Is Mrs Merkel Really the Eurosceptic’s Best Friend?

This article was published by Social Europe Journal 27 August 2013

Is Mrs Merkel Really The British Eurosceptics’ Best Friend?

Waiting for Angela is Europe’s new summer sport. A joke doing the round is the little boy who keeps telling his daddy he has to go the toilet. “Hush, child, not until after the German elections,” is the reply. These are due to be held on 22 September on all current polls will return Mrs Merkel to a third term as Chancellor.
Mrs Merkel also appears to have become the pin-up for those who imagine that all of Europe is ready to fall in behind the desire of British Eurosceptics to see a massive reorganization of the EU along the lines promoted by Eurohostile politicians and think-tanks in London.
It is not clear what is the real source of this belief in Angela as the Joan of Arc of British Euroscepticism. To be sure, she wants the UK to stay in Europe. But that is true of Francois Hollande and was also the impassioned plea of Italy’s new centre-left leader, Enrico Letta, during a recent London visit. In fact every EU member state looks with horror at the idea of Brexit.
Many would be happy to find some accommodation but none so far are ready to meet the minimal conditions laid down by even moderate Eurosceptics, let alone the more hard line demands of complete opt-outs on any EU policy disliked by the anti-EU commentariat.
Mrs Merkel is the arch negotiator and compromiser. She avoids sharpe-edged decisions and has had constantly to manoeuver in two different coalition governments, deal with stand offs between the two chambers of the German Parliament, appease the social catholic traditions of her party, incorporate the growing green politics and listen to the clamour of industry and business for more rightist politics.
So if she can help a British PM she will. But she also has a political memory. She begged British Conservatives not to quit the European People’s Party and was bitter when her entreaties were ignored. English is her only other foreign language other than Russian. She would have liked to work politically with a centre-right British PM but she was spurned for odd-ball erratic rightists in the European Parliament.
Now there is great excitement that in the traditional summer interview every German Chancellor gives she said that she could envisage her plea for “more Europe as meaning stronger, more intensive coordination with others using national powers – that is another form of more Europe.”
With maximum über-spin by Eurosceptic briefers this became in the Independent‘s headline “Angela Merkel supports Tory plan to ‘give back’ EU powers to member states”. That may be the wish of some – probably Spain’s Mariano Rajoy – as he tries to impede free movement between Gibraltar and the rest of Spain – but it is not what Mrs Merkel said.
She made no reference to repatriation of powers and said nothing about Britain at all. The Kanzleramt spokesperson did brief the Frankfurther Allgemeine Zeitung that there was “astonishment” in governing circles in Berlin that politicians in London had so crudely misinterpreted Mrs Merkel’s routine summer interview.
A better signal of her future intentions came when she said she would prefer to remain in coalition with ultra pro-EU Free Democrats after the September election but she could live with another coalition with the Social Democrats. The FDP foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, was loud in his public criticism of the prime minister’s January referendum speech and the social democrats have little time for British Euroscepticism especially its hostility to Social Europe.
So the idea that a new German government under Mrs Merkel is ready to do anything to help a British renegotiation and repatriation politics needs very careful consideration. Germany has plenty of criticisms of the EU and a new party, “Alternative for Germany”, which wants a return to the Deutschmark. But the long list of demands for a totally reconfigured EU advanced by those in London who take their wishes for reality just don’t correspond to anything said in Germany at a high government, political or business level.
There is another factor to be taken into account by those waiting for Angela to be the champion of British Eurosceptics. This is the strong view inside German politics that she may not be around in 2017 for the British referendum. Many believe she will leave in 2015 after a decade of power. She saw close up the disaster of Helmut Kohl’s last years as he stayed on and on in office as the public and his party wanted him to go. She also knows the story of Margaret Thatcher who went past a decade in high office and was booted out in humiliating circumstances.
Does Mrs Merkel want to repeat the error of Kohl and Thatcher and stay on in power or go out on a high having won three elections for her party and been a good Chancellor for Germany? Perhaps she does not know herself and will decide closer to the tenth anniversary of arriving in power. But anyone who takes German politics seriously should be advising British Eurosceptics not to place all their Eier in Angela’s basket and to hire someone who can read German before briefing the press on what Mrs Merkel did not say.

Expat Vote Barely Exists

This letter was published in the Independent today following an article yesterday claiming that voting by British citizens abroad could determine election result.

Don’t rely on the expat vote
About 18 months before every general election, parties announce they are going to get out the vote from the 5.5 million voting-age citizens known to be living abroad (report, 23 August). Labour sent Glenda Jackson to patrol the beaches of Spain ahead of the 1997 election and the Electoral Commission always announces a drive to encourage expat votes.
But over the past 20 years there have never been more than 30,000 voters at any time still on electoral registers with the right to vote – fewer than 200 voters per constituency.
Britain strips its citizens of voting rights after 15 years’ residence abroad. Other countries, notably the US but also most EU member states, make major efforts to keep their citizens connected to democracy back home. We treat any Brit who lives outside the UK as a second-class citizen who, like prisoners or peers, should not be allowed to vote.
Good luck to those trying to get more expats to vote, but the idea it has an impact on an election is silly.

El Pais Gibraltar Op-Ed 19 August 2013

La disputa a propósito de Gibraltar, un territorio con una población que equivale a menos de la mitad de la circunscripción electoral de David Cameron, es probablemente, además de lilliputiense, el ejemplo más perfecto de cómo no ejercer la diplomacia.

David Cameron y Mariano Rajoy son más parecidos de lo que están dispuestos a reconocer. Los dos son unos líderes nacionales débiles, que no tienen un auténtico control de la marcha de la política. Los dos están hartos de la UE. Los dos tienen un terrible problema de paro juvenil. Los dos se enfrentan a unas regiones-naciones, Cataluña y Escocia, que no quieren integrarse por completo en las entidades que constituyen el Reino Unido y la España castellana. Los dos países tuvieron grandes imperios, unos sueños que se resisten a desaparecer y persisten en los símbolos de la monarquía. Los dos tienen grandes problemas relacionados con la financiación de sus partidos, aunque Rajoy no llega a la corrupción de poder convertir a donantes políticos en legisladores con el fin de comprar su silencio. Los dos irritan a Estados Unidos, que acaba de firmar un acuerdo a largo plazo de utilización de la importante base naval en Rota, a unos kilómetros de Gibraltar. Los dos poseen peculiares enclaves coloniales, Ceuta y Melilla en el caso de España, y las Malvinas y Gibraltar en el caso de Gran Bretaña. Los dos tienen unos sistemas bancarios desastrosos, cuya quiebra se permitió porque los ministros y funcionarios en Londres y Madrid se encontraban disfrutando de una siesta permanente mientras los banqueros llevaban al mundo a la gran recesión que ha interrumpido el crecimiento desde hace cinco años tanto en España como el Reino Unido.

Españoles y británicos se llevan muy bien. Cientos de miles de británicos consideran que el sur de España es su solárium, más o menos igual que los jubilados de Chicago y Pittsburgh van a Florida. Los españoles son un factor fundamental de los éxitos del fútbol inglés, y, a diferencia de lo que ocurre con los franceses o los polacos, no se advierte ninguna hispanofobia en Gran Bretaña. Entonces, ¿por qué esta absurda disputa entre dos calvos que se pelean por un peine, como decía Borges a propósito de la guerra de las Malvinas? La respuesta es que, con David Cameron y el ministro de Exteriores, William Hague, la política exterior británica se ha trasladado de los intereses a las imágenes.

Casi todas las iniciativas de política exterior del Gobierno desde mayo de 2010 han tenido que ver con la imagen. Las interminables disputas sobre Europa, que han culminado en la propuesta de referéndum, están relacionadas con los problemas internos del Partido Conservador, no los intereses genuinos del Reino Unido. Las ampulosas declaraciones de Sarkozy a propósito de Libia han desembocado en una inestabilidad permanente en el norte de África y un conflicto violento y fuera de control. Las tibias promesas de armar a los yihadistas que se enfrentan a El Asad son intentos de hacer creer que Gran Bretaña tiene una influencia decisiva en los acontecimientos de Oriente Próximo. La reducción de las fuerzas armadas a unos niveles casi insignificantes ha causado consternación en Washington, que ve que el Reino Unido de Cameron es igual que otras débiles potencias europeas.

España tampoco tiene una política exterior coherente, salvo para insultar la época de Moratinos. Sigue negándose a apoyar la política de la UE en los Balcanes y reconocer a Kosovo, una decisión que fue uno de los grandes errores del Gobierno anterior. El nuevo país cuenta ya con el reconocimiento de más de 100 Estados miembros de la ONU, y la negativa española a sumarse a una política común europea cuyo objetivo es estabilizar los Balcanes es indigna de un país importante.

La política exterior exige educar, explicar y estimular la opinión pública. Sin embargo, lo que vemos tanto en Gran Bretaña como en España a diario es un intento de manipular a los medios y obtener titulares, en Londres con el envío de buques de guerra a la región y en España con la propuesta de formar un eje común con Argentina para enfrentarse a Gran Bretaña en la ONU; ¡les deseo suerte! No cabe duda de que las relaciones entre Estados tienen mucho más que ver con la opinión pública que con unos intereses racionales. El próximo verano, la Europa al norte de los Pirineos conmemorará el centenario del baño de sangre de 1914 y las primeras batallas de la larga guerra civil europea de 1914-1945. Merece la pena volver a leer el discurso que pronunció el ministro británico de Exteriores Edwards Grey en la Cámara de los Comunes a finales de julio de aquel año, en el que no dejó de repetir que “la opinión pública” sería la que decidiría si Gran Bretaña entraba en guerra o no.

La opinión pública, muchas veces, es un buen juez. A muchos les indignó la cobardía del gobierno de John Major (1990-1997) cuando se negó a detener el genocidio en los Balcanes. Todavía más numerosos fueron los que dijeron que intervenir en Irak era un error, aunque no hacerlo significara dejar en el poder a un psicópata asesino de musulmanes. En ambos casos, la opinión pública tenía razón y los dirigentes políticos deberían haberle hecho caso.

Hay que educar a la opinión pública sobre Gibraltar. No para que acepten que Gran Bretaña tiene que renunciar a él, cosa que no es probable ni especialmente deseable que suceda, como tampoco España va a abandonar Ceuta y Melilla, Francia va a incorporar Mónaco ni España va a absorber Andorra. Estos restos de la vieja Europa tienen su encanto, y hay que tratarlos como curiosidades, no motivos de conflicto.

Ahora bien, necesitan una administración constante y sensata. Y cierto consenso entre los distintos partidos. En la última gran disputa sobre Gibraltar, hace 10 años, el Partido Conservador decidió emplear el asunto como arma contra el entonces ministro de Exteriores, Jack Straw, que había declarado un sincero pero descaminado empeño en “resolver” el problema. La debilidad actual del gobierno del Partido Popular empuja a los ministros españoles a hacer grandilocuentes declaraciones contra Gibraltar. Por su parte, el ministro británico Hague debe revelar si fue él quien autorizó el lanzamiento de varios bloques gigantescos de cemento, con varas de metal y ganchos, para destruir la legítima actividad pesquera de los botes de los humildes pueblos españoles cercanos al Peñón. El Reino Unido hace bien en reafirmar el estatus de Gibraltar, pero se equivoca al dar carta blanca a la política local para que se permita lanzar interminables provocaciones contra la empobrecida tierra andaluza.

Cuando la derecha apartó temporalmente del poder a Hugo Chávez en 2002, Estados Unidos se apresuró a cancelar unos enormes ejercicios navales con la Marina venezolana que llevaban planeando desde hacía más de un año y tenían un coste de 1.000 millones de dólares. Todo, con tal de no mandar buques de guerra a la región. Es increíble que Londres no haya anulado la visita de lo que EL PAÍS llama “una poderosa flota de guerra” a la zona del Estrecho. Los barcos tienen timones y, en una democracia, los ministros pueden decir a los capitanes que modifiquen el rumbo. Esta falta de sensibilidad es característica de la sordera de Cameron, Hague y Margallo para las relaciones exteriores.

El problema de Gibraltar es manejable. Hace falta que las autoridades gibraltareñas, la Junta de Andalucía, Londres y Madrid se sienten y traten de encontrar soluciones para recuperar el statu quo y establecer un mecanismo de contacto permanente que permita disipar los problemas antes de que lleguen a los titulares.

Mariano Rajoy acaba de hacer esa sugerencia, después de entrevistarse con el rey, que, sin duda, debió de decirle que se dejara de tonterías. Tal vez la reina de Inglaterra pueda decirle algo similar al primer ministro británico. En la pelea por Gibraltar salen perdiendo los dos países. Ya es hora de que veamos una diplomacia de adultos.

Denis MacShane fue ministro británico para Europa de 2002 a 2005.

What is Wage Dumping in today’s Europe

I read a well articulated article on the always interesting and useful Social Europe Journal which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in a very broad range of contributions from across Europe to social and economic questions. It was

A Concept For Deepening The Social Dimension Of the European Union
14/08/2013 BY FRANK BSIRSKE AND KLAUS BUSCH

The authors are president and chief economic policy intellectual of the German trade union Verdi. (see footnote below)

I sent this comment to the article which can be found at http://www.social-europe.eu/2013/08/a-concept-for-deepening-the-social-dimension-of-the-european-union/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+social-europe%2FwmyH+%28Social+Europe+Journal%29

Please can we have a definition and/or examples of ‘ruinous wage competition and wage dumping’. I write from Greece where wages have been cut because of German insistence (as much as SPD as CDU) that the Greeks who bought billions of German goods and services (Siemens, Mercedes, arms etc) up to 2008 should now be punished because German banks gave them as much money as possible without any control. Now that Greek wages (especially in the Verdi sector of the economy€) are cut to comply with German ortholiberalism it may be that more firms will invest in Greece and certainly more holidaymakers are coming in here. Is this the result of wage dumping? Should the EU oblige all Greeks to be paid at German levels? Should all Verdi type employees be reinstated, their wages and pensions restored? If Greece cannot meet these demands will the nation be further sanctioned as the paper above seems to suggest?
These are not polemical debating points but a worry that again we have ideas that make sense from a Verdi perspective in today’s Germany (maybe not the German of 1990s unification?) but just read oddly when you are in another country. What we need a genuine, modest, implementable European wide proposals that make sense in more than one country. Beirske and Busch are to be congratulated on a proposal for better measurement and new indices to determine policy. The old concepts of hourly pay or weekly working time were simple to grasp but lead to dead-ends. But if I showed this paper to Greek social democratic and trade union friends they would just scratch their heads.

How Not to Do Diplomacy

This was published on Open Democracy 11 August 2013
How not to do diplomacy

Denis MacShane [1] 10 August 2013
The Gibraltar row between the UK and Spain is providing a masterclass in creating adversarial relationships. British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. It is time for some grown-up diplomacy.

The Lilliputian row over Gibraltar, less than half the size of David Cameron’s constituency, is surely the most perfect example of how not to do diplomacy. Listening to British, Spanish, Gibraltarian and Andalusian protestations over how their position is right and everyone else is wrong can only generate despair at how, given the world’s more pressing problems, the British and Spanish press and political leadership can have devoted so much time and so many words to this tiny promontory at the southwest corner on Europe.

David Cameron and Manuel Rajoy are more similar than they they care to admit. Both are weak national leaders without real control over parliament or the flow of politics. Both are fed up with the EU. Both have terrible youth unemployment problems. Both have restless sub-region-nations, Catalonia and Scotland, which do not want fully to be integrated into the bigger entity of the UK or Castilian Spain. Both once had great empires and dreams linger on with monarchical trappings. Both have huge problems with party financing though Rajoy does not have the luxurious corruption of being able to turn political donors into legislators to buy their silence. Both are considered a nuisance in the United States which has recently signed a long lease on a major naval base at Rota just up the coast from Gibraltar. Both have odd colonial enclaves like Ceuta and Melila for Spain in Morocco or Gibraltar and the Falklands for Britain. Both have rotten banking systems which were allowed to go bust because ministers and officials in London and Madrid end enjoyed a permanent siesta while the banksters were building their Ponzi schemes.

Spaniards and Brits get along fine. Hundreds of thousands of Brits treat southern Spain as their sunshine home much as Detroit and Pittsburgh retirees head for Florida. Spaniards are a key to English soccer success and in contrast to views on France or Poles, there is no Hispanophobia to be seen in Britain.

So why this absurd dispute, two bald men fighting over a comb, to borrow Borges’ metaphor from the Falklands conflict? The answer is that British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. Nearly all of the government’s foreign policy initiatives since May 2010 have been about image. The endless rows over Europe culminating in the offer of a referendum are about internal Conservative Party problems, not real UK interests. The grandstanding behind Sarkozy over Libya has led to permanent instability in North Africa and a violent, out-of-control conflict. Half promises to arm anti-Assad jihadis are attempts to portray Britain as determining Middle East developments. The reduction of the armed services to nugatory levels has dismayed Washington which sees Cameron’s Britain as no different from other weak European powers. Where Cameron and Hague could have been strong, such as by standing up against Putin over human rights abuses including the killing of the British-linked lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, they have been weak.

Britain has lost huge capital in India and China by the bureaucratic incompetence of issuing visas to business leaders, wealthy tourists, and well heeled students. The EU’s Schengen visitor’s visa is much more attractive. Again, sensible British foreign policy is sacrificed to appease the Daily Mail, UKIP, the BNP and ugly outfits like Immigration Watch.

Foreign policy requires education, explanation and encouragement of sensible public opinion. But instead we have day-to-day media management all predicated on museum concepts that Britain punches above its weight in world affairs, has a special relationship with America and has no need for the EU.

To be sure, inter-state relations are much more about public opinion than what Palmerston called interests. He, after all, gave us the Olympian pomposity of his ‘Civis Britannicus sum’ speech as mid-19th century Britain readied itself to bombard Athens over the arrest of a dodgy trader with the loosest of links with Britain. Ahead of the WWI anniversary it is worth re-reading Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s speech to the Commons late in July 1914 when he said again that ‘public opinion’ was what would decide whether Britain went to war or not.

Public opinion is often a good judge. Many were outraged at the cowardice of the John Major Government’s refusal to intervene to stop genocidal mass murder in the Balkans. Even more said intervening in Iraq was wrong even if it meant leaving a psychopathic mass murderer of Muslims in power. In both cases political leadership might have listened.

Public opinion also needs to be educated about Gibraltar; not to give it up, which is neither likely to happen nor especially desirable any more than Spain will give up Ceuta or Melilla, France will incorporate Monaco or Andorra will dissolve into Spain. These leftovers of old Europe have a charm and should be treated as curiosities, not causes of conflict.

But they do need constant management and some sense of what works. They also need some cross party consensus. In the last big row over Gibraltar a decade ago the Conservative Party decided to play the Gibraltar card against Jack Straw and Peter Hain in their sincere but poorly judged effort to ‘solve’ the problem. The current weakness of the ruling Partido Popular government in Spain encourages ministers to make bombastic attacks against Gibraltar. Equally Hague has to reveal whether he authorized the dumping of several dozen giant concrete blocks with metal rods and hooks sticking out to destroy the legitimate fishing activity of low molluscs small boats from poor Spanish villages close to Gibraltar. Britain is right to say Gibraltar’s status stays as it is but wrong to allow free reign to small town politics in Gibraltar to indulge in endless provocations against the impoverished Andalusian hinterland.

When rightists temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in April 2002 the United States immediately cancelled a huge naval exercise with the Venezuelan navy which had been planned for more than a year at a cost of US $1 billion. Anything rather than send warships to the region. It beggars belief that London still allowed what El Pais called ‘una ponderosa flottta de guerra’ ( a powerful battle fleet) to the seas near Gibraltar. Ships have rudders and captains can be told by ministers in a democracy to steer elsewhere.

It is this lack of sensitivity that underlines the Cameron-Hague tin ear to foreign relations since 2010. The Gibraltar problem can be managed. It requires officials from Gibraltar, the Andalusian regional government, London and Madrid to sit around a table and find solutions to restore the status ante quo and have a permanent contact mechanism to head off problems before they make headline.

The Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Rajoy has just made that suggestion after meeting the King of Spain who almost certainly told him to grow up. Perhaps the Queen of England can have a similar word with the UK prime minister. The Gib row is lose-lose politics for both nations. It it time for some grown-up diplomacy.

How not to do diplomacy

Denis MacShane [1] 10 August 2013
The Gibraltar row between the UK and Spain is providing a masterclass in creating adversarial relationships. British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. It is time for some grown-up diplomacy.

The Lilliputian row over Gibraltar, less than half the size of David Cameron’s constituency, is surely the most perfect example of how not to do diplomacy. Listening to British, Spanish, Gibraltarian and Andalusian protestations over how their position is right and everyone else is wrong can only generate despair at how, given the world’s more pressing problems, the British and Spanish press and political leadership can have devoted so much time and so many words to this tiny promontory at the southwest corner on Europe.

David Cameron and Manuel Rajoy are more similar than they they care to admit. Both are weak national leaders without real control over parliament or the flow of politics. Both are fed up with the EU. Both have terrible youth unemployment problems. Both have restless sub-region-nations, Catalonia and Scotland, which do not want fully to be integrated into the bigger entity of the UK or Castilian Spain. Both once had great empires and dreams linger on with monarchical trappings. Both have huge problems with party financing though Rajoy does not have the luxurious corruption of being able to turn political donors into legislators to buy their silence. Both are considered a nuisance in the United States which has recently signed a long lease on a major naval base at Rota just up the coast from Gibraltar. Both have odd colonial enclaves like Ceuta and Melila for Spain in Morocco or Gibraltar and the Falklands for Britain. Both have rotten banking systems which were allowed to go bust because ministers and officials in London and Madrid end enjoyed a permanent siesta while the banksters were building their Ponzi schemes.

Spaniards and Brits get along fine. Hundreds of thousands of Brits treat southern Spain as their sunshine home much as Detroit and Pittsburgh retirees head for Florida. Spaniards are a key to English soccer success and in contrast to views on France or Poles, there is no Hispanophobia to be seen in Britain.

So why this absurd dispute, two bald men fighting over a comb, to borrow Borges’ metaphor from the Falklands conflict? The answer is that British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. Nearly all of the government’s foreign policy initiatives since May 2010 have been about image. The endless rows over Europe culminating in the offer of a referendum are about internal Conservative Party problems, not real UK interests. The grandstanding behind Sarkozy over Libya has led to permanent instability in North Africa and a violent, out-of-control conflict. Half promises to arm anti-Assad jihadis are attempts to portray Britain as determining Middle East developments. The reduction of the armed services to nugatory levels has dismayed Washington which sees Cameron’s Britain as no different from other weak European powers. Where Cameron and Hague could have been strong, such as by standing up against Putin over human rights abuses including the killing of the British-linked lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, they have been weak.

Britain has lost huge capital in India and China by the bureaucratic incompetence of issuing visas to business leaders, wealthy tourists, and well heeled students. The EU’s Schengen visitor’s visa is much more attractive. Again, sensible British foreign policy is sacrificed to appease the Daily Mail, UKIP, the BNP and ugly outfits like Immigration Watch.

Foreign policy requires education, explanation and encouragement of sensible public opinion. But instead we have day-to-day media management all predicated on museum concepts that Britain punches above its weight in world affairs, has a special relationship with America and has no need for the EU.

To be sure, inter-state relations are much more about public opinion than what Palmerston called interests. He, after all, gave us the Olympian pomposity of his ‘Civis Britannicus sum’ speech as mid-19th century Britain readied itself to bombard Athens over the arrest of a dodgy trader with the loosest of links with Britain. Ahead of the WWI anniversary it is worth re-reading Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s speech to the Commons late in July 1914 when he said again that ‘public opinion’ was what would decide whether Britain went to war or not.

Public opinion is often a good judge. Many were outraged at the cowardice of the John Major Government’s refusal to intervene to stop genocidal mass murder in the Balkans. Even more said intervening in Iraq was wrong even if it meant leaving a psychopathic mass murderer of Muslims in power. In both cases political leadership might have listened.

Public opinion also needs to be educated about Gibraltar; not to give it up, which is neither likely to happen nor especially desirable any more than Spain will give up Ceuta or Melilla, France will incorporate Monaco or Andorra will dissolve into Spain. These leftovers of old Europe have a charm and should be treated as curiosities, not causes of conflict.

But they do need constant management and some sense of what works. They also need some cross party consensus. In the last big row over Gibraltar a decade ago the Conservative Party decided to play the Gibraltar card against Jack Straw and Peter Hain in their sincere but poorly judged effort to ‘solve’ the problem. The current weakness of the ruling Partido Popular government in Spain encourages ministers to make bombastic attacks against Gibraltar. Equally Hague has to reveal whether he authorized the dumping of several dozen giant concrete blocks with metal rods and hooks sticking out to destroy the legitimate fishing activity of low molluscs small boats from poor Spanish villages close to Gibraltar. Britain is right to say Gibraltar’s status stays as it is but wrong to allow free reign to small town politics in Gibraltar to indulge in endless provocations against the impoverished Andalusian hinterland.

When rightists temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in April 2002 the United States immediately cancelled a huge naval exercise with the Venezuelan navy which had been planned for more than a year at a cost of US $1 billion. Anything rather than send warships to the region. It beggars belief that London still allowed what El Pais called ‘una ponderosa flottta de guerra’ ( a powerful battle fleet) to the seas near Gibraltar. Ships have rudders and captains can be told by ministers in a democracy to steer elsewhere.

It is this lack of sensitivity that underlines the Cameron-Hague tin ear to foreign relations since 2010. The Gibraltar problem can be managed. It requires officials from Gibraltar, the Andalusian regional government, London and Madrid to sit around a table and find solutions to restore the status ante quo and have a permanent contact mechanism to head off problems before they make headline.

The Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Rajoy has just made that suggestion after meeting the King of Spain who almost certainly told him to grow up. Perhaps the Queen of England can have a similar word with the UK prime minister. The Gib row is lose-lose politics for both nations. It it time for some grown-up diplomacy.

Open Democracy 11August
How not to do diplomacy

Denis MacShane [1] 10 August 2013
The Gibraltar row between the UK and Spain is providing a masterclass in creating adversarial relationships. British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. It is time for some grown-up diplomacy.

The Lilliputian row over Gibraltar, less than half the size of David Cameron’s constituency, is surely the most perfect example of how not to do diplomacy. Listening to British, Spanish, Gibraltarian and Andalusian protestations over how their position is right and everyone else is wrong can only generate despair at how, given the world’s more pressing problems, the British and Spanish press and political leadership can have devoted so much time and so many words to this tiny promontory at the southwest corner on Europe.

David Cameron and Manuel Rajoy are more similar than they they care to admit. Both are weak national leaders without real control over parliament or the flow of politics. Both are fed up with the EU. Both have terrible youth unemployment problems. Both have restless sub-region-nations, Catalonia and Scotland, which do not want fully to be integrated into the bigger entity of the UK or Castilian Spain. Both once had great empires and dreams linger on with monarchical trappings. Both have huge problems with party financing though Rajoy does not have the luxurious corruption of being able to turn political donors into legislators to buy their silence. Both are considered a nuisance in the United States which has recently signed a long lease on a major naval base at Rota just up the coast from Gibraltar. Both have odd colonial enclaves like Ceuta and Melila for Spain in Morocco or Gibraltar and the Falklands for Britain. Both have rotten banking systems which were allowed to go bust because ministers and officials in London and Madrid end enjoyed a permanent siesta while the banksters were building their Ponzi schemes.

Spaniards and Brits get along fine. Hundreds of thousands of Brits treat southern Spain as their sunshine home much as Detroit and Pittsburgh retirees head for Florida. Spaniards are a key to English soccer success and in contrast to views on France or Poles, there is no Hispanophobia to be seen in Britain.

So why this absurd dispute, two bald men fighting over a comb, to borrow Borges’ metaphor from the Falklands conflict? The answer is that British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. Nearly all of the government’s foreign policy initiatives since May 2010 have been about image. The endless rows over Europe culminating in the offer of a referendum are about internal Conservative Party problems, not real UK interests. The grandstanding behind Sarkozy over Libya has led to permanent instability in North Africa and a violent, out-of-control conflict. Half promises to arm anti-Assad jihadis are attempts to portray Britain as determining Middle East developments. The reduction of the armed services to nugatory levels has dismayed Washington which sees Cameron’s Britain as no different from other weak European powers. Where Cameron and Hague could have been strong, such as by standing up against Putin over human rights abuses including the killing of the British-linked lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, they have been weak.

Britain has lost huge capital in India and China by the bureaucratic incompetence of issuing visas to business leaders, wealthy tourists, and well heeled students. The EU’s Schengen visitor’s visa is much more attractive. Again, sensible British foreign policy is sacrificed to appease the Daily Mail, UKIP, the BNP and ugly outfits like Immigration Watch.

Foreign policy requires education, explanation and encouragement of sensible public opinion. But instead we have day-to-day media management all predicated on museum concepts that Britain punches above its weight in world affairs, has a special relationship with America and has no need for the EU.

To be sure, inter-state relations are much more about public opinion than what Palmerston called interests. He, after all, gave us the Olympian pomposity of his ‘Civis Britannicus sum’ speech as mid-19th century Britain readied itself to bombard Athens over the arrest of a dodgy trader with the loosest of links with Britain. Ahead of the WWI anniversary it is worth re-reading Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s speech to the Commons late in July 1914 when he said again that ‘public opinion’ was what would decide whether Britain went to war or not.

Public opinion is often a good judge. Many were outraged at the cowardice of the John Major Government’s refusal to intervene to stop genocidal mass murder in the Balkans. Even more said intervening in Iraq was wrong even if it meant leaving a psychopathic mass murderer of Muslims in power. In both cases political leadership might have listened.

Public opinion also needs to be educated about Gibraltar; not to give it up, which is neither likely to happen nor especially desirable any more than Spain will give up Ceuta or Melilla, France will incorporate Monaco or Andorra will dissolve into Spain. These leftovers of old Europe have a charm and should be treated as curiosities, not causes of conflict.

But they do need constant management and some sense of what works. They also need some cross party consensus. In the last big row over Gibraltar a decade ago the Conservative Party decided to play the Gibraltar card against Jack Straw and Peter Hain in their sincere but poorly judged effort to ‘solve’ the problem. The current weakness of the ruling Partido Popular government in Spain encourages ministers to make bombastic attacks against Gibraltar. Equally Hague has to reveal whether he authorized the dumping of several dozen giant concrete blocks with metal rods and hooks sticking out to destroy the legitimate fishing activity of low molluscs small boats from poor Spanish villages close to Gibraltar. Britain is right to say Gibraltar’s status stays as it is but wrong to allow free reign to small town politics in Gibraltar to indulge in endless provocations against the impoverished Andalusian hinterland.

When rightists temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in April 2002 the United States immediately cancelled a huge naval exercise with the Venezuelan navy which had been planned for more than a year at a cost of US $1 billion. Anything rather than send warships to the region. It beggars belief that London still allowed what El Pais called ‘una ponderosa flottta de guerra’ ( a powerful battle fleet) to the seas near Gibraltar. Ships have rudders and captains can be told by ministers in a democracy to steer elsewhere.

It is this lack of sensitivity that underlines the Cameron-Hague tin ear to foreign relations since 2010. The Gibraltar problem can be managed. It requires officials from Gibraltar, the Andalusian regional government, London and Madrid to sit around a table and find solutions to restore the status ante quo and have a permanent contact mechanism to head off problems before they make headline.

The Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Rajoy has just made that suggestion after meeting the King of Spain who almost certainly told him to grow up. Perhaps the Queen of England can have a similar word with the UK prime minister. The Gib row is lose-lose politics for both nations. It it time for some grown-up diplomacy.

Open Democracy 11 August

How not to do diplomacy

Denis MacShane [1] 10 August 2013
The Gibraltar row between the UK and Spain is providing a masterclass in creating adversarial relationships. British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. It is time for some grown-up diplomacy.

The Lilliputian row over Gibraltar, less than half the size of David Cameron’s constituency, is surely the most perfect example of how not to do diplomacy. Listening to British, Spanish, Gibraltarian and Andalusian protestations over how their position is right and everyone else is wrong can only generate despair at how, given the world’s more pressing problems, the British and Spanish press and political leadership can have devoted so much time and so many words to this tiny promontory at the southwest corner on Europe.

David Cameron and Manuel Rajoy are more similar than they they care to admit. Both are weak national leaders without real control over parliament or the flow of politics. Both are fed up with the EU. Both have terrible youth unemployment problems. Both have restless sub-region-nations, Catalonia and Scotland, which do not want fully to be integrated into the bigger entity of the UK or Castilian Spain. Both once had great empires and dreams linger on with monarchical trappings. Both have huge problems with party financing though Rajoy does not have the luxurious corruption of being able to turn political donors into legislators to buy their silence. Both are considered a nuisance in the United States which has recently signed a long lease on a major naval base at Rota just up the coast from Gibraltar. Both have odd colonial enclaves like Ceuta and Melila for Spain in Morocco or Gibraltar and the Falklands for Britain. Both have rotten banking systems which were allowed to go bust because ministers and officials in London and Madrid end enjoyed a permanent siesta while the banksters were building their Ponzi schemes.

Spaniards and Brits get along fine. Hundreds of thousands of Brits treat southern Spain as their sunshine home much as Detroit and Pittsburgh retirees head for Florida. Spaniards are a key to English soccer success and in contrast to views on France or Poles, there is no Hispanophobia to be seen in Britain.

So why this absurd dispute, two bald men fighting over a comb, to borrow Borges’ metaphor from the Falklands conflict? The answer is that British foreign policy under Cameron and Hague has moved from interests to images. Nearly all of the government’s foreign policy initiatives since May 2010 have been about image. The endless rows over Europe culminating in the offer of a referendum are about internal Conservative Party problems, not real UK interests. The grandstanding behind Sarkozy over Libya has led to permanent instability in North Africa and a violent, out-of-control conflict. Half promises to arm anti-Assad jihadis are attempts to portray Britain as determining Middle East developments. The reduction of the armed services to nugatory levels has dismayed Washington which sees Cameron’s Britain as no different from other weak European powers. Where Cameron and Hague could have been strong, such as by standing up against Putin over human rights abuses including the killing of the British-linked lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, they have been weak.

Britain has lost huge capital in India and China by the bureaucratic incompetence of issuing visas to business leaders, wealthy tourists, and well heeled students. The EU’s Schengen visitor’s visa is much more attractive. Again, sensible British foreign policy is sacrificed to appease the Daily Mail, UKIP, the BNP and ugly outfits like Immigration Watch.

Foreign policy requires education, explanation and encouragement of sensible public opinion. But instead we have day-to-day media management all predicated on museum concepts that Britain punches above its weight in world affairs, has a special relationship with America and has no need for the EU.

To be sure, inter-state relations are much more about public opinion than what Palmerston called interests. He, after all, gave us the Olympian pomposity of his ‘Civis Britannicus sum’ speech as mid-19th century Britain readied itself to bombard Athens over the arrest of a dodgy trader with the loosest of links with Britain. Ahead of the WWI anniversary it is worth re-reading Foreign Secretary Edward Grey’s speech to the Commons late in July 1914 when he said again that ‘public opinion’ was what would decide whether Britain went to war or not.

Public opinion is often a good judge. Many were outraged at the cowardice of the John Major Government’s refusal to intervene to stop genocidal mass murder in the Balkans. Even more said intervening in Iraq was wrong even if it meant leaving a psychopathic mass murderer of Muslims in power. In both cases political leadership might have listened.

Public opinion also needs to be educated about Gibraltar; not to give it up, which is neither likely to happen nor especially desirable any more than Spain will give up Ceuta or Melilla, France will incorporate Monaco or Andorra will dissolve into Spain. These leftovers of old Europe have a charm and should be treated as curiosities, not causes of conflict.

But they do need constant management and some sense of what works. They also need some cross party consensus. In the last big row over Gibraltar a decade ago the Conservative Party decided to play the Gibraltar card against Jack Straw and Peter Hain in their sincere but poorly judged effort to ‘solve’ the problem. The current weakness of the ruling Partido Popular government in Spain encourages ministers to make bombastic attacks against Gibraltar. Equally Hague has to reveal whether he authorized the dumping of several dozen giant concrete blocks with metal rods and hooks sticking out to destroy the legitimate fishing activity of low molluscs small boats from poor Spanish villages close to Gibraltar. Britain is right to say Gibraltar’s status stays as it is but wrong to allow free reign to small town politics in Gibraltar to indulge in endless provocations against the impoverished Andalusian hinterland.

When rightists temporarily overthrew Hugo Chavez in April 2002 the United States immediately cancelled a huge naval exercise with the Venezuelan navy which had been planned for more than a year at a cost of US $1 billion. Anything rather than send warships to the region. It beggars belief that London still allowed what El Pais called ‘una ponderosa flottta de guerra’ ( a powerful battle fleet) to the seas near Gibraltar. Ships have rudders and captains can be told by ministers in a democracy to steer elsewhere.

It is this lack of sensitivity that underlines the Cameron-Hague tin ear to foreign relations since 2010. The Gibraltar problem can be managed. It requires officials from Gibraltar, the Andalusian regional government, London and Madrid to sit around a table and find solutions to restore the status ante quo and have a permanent contact mechanism to head off problems before they make headline.

The Spanish Prime Minister Manuel Rajoy has just made that suggestion after meeting the King of Spain who almost certainly told him to grow up. Perhaps the Queen of England can have a similar word with the UK prime minister. The Gib row is lose-lose politics for both nations. It it time for some grown-up diplomacy.

Is the Euro crisis incurable?

My review of David Marsh’s new book on the Euro published by OMFIF Thu 1 Aug 2013 Vol.4 Ed. 31.2

The long-lasting euro crisis Thoughts on the commentariat’s output

By Denis MacShane

Is the euro crisis incurable? Every day we can read commentaries tugging this way and that. At times, it is almost as though the collective commentariat in London needs an enduring euro area crisis. If it did not exist it would have to be invented, as otherwise, what would fill the pages of our newspapers and what would we discuss at the endless euro crisis seminars and breakfasts? It is perhaps a little easier in Britain; as Florian Eder, Brussels correspondent of Die Welt, wrote tartly on 6 July, those in London who love giving the Germans advice on what to do ‘never have to persuade their voters to pay for the mistakes made in Spain, Greece or Cyprus.’ Eder’s argument is that the euro area is edging back to normality, thanks to the rough and hard austerity cures dictated by northern Europe to the south and transmitted via the Commission, with a little help from the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Eder is no Dr. Pangloss, but one can see that a sense of imminent doom and the bust-up of the euro is not quite as taken for granted as it was 18 months to two years ago.

But the equal and opposite danger to the belief that the euro was about to collapse is to pretend. In the words of the ineffable former British prime minister who returned from a Caribbean G7 meeting in December 1978, to the horrors of the winter of discontent: ‘Crisis? What crisis?’

There is a continuing existential crisis surrounding the euro and pretending otherwise does neither the currency nor the cause of moving Europe forward to growth and coherent public finances any good. That is why we should welcome a provocative essay by David Marsh, OMFIF chairman and leading expert on the Euro’s birth, early life and now adolescent acne. His book Beim Geld hört der Spass auf (Europa Verlag Berlin. Published by Yale University Press in the US and UK as Europe’s Deadlock: How the Euro Crisis Could Be Solved – And Why It Won’t) will be required reading for all who have to think through the policy of what to do on the euro.

Marsh begins by asking if the euro crisis is incurable. In 20 short punchy chapters he seeks to answer his own question. The language is vivid. Europe survived three years of the trenches of the First World War and forty years of the Cold War, therefore the old continent will survive the present currency crisis. It is not quite clear who Marsh believes should win the euro crisis, in the sense that the western Allies won the First World War and indeed went on to win (sort of) the Cold War. Like Macbeth, he sees the bankers and politicians of Europe ‘so steeped in blood’; it is as impossible to go back and just as hard to move on.

Marsh’s experience as a journalist during the birth of the euro and his in-depth knowledge of Germany (and the German language) has allowed him to write extensively on the currency, though very much from the German perspective. This is not a bad thing. In my time working with Downing Street on European policy, there was no politician or senior official who had German (French, yes, but the English ruling elites have always looked down on Goethe’s language) and to this day, Britain has never had its top Europe man to Brussels with a working knowledge of German.

But the euro and the euro crisis go beyond the case of Germany. The current joke is the little boy who asks his father if he can go to the loo. ‘Sorry, son, you’ll just have to wait until after the German election!’ This waiting for Angela Merkel is frankly pathetic and the real solution, if one is to be found, will come from national capitals and a new class of political leaders willing perhaps to bribe voters less and ask them to accept more responsibility for their own and their nation’s future growth and prosperity.

‘Fear is a bad counselor’ is the heading of one of Marsh’s chapters, and he is quite right. For all its difficulties, Europe is in a much stronger place with more wealth and stable institutions and a better educated, healthier population than at any stage of its history. Think back to the misery of the 1970s, the endless mini currency crises of the 1980s, the sudden impoverishment of Germany following unification in the 1990s, or the underdevelopment of so many ex-Soviet imperium nations when this century begun.

Are we really sure Europe would have come out of the 2008 banking crisis if every national currency was devaluing against every other currency? It would have been Christmas 24 hours a day for the currency traders and panic after panic amongst governments. In the 1930s, the US legislated its panoply of ‘Buy America’ laws which still shuts federal and state procurement to competition from abroad. Is that the Europe we want – every government indulging in beggar-my-neighbour, sauve qui peut policies?

Marsh ends his essay with a plea for a less ambitious Euro-Politik. I believe he is right. The German title of his book could be translated as ‘Money isn’t funny’ and too important to be left to politicians. General de Gaulle’s economic adviser, Jacques Rueff, wrote ‘L’Europe se fera par la monnaie, ou ne se fera pas’ (Europe will come into being via its currency, or it won’t exist). Oui, up to a point. What is taking place remains sui generis – a common currency and some incipient common banking rules. Nonetheless the stubborn reality of the continuing independent, separate existence of sovereign, separate nations within the broader EU framework remains its defining characteristic. And that will still be the case well after the German elections in September 2013 or even after Mrs Merkel’s retirement in 2015.

In the satire ‘Beyond the Fringe’, prime minister Harold Macmillan, describes his meeting with the German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, whose name the ageing Macmillan has forgotten.

‘I met with Herr, eh, Herr, eh, Herr and There. I said Britain could be the Honest Broker in Europe. He agreed with me that no country could be more honest. I agreed with him that no country could be broker.’

The pleading of poverty by Britain whenever a European problem needs a little oil to permit the cogs to mesh and turn to everyone’s advantage remains the British contribution to much EU debate and policy-making.

Too much of British discussion on the euro and on the EU has been a Brit-Brit discourse by people who have never opened a French or German paper in their life. Thanks to David Marsh, we have some British insights into the problems of the currency and at times the quite dreadful mistakes the constructors and first stewards of the euro actually made. But the day a banker or a politician admits to such mistakes has yet to come. In the meantime, Marsh’s book will have to do.

Denis MacShane is Britain’s former Minister for Europe and OMFIF Advisory Board member.