Crimea Comparision To Kosovo Wrong

I was sorry to read an article my an old friend Miguel Angel Moratinos, the former Spanish foreign minister, arguing that there were similarities between Crimea and Kosovo. I sent him a copy of my FT Letter of 13 March.

No comparison with Kosovo

Sir, There is no comparison between Kosovo and Crimea. (Letters, March 11). Kosovo faced years of brutal, sometimes murderous oppression. A short liberation war was fought and won with western help and Russian forbearance. Kosovo is bilingual and multiconfessional. Kosovo waited eight years after leaving Serb rule before declaring independence. More than 100 states have diplomatic relations with Kosovo. The EU works with Kosovo treating it as an independent state.

None of the above applies to Crimea.

Denis MacShane, London SW1, UK

Keep Libération Going

this article was published in the French daily Libération 13 March. Friends in Paris are worried that due to the financial pressure all print newspapers are under it may not survive.

Libération    1 3    March    2014

Sans «Libé», la France serait plus mesquine




«J’ai toujours eu une certaine idée de la France», dixit un certain général. Moi aussi. Et mon idée de la France a comme ingrédient principal ses journaux et surtout, dans ma vie d’adulte, Libération. Ambassadeur à Paris d’une nouvelle nation, les Etats-Unis, Thomas Jefferson écrivait en 1787 : «Si je devais décider si nous devrions avoir plutôt un gouvernement sans presse ou une presse sans gouvernement, je n’hésiterais pas un instant, je préférerais la seconde solution.»

Libé n’est pas le gouvernement de la France. Mais une France sans lui serait une France appauvrie. Dans chaque commune, il y a Libé, même si c’est pour un seul lecteur qui souhaiterait une vision de la société qui défient la pensée unique. Voltaire, Hugo, Zola, Camus et Sartre appartiennent tous à la tradition de Libé d’un Anders Denken, une pensée différente. Pratiquement aucun penseur ou écrivain français actuel n’est connu hors de l’Hexagone. Marine Le Pen est plus célèbre au Royaume-Uni que Michel Houellebecq.

La télévision et la radio restent les expressions d’une nation et, à part Arte ou Euronews, aucune chaîne de télévision en Europe n’existe en dehors de ses frontières. Les stars de la BBC, ZDF, TF1, LCI ou France Culture et RMC n’existent que dans les limites de leurs nations respectives. Les journaux, au contraire, vivent dans et à l’extérieur de leurs nations, et Libé est inter-nations. Je le vois en vente partout, à Londres, Athènes, Madrid ou Berlin. Je peux lire Bernard Guetta, le meilleur commentateur sur les affaires étrangères en Europe, ou Alain Duhamel qui, en quelques mots, arrive à expliquer la politique française comme nul autre.

Libé est la France à l’extérieur de la France et ramène le monde extérieur vers la France. Ceci est vrai des autres grands quotidiens français comme le Monde ou le Figaro. Mais Libé existe en dehors du jardin de l’establishment, quand ses deux confrères vivent des vies plus protégées des tempêtes qui secouent et endommagent partout la presse. Une France sans Libé serait un pays plus mesquin et moins intelligent. Pis, ce serait un pays mçåoins européen et bien plus ennuyeux.

Denis MACSHANE ancien ministre britannique des Affaires européennes

Labour’s No to Referendum is Brave But Not Risk-Free Decision

Huffington Post 12 March 2014


Alea iacta est. In a move of remarkable political courage Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader, will fight the 2015 election as well as the May 2014 European election opposed to Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise of an In-Out referendum in 2017.

If Mr Miliband becomes the Prime Minister he says, in contrast to Mr Cameron, his administration will not seek to spend its first two years seeking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe and then submitting the outcome of any such renegotiation to a defining referendum in 2017.

The issue and the dividing line between Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron could not be more clear. If voters consider a referendum to be a sine qua non for Britain in 2017 they have a choice of voting Conservative even if that entails a risk of a vote to leave the EU. If, on the other hand, they do not consider a vote on staying in or quitting Europe to be a defining priority for the nation they can so decide by electing a majority of Labour MPs.

Labour has sensibly sought to qualify its rejection of a 2017 In-Out referendum by stating that if there is a major new EU Treaty with the possibility of new powers going from national governments to Brussels then Labour would indeed support a referendum.

This hint at a possible referendum allows Labour some cover. In fact, it is already in British legislation as one of the measures the Coalition government enacted is a law that stipulates there must be a referendum if there is any significant transfer of powers from the UK to the EU.

So Labour is simply saying that it will implement that legislation though its spokespersons are seeking to present this as a specific qualifying pledge to soften what it is the core decision – namely to fight the 2015 election on a platform rejecting the Conservative promise of in-Out referendum in 2017.

As with his denunciation of Rupert Murdoch over phone-hacking in 2011, Mr Miliband is boldly and bravely breaking the rules of Westminster such as they have operated over the last quarter of a century.

Rule Number 1 was always crawl to off-shore newspaper proprietors, especially Rupert Murdoch, who had prime ministers and those who wanted to enter Downing Street at his beck and call.

Rule Number 2 was always to mock and be scornful of the EU and insist on the need for massive reform while promising referendums to show that populist passions would be assuaged.

Tony Blair promised referendums on the two most important EU related issues that faced his Labour government. First, he pledged a referendum on entering the Euro. It was that decision that meant the UK could never join the single currency.

Second he pledged a referendum in 2004 on the EU Constitutional Treaty in order to get through the 2004 European Parliament election and the 2005 general election by giving voters a referendum.

Blair’s referendum promise on the EU Constitution forced Jacques Chirac’s hand who had to match the pledge and allowed the French socialists to indulge in a little populism as key socialist leaders suddenly discovered the virtues of plebiscite democracy and joined with French Eurosceptics to vote down the constitution in 2005.

The conventional wisdom at least amongst many political commentators is that Labour can never afford to be out-referendumed by the Conservatives and it would be foolhardy to confront voters and tell them they cannot have a referendum vote on staying in or leaving the European Union.

Mr Miliband has been braver than Tony Blair in saying a referendum is not what Britain needs. The next 14 months will prove whether his courage will be rewarded.

Some signs suggest it might be. The latest YouGov opinion poll on Europe shows a narrow majority in favour of staying in. In addition, the shine may be finally coming off Nigel Farage and his UKIP party. A number of newspapers, notably The Times, have exposed just how rotten and financially dubious the whole UKIP operation is. While Mr Farage remains England’s Alex Salmond – a brilliant populist communicator – one can sense that as with Senator Joe McCarthy’s ranting about communism in the 1950s, people may finally be turning off and tuning out of Nigel Farage’s ranting about Europe sixty years later.

Two influential commentators, Dan Hodges for the Daily Telegraph and Alex Massive for the Spectator, main sources of anti-EU cheerleading in the press, have denounced UKIP as ‘racist, extremist and xenophobe.’ The Tories would like to reduce UKIP to nugatory influence while still picking up their anti-EU voters.

A great deal of UKIP support is white working class voters unhappy with the loss of jobs, income, and social guarantees. They blames this on globalization and especially immigrant workers arriving to ‘take’ proletarian jobs from the indigenous British as well as crowding into low-cost housing and send their children to working class district schools.

Mr Cameron and UKIP have made Europe’s free movement of workers principle which has brought a large number of non-UK workers to Britain a cause of great political concern with language denouncing immigrant workers even if, as Mehdi Hassan, and serious economists point out, their net contribution to public finances as well as to economic growth is important.

Mr Cameron sought to channel that anti-immigrant feeling into dislike of EU liberalism on free movement which he suggested could be solved by negotiations to limit European migration and then validated in a 2017 referendum.

Now every Labour MP and Labour candidate will have to tell voters there will be no 2017 referendum and therefore if a Labour government wanted to control movement of European citizens into the UK it has little bargaining power, backed up by the threat of a referendum, to force any change in policy.

Again this is brave and bold politics but will it be rewarded?

Finally, how do the Lib Dems respond? Vincent Cable has been loud in denouncing the 2017 Cameron In-Out referendum. Nick Clegg also has opposed it, though in earlier times, notably on the EU Constitution, the LibDems were the party of plebiscites.

If Clegg comes out in support of Ed Miliband, we can see a clear line-up for 2015 with Tory-UKIP candidates being for a 2017 EU referendum and Lab-LibDem candidates being against.

Miliband’s brave announcement is the result of considerable internal debate in the highest reaches of Labour’s ruling circles. It has not been approved by party members, MPs as a whole, or the party conference. It may come under pressure from those who either sincerely believe that a referendum on Europe 40 years after the first one is needed or are just nervous politically at the idea of the Tories being the pro-referendum party and Labour being the anti-referendum party.

If Mr Cameron stays as Prime Minister next year Brexit becomes more not less likely. Now those opposed to Brexit have a choice and should vote Mr Miliband into power. The politics of Europe are going to define and determine the fate of Britain’s national leadership.



Why Soft Power is Not Enough

This essay was published by The Globalist in December 2103. I think as we look at Ukraine it is worth putting up

Soft Power Doesn’t Exist
A decade after “soft power” came to the fore, it is time to assess its effectiveness.
By Denis MacShane, December 11, 2013

The diplomats are back. After a decade of warfare by the United States, its allies and proxies against various foes and their external supporters, the Iran accord shows that jaw-jaw remains more than ever necessary.
Things may go awry in the U.S. Congress and it far from clear if the Ayatollahs will truly renounce nukes but for the time being John Kerry, the EU’s Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s Mohammed Javad Zarif have shown that hard diplomacy makes a difference. They do the press conferences but no one should undervalue the gold quality diplomacy that went into the Geneva accord.
Yet, the theory and practice of diplomacy is under-valued. We have all become too enamored with the concept of soft power which displaces trained diplomats and expert foreign policy practitioners.
The end of diplomacy?
The two great 20th century lies of world diplomacy came first from Trotsky after the Russian revolution, when he announced the Soviet Union would abolish diplomacy. Instead, he said, the revolution-born country would simply publish all foreign ministry documents and agreements.
Trotsky’s position was an early precursor of the ideology of Wikileaks – that total transparency is enough to secure a better world.
The second lie came 80 years later, when Francis Fukayama who announced the ultimate victory of western liberal ideology. He saw the birth of a new era of world togetherness, in which diplomatic deals would be history.
Both Trotsky and Fukayama were wrong. Diplomacy and the rough edges of international relations continue to be present. In fact, we need more diplomacy than ever before.
Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the greatest diplomatic disaster in European history it is time to insist on the primacy of diplomacy. Next summer we will mark 100 years since the drift, day-by-day, toward the outbreak of the First World War because European diplomacy misread or misunderstood what was happening.
And while there is no third world war on the horizon, the long peace in mainland Europe may be lulling us into a false sense of security.
Europe: In a sea of conflict
Europe is a field of peace surrounded by a sea of conflict. The southern and eastern flanks of Europe, from Tripoli to Teheran, are sources of instability and often violent conflict.
There is no doubt in my mind that the endless armed interventions by northern Christian powers in majority Muslim countries in recent decades, beginning with the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, will be harshly judged by history.
As Edward Gibbon, the 18th century author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, noted: “In the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial”
Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and now Syria surely prove that Gibbon’s observations on Ancient Rome as valid for modern Europe, Russia and America.
The fallacy of soft power
One of the stock beliefs in debate over 21st century diplomacy is the division between so-called hard power and soft power – first announced by Joseph Nye.
But if soft power actually existed, it would surely by now be showing results. Instead, we see around Europe either actual war or deep civil violence (as in Syria and Libya) or a comprehensive absence of peace, open borders or strong civil society.
Israel-Palestine, Tunisia, the closed border between Algeria and Morocco, as well as the Western Sahara are all examples of unceasing conflict within the broader Euro-Mediterranean space.
In 2007, Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations and Ivan Krastev, Chairman of the Sofia based Centre for Liberal Strategies, wrote a paper entitled ‘New World Order: the Balance of Soft Power and the Rise of Herbivorous Powers.’ They argued that ‘herbivorous’ powers (like India, South Africa and Brazil) would rise at the expense of hard powers with real military capability such as the US, Russia or China.
This optimism has turned out to be unfounded. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia by land, sea and air and still occupies large regions of Georgian territory. Russia has used hard economic power – cutting off exports or threatening gas supplies – to bully Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia into accepting subordinate status within the greater Russian Eurasian space.
Little power of persuasion?
Soft power theorists say Europe proves it can work. Tell that to the Ukrainians beaten up in Kyiv as they demonstrate in favor of the Europe and against the re-Russification of their homeland.
Meanwhile, India, South Africa and Brazil are seen as states with poor internal governance, endemic corruption and grotesque inequalities.
Turkey grandly announced in 2002 its foreign policy would be based on ‘zero problems’ and good relations with all neighbors. Now Turkey is in conflict with Syria, Israel, Egypt and – at least for now – has been loudly distancing itself from the EU.
Soft power advocates also like to claim disaster relief as an example of soft power. In fact, it is just charity writ large. Nations have rightly been moved to send help to the Philippines.
But we know from the help sent to starving children in Somalia or to earthquake victims in Pakistan, generosity from the United States or the EU produces no change in those countries’ political line or support for enemies of the West.
Britain has given billions in aid to India without obtaining any support from India at the UN or in global disputes. The Indian prime minister has just boycotted the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Sir Lanka leaving Britain’s prime minister Cameron having to explain on the BBC why he appears to endorsing the hardliners in Colombo.
Aid may be a good and worthy in itself but it is non-power, neither soft nor hard.
A long list of open items
The arrival of soft power theory has paralyzed Europe. As a result, it has been unable to move forward on a number of frozen conflicts. These include:
the failure to get Cyprus and Turkey to move on the occupied north of the island;
the inability to help Moldova and end the Russian occupation of Transnistria;
the Russian occupation of Georgia;
Kosovo, where five EU member states still refuse diplomatic recognition;
Greece’s refusal to work with Macedonia unless the country accepts some humiliating name decided in Athens;
the impasse in Bosnia-Herzegovina;
the Armenian enclave of Ngorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan;
Hungarian irredentism with claims over Slovakian and Romanian citizens;
continuing terrorist threats in the Basque country, Corsica and Northern Ireland;
the Lilliputian dispute between Madrid and London over Gibraltar.
So while the EU gets a Nobel Peace Prize it is unable to secure peace in the fullest sense within Europe’s own borders.
Nor has the EU much of a soft power answer to its near abroad along the southern and eastern Euro-Mediterranean region, including:
the Israel-Palestine dispute;
the Western Sahara question which poisons relations between Algeria and Morocco
the collapse of the Arab Spring into civil disorder;
the rise of authoritarian Islamist or secular but militarist rule along the southern Mediterranean coast.
Enter hard diplomacy
Hard diplomacy is needed, with the backup of either the carrot of economic and political inclusion from the EU or the stick of economic-political exclusion. Hard diplomacy is also needed to insist on the primacy of diplomatic relations.
During the long German occupation of eastern France after 1870, Paris and Berlin still maintained diplomatic relations. America’s counter-productive refusal to recognize Iran or the refusal of Arab countries to open embassies in Israel makes inter-state relations worse, not better.
Hard diplomacy is about arriving in capitals and saying to political leaders what needs to be done – something that activist foreign ministers like Sweden’s Carl Bildt has elevated, to his nation’s and Europe’s benefit.
The twin sides of hard diplomacy can be seen in the Iran talks at the UN and in Geneva. A willingness first to sit down and negotiate paired with a determination to walk away if Iran insists on keeping open its nuclear bomb option. Hard diplomacy means no deal is better than a bad deal.

Is DevCult diplomacy useful?
Instead of ramping up hard diplomacy, an ever-increasing amount of money is poured into Development and Cultural diplomacy. DevCult diplomacy is the classical expression of soft power. But has it produced any real benefits in the 21st century?
Development diplomacy has not stopped the mass migration of people searching for a better economic future. International aid budgets run by aid ministries or agencies now dwarf the spending of classic Ministries of Foreign Affairs. In Britain, the overseas aid budget keep going up, while the Foreign Office budget keep going down.
But the countries that have left behind or are leaving behind poverty are those that have embraced hard policy of reforming the state or unleashing market energy and accepting that trade is better than protectionism. Countries that receive massive amounts of aid allow their rulers to avoid reform.
No movement toward democracy
Cultural diplomacy is feel-good international relations. Ballet and books are better than bullets and bombs. But there is no evidence, for example, that the proliferation of American or British university campuses in Asia is helping move China or “the Stans” to democracy.
Europe has poured development and cultural aid managed by the DevCult dips into Palestine, for example. But this has not brought any notable result in terms of producing peace instead of conflict. Nor has it persuaded Islamist forces like Hamas or Hezbollah to alter their fundamental ideological demands for the elimination of Israel.
A more important diplomatic development would be the full recognition of Israel as a state, just as the United States finally had to admit in 1973 that the Chinese communist state existed and would not go away.
Social media
Social media were meant to be the arm of soft power. But all the tweets and Facebooking in the world has not installed democracy in Egypt, Iran, China or Saudi Arabia.
This is reminiscent of the belief of English writer Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) that satellite television broadcasts, live from war zones, would stop conflicts when the world saw the horrors of war.
Each era thinks a new communications technology – whether printing, telephones, emails – will transform the world for the better. Only politics and hard diplomacy does that.
Effective diplomacy is not the exclusive property of big nations with big foreign ministries. In today’s Europe, foreign ministers like Poland’s Radek Sikorski or Sweden’s Carl Bildt are seen as more interesting international politicians than their counterparts from bigger countries.
EU foreign policy: No continuity
Finally, we come to Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs chief. After a more than bumpy start, she is getting recognition for the hard work she puts in and for her achievements in the Balkans.
But, next summer, just as the time arrives when she gets on top of the job – having built the required networks, having gained the confidence of key parties, understanding the long and short-term synergies of foreign affairs – she will be replaced.
We can hope that her successor can do the job effectively. However, the appointment of the EU’s chief executive officials hitherto has been based on sordid political trades and cynical deal in the corridors of Brussels. They make the election of a Pope or the emergence of a new leader in China look like a model of democratic transparency.
If EU leaders fail to appoint an effective foreign affairs supremo next summer, the European Union will shrink still further as a power in world affairs.
A good energetic ideas producing foreign minister or an energetic ambassador who gets out and networks with political, business or civil society in the country where he or she serves can make a big difference.
But the best diplomacy whether at the political ministerial level or the diplomatic ambassadorial level depends on team work and on being able to link up with other ministers and ambassadors.
Can Europe get tough?
This is more and more important at EU level. When the EU speaks as one – not just in terms of a statement from Brussels or the EEAS – but with every one of 28 foreign ministers and 28 national diplomatic services all acting as relays and supporters of a common EU position, then the multiplier effect is significant.
Combine this with effective trade policy and a clear commitment to seek military enforcement, if necessary – and then you will see diplomacy beginning to resonate. Europe failed to send signals en clair to prevent the descent into the war, torture and mass murder of the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s.
Hard diplomacy at an earlier stage might have prevented the descent into Europe’s worst armed conflicts since 1945 and the quasi-genocidal assault by Serb leaders on the people of Bosnia and Kosovo.
The need for traditional or hard diplomacy cannot be wished away. Hard diplomacy requires hard diplomats to tell political leaders that at times military force is required to produce desired outcomes but it also requires hard diplomats to tell politicians that military force may be counter-productive.
Hard diplomacy: Not a panacea
The United States developed the hard diplomacy of containment after 1945, with wise presidents like Eisenhower and Kennedy resisting use of force when deployed by Britain, France and Israel at Suez and when advised by generals to attack Cuba in 1962.
Later American presidents turned from containment to confrontation in the Middle East and Afghanistan, after the Islamist attack in New York.
This was a major failure of “hard” diplomacy. No serving member of the diplomatic corps told President Bush or Prime Minister Blair that launching a series of military assaults on majority Muslim countries would be as disastrous as the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. We now know it was.
Although plenty of senior British diplomats, for example, now deplore and criticize the Iraq invasion, not one of them protested, resigned or raised any objection that might have made Blair pause during the long drumbeat to war.
The Russians felt they were justified in preventing Afghanistan falling under the control of the “wrong people.” Bush and Blair (and many other European leaders who signed off on the attack on Iraq in 2003) believed the same – and felt that action had to be taken to overthrow tyrants like Saddam.
France and Britain believed the same when they supported the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya. President Hollande of France, Prime Minister Cameron in Britain and many in Washington were ready to again use military force in support of jihadi Islamist fundamentalists in Syria earlier this year – until a wiser public opinion rose up in opposition.
The road ahead
So diplomacy – in the sense of a cadre of professional practitioners who think and analyze, but also act and network effectively in foreign countries – has never been more necessary.
Nations that do not learn will be stunted in their growth and ability to serve their people. Diplomats still are drawn from too narrow a class, from elites formed by restricted systems of education.
One of the best things Ronald Reagan did was to send an African-American diplomat, Edward Perkins, to be the U.S. Ambassador in South Africa in the 1980s. At that time, black South Africa was developing a peaceful resistance to apartheid, based on trade union organization, legal challenges and civil society resistance.
These tools were far more effective in ending apartheid than the previous strategy of terror attacks organized from abroad.
At a time when British diplomacy was rolling out the red carpet for apartheid rulers, wiser American diplomacy was sending a different signal with a black U.S. Ambassador using his embassy as a safe haven for the future leaders of a post-apartheid South Africa.
The United States did also use soft power against apartheid in South Africa – offering black students scholarships in America, Hollywood making a film on the killing of the black South African leader Steve Biko, etc.
But sending a black diplomat to be U.S. ambassador in South Africa was a diplomatic signal of a different order. It challenged the very culture and ideology of apartheid – not in faraway America where it would have no effect on the supporters of apartheid, but in the twin citadels of white supremacy itself, Pretoria and Cape Town.
The advocates of the status quo were confronted by that everything they feared and hated – in the form of a highly visible and untouchable foreign diplomat – and could do nothing to prevent it.
In the end, hard diplomacy sends out stronger signals than the soft power of scholarships or movies ever can.

Letter in Independent 8 March on EU Report into Russia-Georgian War 2008

Writing on the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, Mary Dejevsky is wrong to assert that “an independent EU report found that Georgia ‘started it’ and Russia’s action was a response” (7 March).

The EU’s report, written by the Swiss diplomatist Heidi Tagliavini, confirmed that the Georgian action “was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents . . . there are a number of reports and publications, including of Russian origin, indicating the provision by the Russian side of training and military equipment to South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August 2008 conflict. Additionally there seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August 2008”.

Are we not seeing something similar in east and south Ukraine? Traditional Russian tactics seek to create a climate of tension with small-scale infiltrations in order to provoke a reaction that then justifies use of full-scale force.

Watching Russia Today broadcasts from east and south Ukraine one sees a worrying ratcheting up of rhetoric not dissimilar to that used by Milosevic in the late 1980s as he denounced any move to independence from Serb domination. War in or over Crimea or the Donetsk industrial heartlands may seem absurd, but so did war in the Balkans 25 year ago. Policy planners should be prepared for all contingencies now that Putin has lost Kiev.

Denis MacShane, London SW1

Why Britain Did Not Join the Euro

The great economics commentator Bill Keegan wrote an article in the Observer last month which argued that the UK did not give up the pound and join the Euro because of decisions by certain people at the Treasury who bravely resisted a push from Tony Blair to take us into the single currency. That’s not how it appeared at the time as I explained in an unpublished letter sent to the Observer below.

William Keegan repeats the myth that Britain was poised to enter the Euro but stopped by wise decisions in the Treasury. (In My View 9 February 2014) For Britain to enter the Euro at any time after 1997 three conditions had to be met. First, a referendum had to be won. Second, the pound had to come down significantly from its overvalued level of DM 3.20 or 13 French francs. Third, there had to be a broad political consensus with acceptance if not support from the press. None of these conditions were in place. The Conservative Party and the mass circulation press were fanatically hostile. Labour ministers loved the virility of the overvalued pound. There is no consensus in either the Labour or Liberal Democratic parties. The chances of winning a referendum were zero. The decision before 1997 to make Euro entry conditional on a plebiscite made it impossible. Nothing said or done after 1997 made any difference. The real credit for the UK not entering the Euro belongs to John Major and Tony Blair when both agreed that a referendum would be required. The rest was persiflage.

Political Parties European Links Cause Problems

It’s reported on Conservative Home that David Cameron has ordered Conservative MPs to pull out of their membership of a political grouping dominated by Putin’s stooges at the Council of Europe.  I first exposed this bizarre mésalliance in the Spectator in January 2008 ( see below). It was followed by Cameron pulling the Conservatives out of the European Peoples’ Party (the centre-right group) in the European Parliament. Cameron then formed a new European Parliament group with what Nick Clegg famously called ‘nutters, anti-semities and homophobes’.

It isn’t clear with whom the Council of Europe Conservative MPs will now ally. In order to get posts as chair or rapporteur they have to be in a political group of some sort. (Conservative MPs make a good contribution to CoE work leaving to one side their anti-EU predilictions and obligation to provide cover on some issues in support of Putin – most recently in some disgraceful votes on the Sergei Magnitsky affair prior to the adoption of a very good CoE report on how Magnitsky was put to death in Moscow.)

The question of UK political parties international affiliations is fairly recondite. Labour is currently in a  tricky position in the Party of European Socialists as the PES have unanimously endorsed the German social democrat MEP Martin Schultz as the centre-left candidate to be president of the European Commission. At the PES conference in Rome on 1st March, Labour separated itself from other European centre-left parties by refusing to endorse Schultz. So it is not just the Conservatives who have problems with Euro-party political affiliations.

Nonetheless, the Conservatives’ alliance with Putin’s hacks at the Council of Europe and their rejection of  EU political work with sensible centre-right parties in power in Poland or Sweden as well as in Germany adds to the sense across Europe that Cameron embraces a new isolationism and that the UK as a whole cannot handle adult collegial and compromise based European politics. The Independent’s Andrew Grice reported that at his news conference with Angela Merkel last week the PM suggested that the CDU might quit the EPP and join his fringe European Parliament grouping. She was not amused and one shudders at times at the sheer ignorance of Downing Street at the nature and priorities of German and wider European politics.

This week Dan Hodges in the Telegraph and Alex Massie in the Spectator have denounced UKIP as ‘racist, extremist’ and ‘xenophobic.’ Partly this is the need of the Tory press to lessen UKIP’s appeal even though Farage seems to be written into the BBC Charter given the uncritical space he is provided endlessly on mainstream TV current affairs and political programmes. But if adjectives like racist and xenophobic are applied to UKIP whose main battle cries have been against Europe and against immigrants where does this leave the bulk of the off-shore owned papers, many Tories (remember William Hague’s “funny” xenophobic jokes about the French or Germans on ‘Have I Got News for You’?) and a huge number of top tabloid columnists. If we really are to drive xenophobia out of British politics it cannot stop with UKIP.


Spectator January 2008

Putin’s Tories: welcome to the Vlad and Dave Show

Denis MacShane says that the Conservatives’ refusal to align themselves with other centre-right parties on the Council of Europe has driven them into a shabby alliance with Russia


As Vladimir Putin moves seamlessly from being president to prime minister of Russia, amid mounting worry that Russia is slipping its democratic moorings, there is a group of 21st-century fellow-travellers the Kremlin can count on: the Conservative party. Tory MPs are now toeing the Russian line in the new battlefield for democratic rights located in Strasbourg. Not the European Parliament, where no Russians sit, but the Council of Europe, where Putin loyalists work in close collaboration with Tory MPs to promote the Russian line, including a bid to place Putin’s man as head of promoting democracy and human rights on the Continent.

The Council of Europe was set up after Winston Churchill’s famous 1946 Zurich speech calling for a ‘United States of Europe’. Harold Macmillan and Duncan Sandys, Churchill’s son-in-law, led high-level British delegations in the 1940s and 1950s at a time when Labour refused to be contaminated by anything European.

Like the Council itself, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have nothing to do with the European Union. Both the convention and its successors, including one on trafficking sex slaves which Britain signed last year, as well as the Court, were largely British creations. Even the famous European flag with its 12 yellow stars on a blue background was first designed and adopted by the Council of Europe in 1954, long before the Treaty of Rome.

The Council of Europe is very much not the EU. It has 46 member states, including Switzerland, Norway, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, all the non-EU Balkan states and above all, Russia. Its parliamentary assembly, which meets four times a year, and its committees, where the real work is done, see more vigorous debates than in the much grander European Parliament building next door. Turkish and Cypriot politicians face off on Cyprus, while Nordic and German female Social Democrats disagree violently on what line to take on prostitution.

The President of the Council of Europe is given red-carpet receptions by governments anxious to avoid Strasbourg’s criticism on their internal democracy and human rights record. There is one exception — Russia. Instead of seeking gently to make Russian laws and practices confirm to Council of Europe norms, Moscow is investing massively in seeking to influence the Council of Europe and stop criticism of the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign policy.

The Russian delegation is not only one of the biggest, but it sends its most senior politicians who chair the key committees in the Russian parliament. They are backed by multi-lingual experts making sure the Russian presence is everywhere.

As in the OSCE, where the Kremlin wants to gut the human rights organisation of any role in monitoring elections in Russia or its satellites, the Kremlin is reverting to the old Soviet line of insisting that the West’s record on democracy and human rights can be criticised, but to apply the same standard to Russia amounts to external interference.

At the Nato parliamentary assembly, where Russian delegates were welcomed in the excitement of the end-of-communism era in the 1990s, Russians openly insult politicians from other countries. Bruce George, the amiable Labour veteran MP and long-time chair of the Commons defence select committee, was dismissed as ‘insane’ by a Russian MP at last year’s gathering of Nato parliamentarians. After a women minister from Georgia spoke, the Russian delegation leader declared: ‘In Russia there are two things it is pointless to debate with — a radio and a woman.’ This reversion to Soviet-style rhetoric in international bodies dismays many. But most hold their noses, thinking it is better to have the Russians half-in democracy’s tent in the hope that the Bear will become more like us.

But now the Russians are going a stage further with an audacious bid to win control of the presidency of the Council of Europe. And they have new allies — David Cameron’s Tory MPs.

Like the European parliament or the Nato parliamentary assembly, the Council of Europe is organised on the basis of the socialist, centre-right, liberal and left-over communist and green parties all forming political groupings.

But Britain’s Conservatives refuse to sit with their sister conservative parties from other European countries. David Cameron won election as Tory leader by promising the 40 Tory MPs who backed Liam Fox that a Cameron-led Conservative party would break links with all other European centre-right parties, including the governing parties in France, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Greece and Poland who are judged to be too supportive of the EU. Cameron and William Hague have been wriggling ever since as they unsuccessfully search for right-wing parties in Europe that are not mad, bad and dangerous to get into bed with.

However, the Cameron–Hague rejection of co-operation with the European right can be seen in operation at the Council of Europe. Tory delegates refuse to sit down with other EU centre-right parties. Instead, they have formed their own little group with the Kremlin’s men from Putin’s United Russia party. There are 27 United Russia delegates and 11 Tories but the Russians have given the Conservatives the posts of honorary chair, first vice-chair and political officer or whip. In exchange, the Tories back the Kremlin line on Balkans’ policy and in other areas dear to Russia, which uses the Council of Europe to attack Georgia, the Baltic states, as well as Nato’s proposed missile-defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Since joining in 1996, the Russians have given repeated assurances that they would respect Council of Europe rulings on Chechnya, Moldova, and above all on allowing Russian citizens to take cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Moscow has reneged on all these pledges. In December, a Russian chairman of a key committee broke the rules of neutral chairmanship himself to vote in support of the pro-Kremlin and anti-EU line on Kosovo. He was backed by the Tory MPs present.

And now the Tories have agreed to support a top Kremlin aide to become the president of the Council of Europe. As at the UN or the European parliament, there is a kind of Buggins’s turn rule on who holds rotating posts like assembly presidencies. As a formal parliamentary group at the Council of Europe, the Conservatives and the Russians are entitled to nominate the next president, who holds office for three years. There has been a revolt, led by Nordic and Baltic conservatives against this Russian takeover. So far, Tory MPs have stayed true to their alliance with the Kremlin rather than join up with right-wingers from other countries who are clearer-sighted about what Russia is up to.

All this would be small-time politicking on a faraway European body that few know much about. But the current furore at the Council of Europe reflects how Russia is playing by its own, old rules in international organisations. And how the Cameron–Hague hostility to Europe has not only made the Conservative party an isolated force in Europe but has led Tory MPs to keep surely the oddest international company in their party’s history.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 12, 2008