Marc Rich, Commodity Trading

The Financial Times ran a eulogy on Marc Rich, who as a fugitive from US justice lived in Switzerland in the last 30 years. He was granted a presidential pardon by Bill Clinton shortly before President Clinton left office. Rich was a generous donor to many worthwhile causes. There is no doubt he was a financial genius but many lost income, savings, even whole companies as a result of the style of commodity trading he shaped. I wrote this short correction letter to the FT today.

Editor, FT

The eulogy to Marc Rich (Comment 28 June) needs some qualifying. A look at the graph on page 22 of the Swiss Government’s report into commodity trading published in March shows the most extraordinary almost Alpine surges then drops in prices of oil, copper and aluminum during the heyday of Rich’s career. As with the  upto 20 fold increase in iron ore prices in the last decade these price movements were unrelated to supply, demand, production or external factors like war. A small number of traders cleaned up massively but the world manufacturing economy had a commodity traders’ tax imposed on it which resulted in a loss of faith in making things and blind worship in derivatives and other elements of what is essentially a form of betting. As the Swiss Government warns it is necessary ‘ensure that the commodity derivative markets …remain free from manipulation.’ With commodity trading increasingly based on indices not the real cost of extraction and transportation the Swiss admonition is timely. More and more of these trades are moving away from the regulatory framework of rule of law democracies to the Gulf and Asia. Rich was indeed a financial genius but his legacy is open to question.




Is Germany Leading Europe?

My reply to Carnegie Europe’s latest Strategic Question

Denis MacShaneFormer UK minister for Europe

No country is leading Europe. In fact, Europe is leaderless.

This is the fault not of Chancellor Merkel, but of the weight of history. The idea of leadership—das Führerprinzip—has negative connotations in Germany for obvious reasons. Germany has never had or even sought an exclusive leadership role in Europe. German chancellors have exercised great leadership only when they have had a partner of real weight. Think of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand (or even Margaret Thatcher, up to a point).

Today Merkel has no one to partner with. Her alliance with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was an embarrassment, and now the French left under President François Hollande is becoming euroskeptical. The presence of a German-speaking French prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, has made little difference to Franco-German relations. Merkel is now thinking of her reelection and retirement. Like Hollande, she is struggling with domestic political problems and has no time to think through a strategy for Europe.

The zero-sum game between the many on the left and right who blame Germany for not solving the euro crisis and Germans who blame feckless Southern Europeans for causing it is reducing European politics to playpen level. Too often, German ideas of leadership focus on calls for more Europe, meaning more power for the European Commission or the European Parliament. But this is less and less appealing, and a federal “ever closer union” is yesterday’s story.


Why Israel Should Recognise Kosovo

This was first published in the Jerusalem Post 20 June 2013

The Kosovo case: Punishing friends, rewarding enemies
By Denis MacShane
Despite Ambassador Levy’s warmly received presence, Israel stands with many of its own enemies in not recognizing Kosovo.

The monument is of the most perfect simplicity. A plain, upright marble slab.

In Albanian, Serbian, Hebrew and English it records the site as the ground where the last synagogue in Pristina stood. In Kosovo, the Jewish presence is small, but has been constant since the fateful day in 1492 when the Catholic monarchs of Spain ordered the expulsion of Jews. Many settled in the Balkans, living quietly as second class citizens under Ottoman rule until the rise of anti-Jewish ideology as organized politics in Europe.

Yugoslavia’s pre-1939 Jews suffered not just from the arrival of the Nazis in 1941 but from the openly anti-Semitic Ustashe Croats. In Serbia, the local Gestapo boss in Belgrade reported to Berlin in August” 1942: “Serbien ist judenfrei” – the first of the conquered lands in the Nazi imperium to rid itself of Jews.

The one temporary haven was in Kosovo, which had been occupied by Italy under a deal between Hitler and Mussolini. Kosovan- Albanians continued the Ottoman tradition of shelter, including for Jews. It was a small and only temporary respite in the Holocaust’s gathering fury. As the Germans moved south through the Balkans into Greece they brought with them all the exterminationist apparatus, and Jews living in Kosovo also perished.

Today there is a tiny Jewish community of a few dozen in Kosovo, but their presence as part of Kosovan history is remembered. In an impressive ceremony in Pristina. Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, spoke of the need to learn from the Jewish emphasis on reconciliation. A senior Israeli diplomat, Ambassador Yossef Levy laid a wreath along with Kosovo’s president.

Pristina’s tiny synagogue stood until 1963 when it was bulldozed by local communist rulers to make way for the social-realism architectural brutalities of Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Now there are plans to build a museum to the history of Kosovo Jewry and the Anglo- Israeli architect, Ron Arad, has been commissioned to draw up plans.

Today Kosovo is a small, independent nation searching for reconciliation and recognition like other small nations that emerged from Yugoslavia, such as Croatia, Montenegro or Macedonia. It is poor and its politics is dominated by the personalities of the liberation war of 1998-1999.

Kosovo has established diplomatic relations with about 100 other nations despite a counter-diplomatic offensive by Serbia and Russia, which has never forgiven the West for the military attacks on the Kremlin’s Balkan protégé, Slobodan Milosevic. All the major democracies in Europe and North America have recognized Kosovo. The most recent to recognize Kosovo include Tanziania and Yemen. There are hold-outs like Cyprus or Greece, which have close links to the Serb Orthodox church. But the most curious and illogical recognition refusenik is Israel.

In a startling reversal of normal diplomacy, Israel’s approach to Kosovo is to punish its friends and reward its enemies. Despite Ambassador Levy’s warmly received presence, Israel stands with many of its own enemies in not recognizing Kosovo.

For years, Western diplomats have urged Arab countries to establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel. Even at the height of Franco-German enmity, when Germany occupied and annexed the Alsace-Lorraine region of eastern France, Berlin and Paris maintained diplomatic ties. So why does Israel irritate its friends by refusing to recognize Kosovo? The formal reason is that to recognize Kosovo might encourage the recognition of the Palestinian state. Yet the very countries in the forefront of pushing for diplomatic recognition of Palestine – Brazil or South Africa for example – are those that refuse to recognize Kosovo.

Unlike Palestine, Kosovo exercises authority over a defined geographical area with clear frontiers. Under pressure from the European Union, Belgrade now accepts there will be no revision of Kosovo’s frontiers, even if there are disputes over the extent of autonomy in the Serb-populated region in north Kosovo. The Orthodox church has dioceses and monasteries in Kosovo and while there is no love between the Kosovan Albanian and Kosovan Serb communities there is a sullen co-existence akin to the rubbing along between Catholic nationalist and protestant unionist communities in Northern Ireland.

There are many other contested or occupied territories from northern Cyprus to Spanish enclaves in Morocco, Kashmir, Ngorno Karabak or Abkahzia, to name just some. If Israel refused diplomatic recognition to countries whose borders were in question it would have to close many embassies.

Kosovo needs to develop its economy, access international credit, become open to outside investors to exploit its mineral resources and develop tourism in the delightful verdant valleys of Europe’s most unspoiled region. To do this it needs to play a full part in international bodies from the World Bank to the Council of Europe. The petulant refusal of Russia to allow Kosovo to enter the UN may make Moscow diplomats feel strong but it is as silly as American refusal to recognize communist China until Nixon’s visit in 1973, or even the delay until 1950 and the retirement of the anti-Zionist foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, before Britain opened diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Serb-Russian bitterness over Kosovo’s independence is counter-productive diplomacy.

One can understand why anti-Western governments endorse it but Israel’s nonrecognition of Kosovo makes no sense. Kosovo is a natural friend of Israel and Israeli diplomacy should recognize the fact.

The writer is a former UK foreign minister and author of Globalising hatred: the New Antisemitism (2008) and Why Kosovo Still Matters (2011).

Beauty and the Beast

This argument was published on Open Democracy 10 June 2010

Beauty and the Beast on Britain and Europe

DENIS MCSHANE 10 June 2013

The war of words over Europe in Britain cannot be called ‘debate’. A former Europe minister examines two serious and opposite thinkers on Europe, and asks whether their arguments could have impact in Britain.

The Europe debate goes on and on. But debate may be a misnomer. What we are witnessing is preaching not debate. We hear the utterance of fixed opinions not the dialogue that seeks to change minds. Rather late in the day, commentators who have gone along with the modish salon Euroscepticism especially prevalent in London are waking up to the fact that Britain leaving Europe is now serious politics.

Star commentators – like Matthew Paris, with his roots partly in Catalonia, and Gideon Rachman, the experienced Financial Times foreign correspondent and permanent conférencier – have begun to smell the coffee and realise that Britain may be on the point of leaving. In the past, out of political affiliation or scorn for Brussels, neither bothered to challenge the rise of anti-European politics. Now they worry that the Outers are going to win. Yet, other than lament this turn of events, they cannot undo the years of lazy acquiescence in the rise of antipathy towards Europe across the political, media, business and opinion-forming networks in Britain.

This hand-wringing is growing but the serious money is going into backing the campaign for an unachievable repatriation and renegotiation followed by a plebiscite. The Prime Minister (of whatever colour) will find it hard to recommend a Yes vote in the referendum for what patently will be a miserable, minimalist offer from a Europe utterly fed up with Britain and its demand to cherry pick from an Anglo à la carte EU.

Two important contributions by serious thinkers reveal the falsity of a non-debate where participants talk past each other.

The first is Katinka Barysch, who has been a main stay of the Centre of European Reform for a number of years. Now as a single mother she is returning to her native Germany because there are many positive aspects about London but support for mothers and children is not one of them. The second, Norman Stone, is one of the big beasts amongst modern British historians. Like so many, he is Scots born and educated north of the border before he became a major scholar at Cambridge. Like AJP Taylor or Hugh Trevor Roper, Stone loves politics, controversy and stirring things up. A devoted Thatcherite, he relocated to Turkey when New Labour won in 1997 but his latest short history of World War 2 shows his contrarian historicism remains energetic and vivid.

In a paper for the Centre of European Reform, Ms Barysch quietly lets the air out of the main thrust of the Eurosceptic case. She writes:

‘Eurosceptics claim that access to the European market is no longer worth much since Britain now “mostly” trades with non-EU countries. It is true that the share of British exports that go to the other EU countries has fallen to just below 50 per cent and that sales to emerging markets are growing faster  –  that is exactly what you would expect, given that the eurozone is in recession while many emerging markets are still growing briskly.

‘Eurosceptics often imply that if Britain severed its ties with the EU, it would trade more with emerging markets. The idea that the EU is holding Britain back is spurious. Germany sells six times as many goods and services to China as the UK does. If it is the EU holding Britain back, why is it not holding back Germany?  

‘Another figure that the eurosceptics like to use is £50 million: that is supposed to be the daily British contribution to the EU budget. This number has some validity, although it is outdated. In 2011 the gross UK contribution to the EU budget was £13.83 billion, or £37 million a day. Is this a lot or a little? It depends how you look at it. As a share of GDP, the UK’s gross contribution is the lowest of any EU country, lower than those of poorer countries such as Poland or Bulgaria. And of course, Britain also gets money back from the EU for its farmers, universities and poorer regions. Once these revenues are factored in, Britain’s net contribution amounts to roughly 1 per cent of total government spending.

‘Even 1 per cent is a lot if, as many eurosceptics claim, the money is wasted. UKIP calls the European Union a “bureaucratic monster” and sometimes implies that most EU spending goes to meddlesome bureaucrats. In reality, around 5 per cent of the EU budget is spent on administration, and half of that on the European Commission. The European Commission has 23,000 employees, less than Birmingham City Council. It is true that EU officials are “unelected”, as are the 32,000 officials in the British Home Office and those of any other state administration around the world. No doubt, the EU’s bureaucracy could be streamlined and made more effective but the real potential for savings – as many British politicians have pointed out for years – is in the common agricultural policy and funds for poorer regions.

‘The fundamental truth is that the European Union is an extremely complex undertaking that cannot easily be reduced to simple numbers – either on the positive or on the negative side. But perhaps by feeding random numbers, half-truth and fiction into the debate, the hard-core eurosceptics will force other politicians and journalists to do a better job of explaining what is really at stake in Britain’s EU membership.’

Ms Barysch lists other myths promoted by Open Europe, the Bruges Group, Business for Britain (a new anti-EU front), many Tory (and some Labour) MPs about Europe, namely that EU legislation dominates national legislation. It doesn’t. The House of Commons produces an annual estimate of legislation from Europe. You can never find more than about 8 per cent of primary legislation from Brussels. A moment’s glance at the current UK (or French or German) legislative or government agenda – gay marriage, education reform, prison policy, countering Islamist fundamentalism, housing, HS2 and London airport congestion, income tax levels, and military interventions – and the plain truth is that the nations of Europe still decide, for good or ill, most of what impacts on their citizens.

It is true that some badly-run Eurozone countries are facing external diktats, much as Britain did in 1976 when the IMF imposed public sector cuts in exchange for a sterling bail-out. But the cuts and austerity politics are as bad in non-Euro countries as in the Eurozone.

The austerity measures by the IMF-EU-ECB troika imposed on countries like Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain have been devastating. The IMF is now confessing it got policy wrong in Greece and the EU has loosened strict timetables. Youth unemployment in April stood at 64.2 % in Greece, 56.4% in Spain, 42.5% in Portugal and 40.5% in Italy. Eurosceptic commentators like to blame this on the Euro.

Yet a closer look at the figures across Europe do not directly link as cause and effect the Euro and lack of jobs for 16-24 year olds. British youth unemployment stands at 21 per cent – and is much higher in the north and among British ethnic minorities, notably British Muslim youth. Yet Britain has the “advantage” of a devalued pound and has as little to do with common Eurozone policies as possible.

According to Eurostat, Germany, Austria, the Netherland, Luxembourg, and Belgium all have significantly lower youth unemployment levels than the UK. All of these countries use the Euro and are usually left out of the commentaries which seek to link the single currency to youth unemployment. Sweden, often held up as a model non-Eurozone nation, has youth unemployment rates of 25 per cent. While the Swedish crown has not “enjoyed” the bigger devaluation of the pound sterling, Sweden sets its own monetary, fiscal policy and exchange rate policy independently of the ECB.

Spain’s overall youth unemployment is a disaster but in 1985 and 1995 youth unemployment hovered around 50 per cent even in the boom years of the Spanish movida when it used the peseta which floated freely on international currency markets. Again, blaming the Euro does not seem justified by history and the stubbornness of facts.

Many of the worst performing EU member states in terms of youth unemployment (Bulgaria 29%, Poland 28%, Hungary 28%, Romania 22%, Sweden 25%, UK 21%) are all outside the Eurozone. So making a causal link between the Eurozone and youth unemployment does not seem to be justified.

These hard facts along with the arguments contained in the Barysch CER article are widely available. But when do British citizens read them in their daily papers? Presenters on the BBC, Sky and daytime broadcasters get all their information from the off-shore owned newspapers which have been publishing anti-European propaganda consistently for more than two decades. Social media is overwhelmingly influenced by traditional media so the EU debate in Britain is the most unbalanced since pamphleteers and cries of No Popery when the late 17th century ruling elites decided Catholicism was the enemy, much as their descendants decide Europe is today.

Ms Braysch can try and nail her theses to the church door but no-one will come and read them, so unbalanced has the European debate become.

So enter stage right: Norman Stone, the intellectual champion of Thatcherism. Importantly, his vivid writing is a joy. Sadly one must admit that the anti-Europeans incarnated by Boris Johnson produce more vigorous, funny prose than the rather more earnest pro-Europeans. The best political communicator today is Nigel Farage and there is no pro-European political figure with the verve and wit to provide a counter-truth to his propaganda, now enjoying the media spotlight.

Professor Stone headlines an argument published in the London Standard: ‘We despair at Europe but it is still so important.’ Sadly he has to indulge some boring Daily Mailism about smoking bans in Brussels but as someone based in Turkey he had to admit that ‘despite everything, people outside still look up to Europe. A Turkish friend looking at the mess of concrete that defaces the Istanbul sky-line wonders why the Italians have managed the conservation of old cities so much better. European counties still attract millions of immigrants, fleeing from the dead hand of religion.

‘European standards have sometimes been of decisive importance for the betterment of separate countries…Turkey has been knocking at Europe’s door since 1963 and is better governed as a result.’ Professor Stone was writing before the recent protests in Turkey but anyone who has marched and been pushed around by the police in European cities in recent decades can see there was something very European about the mix of students, young post-proletarian workers, anti-censorship intellectuals and trade union militants who erupted onto the streets of major Turkish cities. Istanbul in May 2013 looked like Paris in May 1968, even down to a domineering leader in power for ten years who had run out of steam as society changed.

So Stone the right-wing, Andrew Neil-style Scot, has to scorn Brussels. Meanwhile, Stone the professor based in Turkey wants Europe to have enough confidence to admit Turkey – and that is much less likely to happen if Britain holds a referendum to leave Europe. Disingenuously, given her strident Euroscepticism after she left office, Stone prays in aid Margaret Thatcher. ‘She had campaigned for Europe in the 1975 referendum because she knew European standards mattered, in draining the stagnant little ponds of local corruption, whether in the unions or in business, that bedevilled British life.’

Professor Stone almost joins with Ms Barysch when he writes ‘Much of what we find irritating in “Europe” would anyway have come about (as in Norway) through tiresome native busybodies; with Europe they might have been worse than they now are.’

His endorsement of Europe is grudging but it is an endorsement nonetheless from a founder member of the Bruges Group. Both the brutal, at times bestial intellectual style of the veteran and venerable Professor Stone and the calm, Kantian, rationality of the much younger Ms Barysch could be useful to the pro-European debate. Perhaps we should find funds to keep them here in Britain, making the case for Europe rather than returning to Turkey or Germany where anti-Europeanism exists but not in such an overwhelming fashion as in Britain.

Or is it all too late? For two decades the critics of UK membership of the EU have slowly gained ground. After 1997 they made their objective the penetration and then takeover of the Conservative Party as well as the creation of UKIP to keep the Conservatives focused on opposition to Europe.

Labour has lost confidence, tone and style in arguing for Europe. Meanwhile the Lib Dems love affair with plebiscites will never die even after their unhappy experience with the disaster of the voting reform referendum. Thus we drift to Brexit. Ms Barysch and Professor Stone can observe what is going on from afar but are powerless to change history.

Erdogan – de Gaulle

I sent the letter below to the Financial Times after an interesting column on 7 June by Ben Judah picked the comparison I have been making for a week now between the Turkish PM Erdogan and General de Gaulle in 1968.


Ben Judah’s comparison between General de Gaulle and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a good one but surely he has the chronology wrong? (FT Comment 7 June) If Erdogan is de Gaulle, his time is nearly over? The Istanbul events are very similar to those in Paris in 1968 and happened at the end of a long decade of personalized rule by a domineering national leader who achieved much for their country. De Gaulle like Erdogan sought to control the media, made peace with enemies, encouraged economic modernization, and forged foreign policy independently of the US. Both  gave their nations élan and confidence.

But a decade at the top in a democracy is enough. Erdogan will survive the protests as de Gaulle survived May 1968. Erdogan’s greatest gift to his country will be to organize his own succession and the opposition’s greatest duty is to represent all of Turkey, secular and faithful alike, as well as build on economic modernisation and continue Turkey’s European orientation.

Europe could help but won’t given the current state of EU politics and leadership. Turkey either becomes more and more a European state (and one wonder what de Gaulle would have made of pompous comments from Brussels criticizing police tactics in the May 68 riots!) or it drifts back to a place as an Asia Minor power, sullen, unhappy and prey to the corrupt and clientalist politics of 20th century Turkey.



Europe, Murdoch, Oranges

I review 3 book for Tribune now available in all good newsagents


The Passage to Europe. How A Continent Became a Union by Luuk van Middelaar, Yale University Press, £25

Murdoch’s Politics. How One Man’s Thirst for Power and Shapes the World, by David McKnight,  Pluto, £12.99

Oranges. A Global History by Clarissa Hyman, Reaktion Books, £9.99

Here are three excellent books all dealing with the Europe conundrum that consumes our daily media. Europe has never been a question of our identity but rather of interest. For most of the post-1945 era, Europe outperformed Britain in terms of economic growth. The balance of power was maintained by Nato, not the Royal Navy. But from Macmillan to Thatcher, British leaders understood that being in Europe added value.

This is no longer the case. Luuk Van Middelaar has written by far the best, accessible, thoughtful account of Europe as was and is and as he hopes will be that we have seen in years. Written first in Dutch and then into French and now English this is a profound narrative of European politics and at the same time a philosophical discussion of what Europe means. For that reason it will not be read by our political elites. Half of them want out off Europe. The other half imitate the 3 Wise Monkeys and see, speak and hear no Europe.

In 1990, the Government spent £25 million on its ‘Are EU Ready’ campaign to educate business and citizens about the single market. Today, our off-shore owned press spent that every month in wall2wall anti-EU coverage. Sir Simon Jenkins, the doyen of the smarter Europhobe writers writing in in the Guardian recently  put all the blame for EU unpopularity on the Euro. Yet latest opinion polls show three out of five Greeks wanting to keep the Euro. Luckily we have a control on Eurozone problems namely the United Kingdom. The rest of Europe sees a Britain outside the Euro, Schengen and on the point of leaving Europe. Yet here we have economic misery, a devalued pound unable to boost exports, increasing poverty and regional disparities, destructive attacks on public services, and the growth of populist, xenophobic politics. Youth unemployment in Sweden is at 28 % so not using the Euro appears not to be a panacea. The clumsy, crude approach by the EU’s dominant centre right ruling elite which controls the Commission, Council of Ministers and Parliament needs to change but Balkanizing Europe is not the answer.

However if the doyen of our off-shore press owners gets his way Britain will be the first big nation to leave Europe. David McKnight is an Australian left intellectual. He has written  a really good accessible book about Citizen Murdoch. What  drives him is political influence. When Rupert first came to England and bought the News of the World he was courted by Harold Wilson. In 1970, the Sun supported Labour just as it did when Tony Blair emerged as a winner and just as it didn’t when it was clear Gordon Brown was a loser. Murdoch likes inside influence and access. The best way to treat him would be Prince Hall on becoming Henry V and telling the blustering, braggart Falstaff, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ But Murdoch turns the strongest political beast into a crawler.

Murdoch does not know who will win the 2015 election but he does know that Ed Miliband delivered a dagger thrust to his modus operandi when Miliband called time on the Murdoch editors like Rebekkah Brooks and Andy Coulson. But the Murdoch snake was scotched not killed. It is preparing like a cobra from the deep to strike back. The chosen terrain is Europe and Murdoch will do all to boost UKIP and to get Britain out of the EU. His daily and Sunday tabloids as well as the Times and Sunday Times are lining up in a fight to the death to get us out of Europe. That will be Murdoch’s final revenge and final homage to his heroine Margaret Thatcher.

Meanwhile let us eat fruit. As someone who cannot begin a day without eating a quartered orange, surely the most versatile and varied fruit in the world, and long Europe’s favourite, Clarissa Hyman’s delightful book is a perfect read. Oranges are globalization’s first commodity producing beautiful still life art as well as the orange box posters from Florida and California or the decorated tissue paper wrappings of single oranges.

‘Oranges and lemons’ we used to sing until the chopper came to chop of our heads. In medieval times, the dead person was buried with an orange to keep him company to the other world. As we prepare to leave Europe for the brave new world that Nigels Lawson and Farage, Rupert Murdoch and the ghost of Thatcher are taking us to, let’s make sure we have a supply of fresh oranges with us. Not the chemicalised, pasteurized, frozen, reconstituted orange juice which, unless you see squeezed in front of you, avoid. In fact, there should be an EU directive against fake orange juice. Maybe Britain outside Europe will do the decent thing and insist on freshly squeezed OJ only.



Erdgan – De Gaulle. Paris 1968 -Istanbul 45 years later

This article was published by L’Opinion 6 May 2013

Denis MacShane : Erdogan, le De Gaulle turc ?

Le premier ministre turc Recep Tayyip Erdogan est frappé par l’impitoyable « règle des dix » qui veut qu’après dix ans de pouvoir, il soit impossible de continuer à gouverner un grand pays. Tout comme Erdogan aujourd’hui en Turquie, le général De Gaulle se heurta au bout d’une décennie aux événements de 1968 qui jetèrent dans la rue étudiants, travailleurs post-prolétaires, syndicalistes et tous ceux qui ne supportaient plus sa figure prédominante. Tout comme De Gaulle, Erdogan tente de museler les médias, à ceci près que, contrairement à l’ancien président français, il ne peut pas s’appuyer sur l’armée qui dans cette crise est restée étrangement silencieuse – du moins jusqu’ici.

Tout comme De Gaulle, Erdogan a présidé à une croissance économique forte et à l’émergence d’une bourgeoisie libérale qui souhaite le maintenir au pouvoir. Et tout comme De Gaulle qui trancha le noeud gordien avec l’Algérie, Erdogan semble disposé à conclure la paix avec les Kurdes. Sous sa direction, la Turquie a conçu une politique étrangère gaullienne, refusant de s’aligner sur les positions définies par Washington à l’égard d’Israël comme de l’Iran.

La Turquie est désormais une grande puissance économique régionale. Alors que les pays arabes au sud et à l’est peinent à assumer leur modernisation, le curieux cocktail d’islam conservateur et d’économie néo-libérale d’Erdogan a permis à la Turquie de se mesurer avec les grands pays émergents, les BRICs. Erdogan et ses partisans de l’AKP sont bien sûr des musulmans convaincus, mais guère plus dévots que ne peuvent l’être les catholiques qui gouvernent aujourd’hui la Pologne ou l’Irlande. La Turquie rend hommage à l’islam en imposant des restrictions sur les ventes d’alcool, mais à ce jour, aucun touriste n’a eu de peine à se procurer une bière ou une bouteille de vin. Les femmes ne sont pas voilées, et Istanbul ressemble davantage à Naples ou Séville, en plus dynamique, qu’à Tunis ou à Marrakech. Le mouvement de protestation montre qu’Istanbul est une capitale européenne commes les autres, où naissent les grands mouvements sociaux depuis plus d’un demi-siècle. La Turquie n’est pas en passe de devenir la Syrie, l’Egypte ou encore l’Iran.

La France a attendu 13 ans après 1968 pour élire un président socialiste. Et pour lui aussi, la règle de dix s’est appliquée. Comme Mitterrand, Thatcher, Kohl ou plus récemment, Vladimir Poutine, tous ont déraillé après une décennie au pouvoir. Comme il est judicieux de la part des Américains de limiter la longévité de leur exécutif à huit ans!

En Turquie, l’ère post-Erdogan s’amorce. L’Europe doit activement soutenir la poursuite de la modernisation du pays. Il est très précieux d’avoir une démocratie turque fondée sur l’économie de marché et l’Etat de droit, qui regarde vers l’Ouest tout en envisageant son avenir dans un cadre à la fois méditerranéen et européen. Ceux qui dansent aujourd’hui sur la tombe d’Erdogan me rappellent ceux qui, en juin 1968, enterraient De Gaulle et le gaullisme. Le plus grand défi d’Erdogan est d’organiser une succession qui bâtira sur son héritage. S’il imposait un islam autoritaire en réponse aux manifestations, tous ses acquis seraient perdus.

Is Erdogan Finished?

This was published by Carnegie Europe in response to the question Is ErdoganT Finished?

The post-Erdoğan era of Turkish politics has begun. That is because the country’s prime minister is falling victim to the “rule of ten”: after ten years in power, no one can run a major country any longer.

In a remarkable parallel to what is happening now in Turkey, France’s postwar president Charles de Gaulle had a ten-year stint in power from 1958 to 1968 before hitting the events of May 1968—a mixture of students, post-proletarian workers, trade unions, and anyone who just couldn’t stand de Gaulle’s domineering figure any longer.

Like de Gaulle, Erdoğan tries to dominate the media—though, unlike de Gaulle, he may not be able to rely on the army, which has so far been strangely silent in this crisis. Like de Gaulle, Erdoğan has presided over strong economic growth and the creation of an open-market bourgeoisie. That will keep him in power for a time, but not indefinitely. And just as de Gaulle cut France’s Gordian knot over Algeria, Erdoğan appears to be ready to make peace with the Kurds and talk to the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The current demonstrations show that Istanbul and other Turkish cities resemble the European capitals that gave rise to big social protest movements in the last half century. Turkey is not on its way to becoming another Syria, Egypt, or Iran—at least, let’s hope not.

The rule of ten applies to everybody. The UK’s Margaret Thatcher, Germany’s Helmut Kohl, and France’s François Mitterrand all faced major political opposition after a decade in power—as have Russia’s Vladimir Putin and now Erdoğan. How sensible of the Americans to limit their chief executive to just eight years at the top.

High Heels and Leaving Europe

This article was published by Social Europe 3 June 2013

High Heels And Leaving Europe


As so often we have to look to foreign papers to understand what is happening in Britain. In a lengthy Q+A interview in Die Welt published last month (18 May), the Europe Minister, David Lidington sets out the UK government’s position on Europe. Like the Prime Minister in his speech in January he insists the government does not seek to leave the European Union. Britain should stay a member but in a different Europe. But as he is probed by his interviewers to try and find out what exactly the government does not like about Europe and what exactly the UK wants repatriated in order to satisfy the government to the point of recommending a ‘Yes’ vote in a putative 2017 referendum the Europe Minister, a decent, hardworking, likable Conservative politician finds himself unable to offer a real answer. Instead he lists for Die Welt these problems areas which he says get up the nose of his fellow citizens.

Why in heaven should decisions over the shoes hairdressers wear be decided in Brussels? Why should Brussels occupy itself with the opening hours of shops instead of leaving it to local decisions? Why can my local hospital no longer operate 24 hours a day because of a decision by a court sitting in Luxembourg over working time rules?

All of Mr Llidington’s questions are perfectly valid. But they are not based on facts. The story about the EU deciding what shoes hairdressers should wear broke in the off-shore owned tabloid press last autumn. The Daily Mail reported that: ‘Hairdressers will be banned from wearing high heels and jewellery under nanny state proposals being drawn up in Brussels’. The Sun went in for one of its ‘hilarious’ headlines HAIR HITLER over the story.

Sadly I have so little hair left my visits to the hairdressers are over so fast I cannot notice if the person at work with razor and scissors is wearing high heels or not. But there is no EU directive. All that has happened is that employers’ and workers’ representatives – Coiffure EU and UNI Europa Hair & Beauty – rather than the EU itself are drawing up proposals to reduce the risk of accidents. UK hairdressers are themselves represented by the National Hairdressers Federation, which forms part of Coiffure EU.

The draft agreement does include a clause that stipulates: ‘workers shall wear suitable clothes for their activities or workwear clothing and, in particular, shoes with non-slip soles.’

However there is no mention at all of ‘banning’ high-heels. The Daily Mail reported a spokesman for the UK National Haidressers federation saying the new proposals – which his own federation is negotiating – would cost £75 million a year. Presumably getting all our hairdressers off their high heels (anyone seen a hairdresser in high heels recently?) and leaving their jewellery at home is an expensive business.

But is this really why we have to have a referendum?

So what about Minister Lidington’s assertion that that the EU, not local councils, were deciding shop opening powers. They vary so much all over Europe that the claim Brussels can dictate them seems very odd indeed. Austria’s constitutional court has just OKed a decision to extend shop opening hours in Austria though again, the idea that shops staying open longer is a constitutional issue seems strange.

Finally, it was impossible to find details of reduced services in the hospitals serving Mr Lidington’s constituents, including the famous Stoke Mandeveille hospital. It is true that in 1994 a directive was adopted to limit working hours in hospitals which in Britain led to exhausted junior doctors working beyond human limits with damage done to patients. The British government resisted implementing this for as long as possible. It also objected to a European Court of Justice ruling that said once doctors had reported for duty they were on shift and at work even if they were able to catnap during slack periods of the day or night. This is no different from overnight work at say the FCO, or police and emergency services, or even the BBC where I once did nightshifts. Of course people rest and sleep if nothing is going on but they are still at work and available for duty.

Other EU countries, richer or poorer than Britain, have come to terms with the idea that doctors should not be worked for very long stretches which is bad for their and patients’ health.

So a close examination of Mr Lidington’s main complaints about the EU in his Die Welt interview show them to be empty of substance.

Are we really to hold a referendum with the likely result of quitting Europe over high heels, shopping on Sunday and stopping doctors from being so exhausted they harm patients?