrimony of reason).'

Waldron's is still a very sketchy outline of a new theory of the use of foreign law. That said, any attempt to drive the debate away from the boring old grounds that divide, for example, Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer, is a breath of fresh air. I agree with Waldron that an underlying jurisprudence of the relationship between domestic law and foreign law should be worked out, as it is unlikely that many people will be convinced by authoritative assertions of what the framers would do in this case or, for what it matters, what we ought to do according to our best moral intuitions.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Another nail in Kyoto's coffin?

I suggested in a post some time ago that Bush's decision to pull out of the Kyoto agreement was most damaging in that it made heroes out of villains, in that it allowed those on course to meet their meagre Kyoto committments as champions of the global environment. This meant, in turn, that the entire international response to the issue of climate change was set back: from being in a position of having, essentially, to apologise for the almost embarassingly small and deeply insufficient first step that Kyoto in fact represented, politicians such as Blair now found themselves occupying the moral high ground once again.

Jut how far it was set back is beginning to become clear. Margaret Beckett, the UK environment secretary, has told the Observer that the British government is to seek a new deal on climate change, which may be based upon voluntary targets rather than firm, legal commitments. This, of course, is very different from the philosophy behind the Kyoto Protocol; and, perhaps predictably, major environmental NGOs are strongly against the move. However, for whatever reasons, Kyoto has not been the success that many hoped it would be; and, for many commentators, this failure was evident as soon as the details of the agreement became clear. Emissions trading and carbon sink schemes introduced a large degree of uncertainty to already-inadequate reduction targets; and this, coupled with the fact that there was no commonly accepted body of scientific knowledge, that had been so central to the success of the Montreal Protocol to the Ozone Convention, had been built up in the context of climate change, meant that the likelihood that Kyoto would prove a significant weapon in the fight against global warming was slim.

Even the most ardent of its supporters, however, insisted upon its significance as a "first step"; the first time that the international community had agreed to be bound by legal reduction targets. This argument was never entirely convincing, as the metaphor used seems to rely on a certain optimism of future progress; evidence for the political will to support this optimism, however, has always been thin on the ground.

Perhaps, then, it is time to try a new approach and to acknowledge that the Kyoto Protocol itself is something of a dead horse. The great problem with this that, where evidence for optimism concerning Kyoto is decidedly thin on the ground, it seems almost non-existent in the case of voluntary targets. In response to assertions by Bush and Blair that states will not accept stricter targets for fear it would hamper economic growth, Beckett responds that

Actually, there is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that you can do things to tackle climate change without damaging your economy... If you look at some major global companies that have started to take steps to tackle their own emissions, far from being economically damaging its actually economically beneficial.

Here, for me, lies the problem with voluntary targets in this field. Beckett's chosen line of argument would seem to invite the conclusion that problems of climate change and economic growth can both be solved at once by the correct policies. Her rhetoric leaves no room for the plausible conclusion that effective measures on climate change will have a negative impact on economic growth, in the short- to medium-term at least. She thus implies that states or companies would not have to act in a manner contrary to their economic interests; naturally, voluntary targets come to seem a much more attractive, even ambitious, prospect in such a context.

The trouble is that it seems very unlikely that the increasingly urgent issue of climate change can be addressed only by policies that are also economically beneficial. The threats posed by global warming, though undoubtedly very real, are as yet far too future, too abstract, to prevail over economic concerns in the short- to medium-term. The drive to achieve voluntary targets would thus be subordinated to the economically beneficial - a conclusion, indeed, that Beckett implicitly encourages in the passage quoted above. Of course, "doing things to tackle climate change without damaging the economy" is not the same thing as taking the measures neccesary to effectively solve this increasingly urgent global problem; in fact, we may be very sceptical indeed as to whether the first will even come close to confronting the second.

Of course, it was exactly this fear, that economic considerations would remove any incentive to do what was necessary to tackle climate change that led to calls for "hard" legal commitments in the first place. Perhaps, then, it may be worth flogging Kyoto for a while yet..

Sex and Euro

Those who thought that the Euro is not sexy can have a look here.

Does the Blogosphere Lean Right?

This is a question I would like to ask all our readers, as it puzzles me to see such sweeping comments made in important media. For example, Michael Massig, in the New York Review of Books, argues the following:

"But it is a third, technological innovation that, along with the rise of talk radio and cable news, has made the conservative attack on the press particularly damaging: blogs. These Internet Web logs, which allow users to beam their innermost thoughts throughout the world, take no longer than a few minutes to set up. They first began to appear in the late 1990s, and there are currently more than 20 million of them. As one critic has observed, many are by adolescent girls writing their diaries on-line. Those with any substantial readership and political influence probably number in the hundreds, and most of these are conservative. As Brian Anderson writes with considerable understatement, "the blogosphere currently leans right."

Do you think it is accurate to say that influential blogs are mostly conservative?
Is it an understatement to say that the blogosphere leans right?

Those observations leaves me quite puzzled, really. What are the features of the blogosphere that would make it lean towards right? Hard to understand.
Any comment, idea on this issue would be very welcome!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Leaving the Vatican Behind...

Italians are showing a growing dissatisfaction with the Vatican's role in public life. The Corriere della Sera reports the symbolic act of portest of an Italian man complaining about the intrusion of the Church in political affairs:

The person in cause had his name removed from the register of baptisms in Rio Pusteria. He held: “I feel discriminated by the Catholic church”.

"BOLZANO – A 35-year-old homosexual from Alto Adige has left the Catholic church in protest at Cardinal Ruini’s declarations on assisted fertilisation, homosexual marriages and de facto unions. He did so by having his decision noted in the register of baptisms at Rio Pusteria, the home village of the Ratzingers, Pope Benedict XVI’s family. “As a homosexual, I feel discriminated by the Catholic church”, explained the man, an office worker whose initials are A.H. He explained that it took him one month, on the basis of a 1999 sentence by the privacy guarantor, to apply for and obtain from the parish priest at Rio Pusteria the annotation on the register of baptisms of his explicit desire not to be considered a member of the Roman Catholic Apostolic Church. He added that the priest had asked him to reconsider, but without success. The man also pointed out that if he had not obtained the annotation, he would have taken legal action."

Friday, November 18, 2005

Secularism is not meek

Srdjan suggests that we should view secularism as a 'status quo' more than a worldview. I find the distinction interesting, but I can't help thinking that status quo provides a meek depiction of what secularism is all about.

Possibly, we attribute too many tasks to secularism. Its meaning is overcharged and, as a result, ofen flawed. If this is Srdjan's point, then I partly agree.

But coming from Italy, I believe I have a very sensitive interpretation of secularism. In Italy, the Vatican plays a very aggressive role in the public sphere while pretending to give humble advices. In other words, the Vatican is the Lion in the sheep skin.

If to that we only oppose a meek view of secularism, then we leave too much discretion to the Lion who plays the sheep. As I said many times before, Secularism should be placed in a constallation of laique values that must be able to provide reasons against the intrusion of religious moralities in the public sphere.

So, to come back to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, I think that the result reached by the court is satisfactory, although the reasons to get there are not. The court uses secularism as an ethical compromise between liberty and equality. Instead, I believe that secularism should merely be asserted as a value standing beside liberty insofar that it puts pressure on public religious institution to withdraw the pressure in the public sphere. If an individual, however, feels as a private individual, and not a public officer, to bring out to the public part of his/her religious identity, this should be permitted as a rule.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Global Books?

New interesting initiative of the NYU Global Law School. European and International Law Books are reviewed and discussed on its website.
Have a look here for european law books and here for international law books.

Secularism: A worldview or status quo

This post is directly referring to Lorenzo’s recent post on the secularism debate in Turkey. Lorenzo argues, “the decision LEYLA ŞAHİN, the ECHR defended an ambiguous understanding of the concept of secularism.” Why is the understanding ambiguous according to Lorenzo? Namely, Lorenzo finds it difficult to accept that, as ECHR states quoting the Turkish Constitutional Court, “secularism, as the guarantor of democratic values, is the meeting point of liberty and equality.” While Lorenzo explains how it is possible to accept that secularism protects a certain conception of liberty, it clearly does not safeguard equality. For Lorenzo, ECHR was wrong to confirm the Turkish decision that affirms that secularism (meaning in this particular case ban of head-scarf in Turkish universities) protects sexual equality.

The debate in the article then goes towards attempts to set the framework for the adequate balancing and harmonizing of liberty and equality.

Often secularism is referred to as a worldview in itself. I wander is this is an appropriate way to treat this concept. While one can be an atheist, agonistic, catholic, Muslim, Serbian Orthodox, it can be argued, one cannot be a “secular person”. Or at least one cannot call himself a “secular person” if that does not refer exclusively to the fact that he accepts the achieved legal balance between different worldviews in the society. This in itself does not mean much, since secularism is not an individual but communal phenomenon. Thus, it is not helpful to treat secularism as an ethical system. It could be argued that secularism corresponds to status quo between opposing worldviews striving to dominate the legal system of a particular state. This status quo is never perfect but needs to be constantly readjusted. The final goal of secularism is to reach stable balance between different, often opposing worldviews in a society. Its goal is not to progress towards the universal ideal of human liberation. As Lorenzo, well depicts in his article, it is rather difficult to judge in a particular matter if the ban on head scarf in Turkish Universities is a way to promote liberty of the particular woman (although in a paternalistic way) or is it a way to promote equality (so that girls do not feel antagonised by the fact that one is wearing the foulard and the other one not). Rather than endulging in this prfoundly difficult task, it would be better to establish whether one decision or the other upsets the achieved balance in the Turkish society regarding the particular question. This brings us to the question: whether the courts are indeed the most suitable actor to define the balance between oposing wordlviews in a society. Possibly, but not necessarily (and not exclusively), this task is to be left to the legislative branch.

A note to the reader, I do not assume that status quo does not have prfoundly ethical goals, however, in itself is not an elaborate worldview.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

European Defence?

European Common Defence Policy: A reality?
This is what French and Italian government would like you to believe after signing an agreement for the construction of a naval fleet...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"La Haine" II: The Director's Cut...

A quick addendum to Raph's and Sophie's posts below. Mathieu Kassovitz, the director of the film La Haine that both refer to, has posted his own take on the recent riots in Paris on his website, in which he notes tha he is having "to restrain himself from encouraging the rioters". Kassovitz seems to blame the "depravations of politicians" for prolonging, if not inciting, the problems; indeed, his piece is more an anti-Sarkozy polemic than an analysis of what's going on in Paris and elsewhere. Still, worth a read; in French here, and in English here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What isn't true about the recent violence in France.

16 days ago in a town at the North of Paris, two teenagers died electrified in a building of the national electric company where they had tried to hide from policemen who they thought, rightly or not, were after them. This led to street fights between inhabitants of their neighbourhood and the police forces. Violent events such as these are rather common; they can happen more than once a year following tragic events due to police violence. La Haine, a fairly well known movies dealing with the topic of the lives of kids in the Parisian suburbs, shows events of the kind. Usually they stop after a few days and remain located in one particular neighbourhood. This time however things are different. After only two days, the violence started to spread in the towns around, and quickly reached many of the towns at the North of Paris before contaminating other towns further away and in the Southern suburbs as well. In these places some cars, buses and even buildings were burnt. After 5 days many of the largest towns of the country were touched by the phenomenon prompting the President to declare the “state of urgency” which allows the local representatives of the government to establish a curfew in restricted areas for kids under a certain aged which aren’t accompanied.

These events attracted massive attention not only from the French press but also from the media in many foreign countries as well. It seems clear to me that the further one is away from events like this, geographically and sociologically, the more grotesque the representations given are. The Portuguese government told its nationals living close to Paris that they could contact their authorities to organise their return to Portugal if threatened by the burning cars. The Chinese Government encouraged their nationals not to plan any trips to France under the current circumstances. These reactions are quite simply ridiculous.

I can’t explain what is happening, it would be too presumptuous as even sociologists are very cautious on this issue. What I should do however is state what is not accurate.

Firstly, neither France, nor even Paris, are “burning” as the Independent and many French newspapers were saying on their first pages a few days ago. I know that the press needs to sell and that the more tragic an event, the more copies are sold, I also know that fire exercises a strange attraction on most people but this image of France burning is an outrageous exaggeration. There are fights with the police in precise neighbourhoods. Cars, a few buses and some buildings were put on fire but the events take place sporadically. In the street where I park my car, a car was burnt and there was probably another 300 meters away and another again maybe a few kilometres away. The kids that do this put one car on fire and run away quickly, someone phones the fire department and the fire is put off rapidly. The images shown on TV tend to make you think that the fire is everywhere and that everyone is threatened but it isn’t the case at all.

Secondly it is implied by the comments made and the explanations given that only sons and daughters of immigrants take part in these violent events and that most of them are Muslims. This also is completely false. Many of the people participating in the events are born from French parents and in the whole there is absolutely no reason to think that a majority of the kids are ‘Muslims’. Some are of course, but many aren’t, so the focalisation of the media on that point is uncalled for and stems more from an irrational fear of Islam than any fact-based observation. If the frustration caused by the racism of the French society towards some of them is certainly an important factor, it probably isn’t as important as many comments let on, since many of the participants in those events are not concerned directly by racism.

Far from being dangerous Islamic soldiers described by Le Pen and his followers or professional gangsters protecting their business, as Sarkozy sees them, the majority of the people involved are just kids, just teenagers. Many are involved in some kind of competition with kids from rival neighbourhoods; it’s down to which neighbourhood will burn more cars. The media took one week to realize that making the number of cars burnt during the previous night the main news of the day was the best way to encourage others kids to beat the record. For those reasons amongst others, it seems to me that the comparison with the events of May 68 is not telling at all. In 1968 there were students of course but also workers, professors, politicians etc. In other words, the kids involved were guided by adults. It isn’t the case here.

There are some simple conclusions that I think can be drawn already: 1/ burning cars is an efficient way to get the State and society to realize that special efforts need to be made by the State to finance social and cultural public interventions in the neighbourhoods where there is more unemployment, poverty and crime. Indeed, the Prime minister promised to allocate a very large amount of money to the suburbs. 2/ politicians on this issue are not divided mainly according to ideological distinctions, the division is between local politician (from the right and from the left) and national ones. The former are fed up with the unproductive political games of the ladder. 3/ Sarkozy is a dangerous man, he will not hesitate to encourage violence if he can get political benefits out of it. 4/ the only thing as dangerous as his kind of politicians is the media when it behaves like it did for the past 2 weeks: counting the burned cars, keeping score between the different neighbourhoods, and showing images of the kids fighting the police making them look like Indians taking on the cavalry.

Tell me where you live, I’ll tell you who you are

Sophie Germont, a friend of the blog, and an eminent French lawyer and opinionist agreed to post on the recent French events; here's her text:

The question was raised in your blog whether recent riots in French suburbs showed the failure of the French “assimilation” model. For those who are not familiar with the concept, it seems useful to recall that France chose to integrate its immigrant population on the basis of equal treatment with French citizens. This means that, in comparison with other countries, such as Germany and the UK, people working in France are promptly granted citizenship and access to welfare. In counterpart, they are denied any specific right (minority rights); the specificities of this population are thus deliberately ignored.

Although such position might seem hard to defend today, I belong to those who believe that this system is less bad than the German “minority friendly” model. I grew up in a genuine melting pot (for those who doubt the existence of any such thing, I would advise to read Daniel Pennac’s hilarious novels) and I reckon that salad bowls are not good enough. However, Paris is burning and the failure of the French integration policy seems impossible to deny. According to me, this does not put into question the appropriateness of the “assimilation” model but it is rather the consequence of successive governments’ departure from this principle. Indeed, the latter was implemented de jure but not de facto.

Immigrant workers and their families were granted similar rights as Frenchmen, access to the same health protection and schools but one mistake flawed the whole system. Around, the 60s, it was decided to build proper accommodation for poor people. Several “villes nouvelles” flourished in the country, outside the main cities. This was nicely meant but no one took into account the sociological impact of regrouping the poorest in such ghost-cities. For all the immigrants living there, “Assimilation” could just not take place anymore: schools and public facilities were stigmatized as ghetto-places. Unemployed, disillusioned, adults surround children growing up there and it is only natural that some of them refuse the values of a society that denies them any hope. I have been to school with such children and could not believe how far their despise for any authority went. Many were clever, witty, but absolutely nihilist. Current riots confirm this impression: despite their clear exclusion as an underclass, it would never occur to them to attack upper classes. They kill their neighbors, attack babies, rape girls in their street or rob their own bakery, etc. Instead of uniting, they keep shooting on people sharing their misfortune. This has nothing to do with rebellions experienced in American ghettoes: they were demonstrating in favor of something but here; we are facing absolutely nihilist destruction.

Racism is far from being the only reason for these people’s exclusion. In the French context, the fate of second-generation immigrants mainly depends on where they grew up. Those who live out of these ghettoes really get the chance to integrate irrespective of their skin color. Residual racism exists but it is far from being as significant as in other European countries. So why are these guys burning cars all night?

I believe that they are the victims of the de-socialization process at work in the “banlieues”. Geographical exclusion slowly gave way to the elaboration of a parallel society with different values, language, dressing codes, music tastes, etc (for those who did not yet, you have to see Mathieu Kassovitz’s film on this phenomenon: “La Haine”). This would all be ok if people would be able to work in this bubble but jobs are in the outside world. Working implies accepting the rules of a society that initially rejected them. Close to my hometown, in Les Ulis, many jobs for unqualified workers remain unfilled although the city has 30% unemployment. Employers desperately seeking workforce obviously offered jobs to the guys irrespective of their skin color but it often clashes because of divergent values. I am very pessimistic about the future of the rioters but now; it is our duty to care for the re-socialization of the next generations.

Two solutions can be envisaged in this perspective. The first one is the progressive dismantlement of our ghettoes. The State would help the poorest to pay their rents in the private sector and destroy all these shabby Council flats. This would be the only way to start a proper implementation of the “assimilation” model but the obvious inconvenience would be the high costs of such measures. The other alternative would consist in renouncing to “assimilation” in order to adopt the American model. Ghettoes would remain but positive discrimination in favor of minorities should be introduced.

Secularism and the European Court of Human Rights

In the decision LEYLA ŞAHİN, posted before, the ECHR defended an ambiguous understanding of the concept of secularism.

At paragraph 113, the ECHR cites the decision of the Turkish Constitutional Court that asserts that secularism, as the guarantor of democratic values, is the meeting poin of liberty and equality.

The reason put forward is that secularism in Turkey protects both freedom of exercise and freedom from establishment.

Now, if it could be argued that secularism protects a certain conception of liberty, it is extremely hard to see how it protects equality.

The Court, in its Grand Chamber formation, sees no good reason to depart from the opinion of the Chamber. The latter held that secularism protected sexual equality insofar that it protected women from being obliged to wear the muslim scarf.

This apparently liberal attitude, disguises in reality a strong paternalist view, according to which it is wrong for women to wear scarf because this undermines their equality. This is far from being a settled issue, and the court cannot just turn a blind eye on the fact that there are women who claim to be exercising their free will when wearing the scarf.

Secularims thus understood, therefore, does not do anything to protect sexual equality. If anything it imposes a certain view of how women should behave within a prefixed view of the society.

The position of the ECHR is also ambiguous because on the one hand it asserts that in this field, the state has a broad margin of manoeuvre. On the other, however, the court cliams that: 'an attitude which fails to respect that principle will not necessarily be accepted as being covered by th freedom to manifest one's religion and will not enjoy the protection of Article 9 of the Convention...'

The ECHR seems to condamn a priori any attempt of the present turkish government to reform the existing law on muslim scarfs. As already pointed out before, however, the Prime Minister Erdogan does not regard this decision as binding his hands.

An interesting perspective comes from the dissenting opinion of Judge Tulkens. He states boldly that 'the role of authorities in such circumstances is not to remove the cause of the tensions by eliminating pluralism, but, as the Court again reiterated only recently, to ensure that the competing groups tolerate each other.'

I strongly agree on the idea that pluralism does not mean watering down competing views so that the social/legal conflict disappears. To the contrary, each position should be taken seriously and heard. And the efforts should be geared towards the creation of a public space that accepts different, and competing, views of how values combine.

Later on Judge Tulkens holds: 'I believe that it is necessary to seek to harmonise the principles of secularism, equality and liberty, not to weigh one against the other...'

This is an interesting statement, although I do believe that it is inaccurately phrased. First of all, I do agree that in cases such as this, it is not a matter of balancing competing values with the belief that those values are in fact commensurable. In other words, there is no hope for a quantitative weighing of the values at stake.

Second, I do not think that the opposite of balancing is harmonizing. Rather, the opposite of balancing consists in the effort of understanding and dealing with social/legal conflicts of rights that may arise in a community.

Seen from this perspective a total ban on scarf on the part of muslim students, as opposed to teachers !!, amounts to an undue interference of the right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as protected by art 9. More importantly, the limitation of that right does not seem to be reasonably argued. Secularism cannot possibly mean reducing pluralism to a single paternalist view of the state.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

First Scarf Case in Strasbourg

First pronouncement of the European Court of Human Rights on a 'scarf case' in Turkey. The plaintiff, LEYLA ŞAHİN, was in 1998 a student of medicine. Back then, she had been expelled from the University because she was wearing a scarf. The ECHR argued that the ban of the scarf can be justified in a democratic society such as Turkey.

The now Prime Minister, Erdogan, who leads a moderate religious party, immediately claimed that that decision only applies to the specific case in point. He reserves the possibility for his government to enact a law that makes it possible to wear a scarf in public places.

As this is the first pronouncement of the Strasbourg Court on the issue, it should be read very carefully as it could set standards to decide forthcoming cases such as those coming from France, and conderning the recent ban of the scarf in public places.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Good news for Alaska?

It seems that the Congress is not very keen to drill in the natural reserve in Alaska. For the moment, then, the spectre haunting Alaska is not so threatening. But can this last long? Bush's administration will certainly not give up very easily on this one.

Georges Weah, Berlusconi, and Liberia

Georges used to be one of my favourite players when he was in Milan. I am not sure he's my favourite politician now that he's fighting for becoming president of Liberia.

He certainly seems to be an honest and committed man. But he might have learned politics from his former Boss at AC Milan, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In Liberia, Weah is by far one of the richest man of the country. He owns his own radio, King FM, and he sounds very populistic. These three traits, public display of wealth, control of the media, and populism, are the three major aspects of Berlusconi's political philosophy. If you add to that the common football matrix, which makes a man particularly popular, then the similarities are quite impressive. And worrying.

It is only to be hoped that Georges, now that he has lost, will let his country fight for its own public interest. Georges can still be an important ambassador for that unliky country.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Republican Constitution?

One way of reading yesterday's success of the British parliament is to claim, as Adam Tomkins does, that the British Constitution is fundamentally Republican. Three elements characterise Tomkins' Republicanism: Anti-monarchism and Popular Sovereignty; freedom as non-domination (following P. Pettit account of this concept); and the institutional design of accountability.

Probably, the last element, the institutional design of accountability, is the most important for Tomkins account. In his book, he spends a lot of time explaining why the notion of political accountability of the executive vis-a-vis the parliament is so central in British Republicanism.

Indeed, yesterday success of the parliament, and defeat of the executive, could be explained in Tomkins' terms. From that perspective, the Parliament would be the best institution to protect the freedom of the polity from the domination of its very government.

Any other views on this?

More difficulties with Hussein's trial

The Independent reports that lawyers for Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants have said that they will boycott the trial, after the second one of them was killed since the proceedings began, and another injured. We perhaps do not have to pay too much attention to their claim that the occupation forces are responsible for the killing; however, their secondary point, that US and UK forces should at least be ensuring the safety of those involved in the process, does seem much more reasonable.

As does their refusal to carry on with the trial until such safety can be guaranteed. Until now, a startling number of people involved in the proceedings have been murdered: One of the judges and his son, the brother of the Chief Prosecutor, and three other court officials. This brings the death toll of those involved to a startling eight - in two months. It is difficult to imagine how any trial, let alone a free, fair and transparent one, can take place in such a context.

Until now, the US and the Iraqi government have been strongly opposed to moves to hold the trial either in another country or before an international tribunal. This too is understandable; in symbolic terms alone, it is crucial that Hussein be seen to be tried by his own people, bfeore Iraqi courts. However, perhaps the time is approaching to consider something like the solution thrashed out with Libya during the Lockerbie affair: that is, holding a scottish court on international grounds. If the Iraqi court charged with trying Hussein were to be relocated to international territory, it might just represent an acceptable middle way between the need for the trial, judges and law to be Iraqi, and the requirement that it be carried out in relative safety. Just a thought.

Amnesties for terrorists?

On any other day, an attempt by Tony Blair's government to introduce a Bill to parliament that would grant amnesties to IRA fugitives for crimes committed before 1998 would be at the very forefront of political debate; howevert, recent events have meant that we barely have barely heard about it. Naturally, the irony of presenting this Bill on the same day (yesterday) as he tried to force through the ill-fated 90 day detention-without-trial period has not been lost on the Unionists or Conservatives.

The Bill proposes that anyone accused of terrorist offences commited before the 10th of April 1998 who return to Northern Ireland would still face trial, but, even if convicted, would then be released under licence. Although the timing of the introduction of these proposals is perhaps a little clumsy, to claim inconsistency in Blair's approach (as the Tories have done) simply because he is, on the same day, seeking to imprison "terrorists" for 90 days without trial and looking to give them amnesties, is more than a little disingenious. Of course, measures of this sort can always be characterised by opponents as "giving in to terrorism" and by proponents as "intended to end, not further terrorism"; the trick is thus not to rely on abstract formulations, but to examine the context to see which of the statements is the most convincing in the particular case.

In this case, the relative threats posed by the two situations targeted by the two Bills are entirely different; and the peace process in Northern Ireland is, many feel, approaching its endgame. It is simply lazy thinking to insist that problematic and vague abstract categories should be applied automatically, regardless of the complexities of context. In the current context of Northern Ireland (and bearing in mind that most terrorists from the period in question have already been released from prison under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement), the government has, in my view, got this one right.

... and Big Victory for the British Parliament!

Following Euan's post on Blair's Big Loss:

The point I want to make is that the big winner is the House of Commons. And this is a good and refreshing news. Possibly, this is the important point. Democratic and Representative politics is not dead, is well and alive and lives in Westminster.

Yesterday, there were no party games. British politicians are rightly concerned about the security of the country. All of them. This does not mean, however, that the whole country has to abyde by what Tony says. Of course, Blair thought that 90 days of detention without trial for terrorist suspects was the RIGHT thing to do. I am sure he's god damn persuaded about that. But, he did not manage to persuade anybody else. His only strategy was to say: this is the OBJECTIVELY RIGHT thing to do, so let's follow me and do it.

That message failed to convince fellow members of the labour party. Needless to say, it also failed to convince lib-dems and tories. And the good news is that is politics at its best. Either you have a compelling political reason to enact a policy or you risk to lose confidence.

I am not quite sure that this is a big blow for Tony, though. He felt compelled to do what he thought was right. A good politician must have a strong vision and must try to realize it. The Parliament, on the other hand, had the duty to review the reasons for that policy. After careful consideration, the Parliament thought that 28 days of detention without trial was enough. They struck a compromise, and they will be liable in case this compromise proves ineffective.

Yesterday was a great day of constitutional politics in action. The rest is irrelevant.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Big loss for Blair...

Tony Blair's first loss in Parliament in 8 years in office this evening has been bigger than expected; 322 votes to 291 (49 labour MPs rebelling). The proposals were to allow the detention of terrorist suspects for up to 90 days without trial, provided that the detention was justified before a high court judge every 7 days. The measure was strongly supported by the police, and, Blair claims, by the British public. Parliament in the end opted for a 28-day period.

Blair's response has been unrepentent and a little bewildered. I paraphrase here from an interview on BBC World, but his response was to say "Sometimes it is better to lose a vote trying to do the right thing, than to win one doing the wrong thing". Further, he exclaimed "I don't understand - I really don't understand this at all, but Parliament has voted and that is its right to do so - how, given the seriousness of the terrorist threat we face, can the civil rights of a small number of terrorist suspects - who would have to appear before a judge every seven days in any event - outweigh the fundamental civil liberty of this country" to be free from terrorism.

This was his immediate reaction, and his obvious incredulity shows that he has clearly lost touch with a significant element within his own party; an element signficant enough to overturn his 66-seat majority, should the Tories and Lib Dems see fit to give him another bloody nose. The Tories, of course, would undoubtedly rush to bring in such a law if police advice was to remain the same should they ever be voted back into power; such, however, is party politics. Blair may thus face a similarly tough time soon, with votes on reforms on the health and education sectors, unpopular with many in the labour party, coming up.

And where is Gordon Brown in all this? Doing what he always does in such circumstances: the minimum he has to to support Blair's government (he had barely arrived in Israel today before he was recalled for the vote), and otherwise keeping his head down and his mouth firmly shut. His time may well be approaching; bookmakers William Hill have, according to the Guardian tonight reduced the odds on Blair leaving office before the end of the year from 3-1 to 7-4.

Italian American Justices

Thanks again to Opinio Juris for posting a very interesting comment on Judge Alito's dissertation about the Italian Constitutional Court.

Alito, as Justice Scalia, is an Italian American; it is interesting to witness the rise of Italian Americans to one of the most powerful institutions in America. After all, when Italian first arrived in the States, they were probably as poor as north african are nowadays in France. Also they came from a catholic background in a country where the ruling elite was protestant.

For an Italian like me, it is also fascinating to observe the social trajectory of Italian emigrants, partly because I am an Italian expat myself. When you talk to Italian Americans, you realize that they are neither Italians, nor Americans. They are more Italian than Italians and more American than Americans.

My main worry concerning Alito's italianness regards his attention to the Vatican's opinion. In his dissertation he quotes at lenght from Civilta' Cattolica, a reading that only Italian Catholic extremists would enjoy. The Vatican nowadays has a very aggressive politics concerning sexual morality; this is probably an important common trait between Wojtila and Ratzinger. It would be regrettable if Alito got inspiration from those views.

Back then, funnily enough, the Vatican criticised progressive judicial activism, by putting forward an italian version of 'originalism', when interpreting the constitution:

We should ask if this is what the Italian people, who had just regained their liberty, desired when ... they established that the new Constitution would be protected against Parliamentary violation by a supreme and impartial organ of Constitutional justice.... We should ask at the same time whether these eminent men, when they occupied university chairs or sat on an ordinary court, instead of applying and teaching 'the same law for all,' taught or applied above all the political ideas of the party or fraction of a party to which they belonged

Fascinating! Conservative are similar both sides of the Atlantic. Especially when it comes to the philosophy of interpretation of the Constitution. It is hard to buy this argument; if the italian constitutional court played today a more aggressive catholic interpretation, I am sure the Vatican would be delighted about that judicial activism.

It is to be hoped that Alito is above all that. But I doubt it.

Post-modernism in film

Yesterday I saw an interesting movie, called Crash. It is one in the series of new American films (e.g. L.A. Confidential) that brake away from the Hollywood black and white vision of the world. The movie Crash is especially interesting to watch these days, because it deals with the topic of racial/social relations in the US. The movie Crash teaches us, that we do not know who we are before we find ourselves in a particular situation, that morality is in doing not in pre-set beliefs.

A Transatlantic Conversation on France

Opinio Juris recently posted a comment on an editorial by Mark Steyn. This sparked a lot of controversy because of the bitter attitude of Steyn towards French social problems.

I have few comments on this issue:

Firstly, it is really good fun to have a transatlantic conversation on socio/political issues. Comparative politics, as much as comparative law, are immensely fascinating.

Secondly, it teaches something very important on how to judge foreign experiences. Chris Borgen, for example, insists on the importance of fairmindedness, at any price, even if your interlocutor does not show much of it. Being fair, in other word, does not have to be reciprocal, it may simply be unilateral. In the long run, it is the winning strategy.

Thirdly, as a consequence, shadenfreude (that is, taking pleasure at somebody's else misfortunes) is not a fair attitude. Of course, it does not matter at all who is the receptacle of the shadenfreude (can be France, US, UK, Italy etc..it is always unfair).

Fourthly, on the idea of an 'Arab street in Europe': this is not a discovery, I am afraid. But it should be put in context. Europe in general is failing to 'empower' immigrants. This is not a new issue, it is a very old problem that has very many layers; it partly goes back to our colonialist past; it is also due to strong class divides (the best book on this issue is P. Bourdieu, Noblesse d' Etat).

The religious issue we christian/ their muslim is not what this story is all about. If you're poor and christian, and you leave in one of those suburbs, you're very likely to end up burning cars in protest, notwithstanding the religious difference.

It is mainly the Vatican that is insisting on that issue. Srdjan and I discuss that problem in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

From the horse's mouth: UK-US relations and the build-up to war

For those who are not yet thoroughly bored with the ongoing controversy surrounding the steps that led to war in Iraq, the Guardian has begun to serialise a new book from Sir Christopher Meyer, the former UK ambassador in Washington, dealing with his experiences as the top diplomat during the period in question. There is perhaps not much in the extracts that will astound or even particularly surprise those who followed the process, but they are nonetheless very much worth a look, particularly in terms of providing an inside view of some of the personalities involved, few of which, and Blair in particular, come out smelling even vaguely of roses.

Apparently, Meyer was told by the Tony Blair's Chief of Staff that his primary mission as UK ambassador to the US was to "get up the arse of the US and stay there". His erstwhile employer, who is not having an easy time of things at all domestically, can't be overly happy at his very public failure to carry out the second part of that instruction quite as well as he managed the first...

Finally, the French Prime Minister has a 'great idea'...

Prime Minister Villepin proposes to create 'une grande agence de la cohesion sociale,' that is literally a Grand Authority for Social Cohesion.

That's really great, well done Citypine (Villepin)! What France needs is precisely another institution that deals the problem from the top down. An institution that confers the prizes and the sanctions, something that entrenches even more the distance between ruling elites and other classes.

Maybe you can mould your institution along the lines of the Academie Francaise, imposing top down how french should speak in french. Thus, the Grand Authority for Social Cohesion will impose top down the way French people should integrate....

Supranationalist 6

I agree with Lorenzo that there is something fundamentally wrong about the present European economic and social structure. Increased unemployment, lack of efficient integration models for the immigrants, poor urban planning of the last decades of the XX century, but also global psychosis created by the virtual propaganda of the “war on terror” (that certainly had its impact on Europe as a whole, including those EU states,like France, that did not participate in the war against Iraq) all contributed to the increased alienation of the first, but especially second generation immigrant population.

Here I need to make a small digression, my intention is not to defend the French integration model, but only to expose certain critical reflections on this system to the attention of the readers of our blog. The Economist for example blames the French head-scarf ban and the French “unease” over allowing Turkey into the EU, for the increased social alienation of the Muslim population. This position is unfair, and possibly biased (Economist to a large extent supported the war on Iraq), since it is probably much more the global war on terror and the war in Iraq, than the French slowing down of Turkey’s entrance in the EU, that contributed to the creation of the social climate in France where the Muslim population became ostracized. Arguably, opposition to Turkey’s entrance into the EU, is also a consequence of the global war on terror.

To come to the point, it is more the general social atmosphere that generates the present inflammatory situation, not so much the French assimilatory model or the multicultural model.

As far as the economic situation is concerned, there Lorenzo is right, unemployment in the suburbs is appalling (informal employment practices especially for white-collar jobs are racist) and the French welfare state is in crisis (like the German one), however, what is the alternative? It is probably true that due to the welfare system that does not create incentives to search for work, large parts of the population (mostly second generation immigrants) fall in a situation where they sit at home and do nothing, which makes them frustrated and angry, but in US (E.G.) the situation is similar notwithstanding the different integration model and the neo-liberal economic system. Present riots in France are a daily occurrence and people do not even write about it any more. On the other hand, poor, often minority population in the US, live in their (segregated) parts of big metropolis, and they are excluded not only from the city centres and middle class neighbourhoods but also from the media, so that we do not hear anything about them. More importantly economic situation in poor metropolis areas is so bad that there are no cars and no government employment centres to be burned at the first place. Is that the better model? Certainly not. France is in the centre of attention exactly because it is strange that something like that happens in the welfare-state Europe. This should certainly be the reason that should worry us but not necessarily lead us towards complete reconstruction of the classical European economic and social model. Lorenzo does criticize this model, but fails to propose a concrete alternative, like this, as his position stands, one may think that he advocates an economic model of the US, is the level of social integration better there than in France…this is arguable, but if it is it is certainly not because of the neo-liberal economic model. French riots, until present, caused only one fatal casualty, look at the number of murders in the US. Just another remark on Lorenzo’s writing, I agree with Lorenzo that bad policy choices (appalling – and to remind corruption led urban planning) created a situation that increased the level of frustration of the young immigrants, however, to call their violent behaviour (however justified in terms of causes of their anger) “social struggle” is not-appropriate, a social struggle has its end, not only means, in this sense when black-block members brake cars they leave a clear political message, when young Italians who committ acts of proletarian expropriation take goods from supermarkets they act politically, the young people in French cite do not, they represent no-one but themselves and they do not act politically.

On the fundamental point, however, I agree with Lorenzo, we need to work on the transformation of our European home. In the economic sense this means reforming the welfare state model not in the direction of abolishing it but in the direction of creating a model that accounts for the realities of the global market but that also safeguards the ideal of social solidarity (with the accent on the second). We also need to strengthen our democracy, possibly by introducing new (see Supranationalist 3), technologically innovative models, into the mechanism of democratic representation. Look at the example of Estonia, where it is now possible to vote on parliamentary elections via internet. This would allow slow but steady implementation of the model of direct democracy that would have the propensity to significantly increase the legitimacy of our polity. Moreover, in order to safeguard the international image of the EU, it is of outmost importance to maintain the present foreign policy orientation of the Union, meaning that the EU must strictly work in the direction of strengthening the foreign policy approach that is non violent and respective of the UN and the peremptory legal norms of international public law. This does not mean that the EU should support status quo, the EU could work to reform the UN institutional structure, but the result of the reform must meet the requirements of the present UN Security Council members plus it must acquire a broader consensus on the global level. Such international position, would certainly have a beneficial effect on the internal social and economic situation in Europe. In order to play such a constructive global role, the EU must, have the power to act rapidly and decisively in the international arena, for this reason I must once again express deep regret for the failure of the EU Constitution draft. Finally, it is of fundamental significance that our democracy frees itself from the element of fear, which is having a significant negative impact on the social cohesion of our societies.