Next Steps for EU Foreign Policy

The Carnegie Foundation Europe’s operation asks people to give a short answer to key policy questions. Below is mine published today on the impact of the European Parliament elections in EU foreign policy


Can a European Foreign Policy emerge from the next period of European governance 2014-2019. The European Parliament elections with their headlines on populist anti-EU parties mainly, but not exclusively from rightwing anti-immigrant extreme politics, suggests not. There are demands for Europe to be stronger, tougher, clearer. But bit by bit Europeans are learning to do foreign policy. What is remarkable is not the presence of a single united EU policy line but the absence or decline of national posturing or declamatory statements playing to the gallery of domestic prejudice. Nudged by the quietly effective EEAS, Europe has found more common positions on international policy than at any time in its history. The hard power vs soft power debate is over. Both are needed. The knee-jerk promotion of the right to intervene of the 1990s has been nuanced. Finding a person to express this is a challenge. Anyone who goes way beyond what London, Paris, Berlin and other EU capitals can accept will be dead in the water. The trick is to express what EU capitals need to do in a way they can accept. Is such a candidate available to succeed Cathy Ashton? Watch this space.

Europe’s Non Existent Energy Policy

Independent 28 May 2014

This article was published in Independent 28 May 2014

Europe’s energy policy: Just say no

The EU’s energy policy is incoherent to the point of non-existence – but Russia knows exactly what it is doing

Europe has an energy policy – just say ‘no’.  Germany’s Chancellor Merkel says nein to nuclear power. France’s President Hollande says non to shale gas. Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron says no to wind power unless it is a few kilometres out to sea. Poland’s Prime Minister Tusk says nie to any limit on burning brown coal – lignite – the most polluting of any fossil fuel.

In all cases the political leaders have public opinion behind them, and think they will garner votes by saying no to any source of energy the electoral dislikes. The European Commission and European Parliament are saying no – for the time being – to South Stream, the new pipe-line to bring gas from Russia via the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia and Austria. South Stream’s political imperative is to avoid transiting Ukraine just as Russia’s North Stream pipe-line in the Baltic links Russia directly to Germany without traversing Poland.

While the EU’s energy policy is incoherent to the point of non-existence, Russia knows exactly what it is doing – seeking to make Europe ever more dependent on Russian gas. It’s a toss up whether Gazprom is an arm of the Russian state, or the Kremlin the political expression of Gazprom.

Certainly the Russian behemoth is everywhere. The Bulgarian Government has stated that it discussed with Gazprom changes to the Black Sea nation’s energy laws which could put South Stream out of reach of European Commission oversight

The European energy Commissioner, Gunter Oettinger wrote a cross letter to Sofia abut this legerdemain and at some stage Brussels will have to decide whether it will get as tough with Gazprom as it did with Microsoft and Intel.

However there is cross-party consensus in Bulgaria in support of South Stream and Bulgaria’s historic pro-Russian warmth is undimmed by the strains of the Ukraine crisis. Western energy firms who have invested in Bulgaria however want fair treatment as well and the main problem Europe faces with Gazprom is its apparent belief that it should not be subject to EU competition law.”

Gazprom sponsors football clubs in Germany, hires the daughter of Romania’s President Basescu as its lawyer in Bucharest, and most famously, has the former German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, on the payroll.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong in that. Swiss bankers say money has no smell and nor does energy. The West has been dependent for decades on oil from states that finance jihadi terrorism and want the elimination of a UN member state – Israel.

The Kremlin knows what it wants – to make Europe so hooked on Russian energy there will never be any pressure on Russia. But what does the EU want? The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, put forward an ambitious plan to create a real EU energy union.

Inspired by the 1950 Coal and Steel union which saw major European nations pool sovereign authority over what was then their main source of energy – coal, and the key component of growth – steel, to a supra-national authority Tusk argues for a single EU purchaser of Russian gas and for Europe to diversity its gas supply to include contracts with the United States or Australia.

He also wants to see an end to market-distorting subsidies such as the billions paid to windmill manufacturers. The Green movement especially in Germany and France have helped accelerate the slow de-industrialisation of Europe but  Mrs Merkel’s Nein to nuclear and Francoise Hollande’s Non to fracking are about politics not economic growth.

Premier Tusk refuses any challenge to his nation’s dependence on lignite and the politics of an energy union which ignore climate change fears will not get off the ground.

However the Polish leader makes the good point that an EU outfit, Euratom is the single purchaser for all the uranium used by 28 member states. If a new body – let’s call it Eurogaz – became the single EU buyer of Russian and other foreign gas then Gaz-Kremlin-Prom would have to play by EU rules instead of having EU nations like Bulgaria defending at any price Gazprom, and behind it, the Kremlin with its divide and rule strategy for Europe.

Once new MEPs and Commissioners are in place creating a European Energy Union would be a project that even Eurosceptics might accept.


Business as Usual in Europe?

Claims about a watershed election are exaggerated, says the former UK Minister for Europe.

Published in The Globalist 27 May 2014


There is a widening gulf between the European elites and the citizens of Europe. The European Parliament election has exposed this chasm as never before.

Or so one would think when reading the British and French press or listening to London and Paris broadcasters. They see the outcome of the European Parliament election as a watershed moment after which politics is never going to be the same again.

However, these alarmist sentiments are much more of a reflection of the topsy-turvy character of French and British politics as well as of the frustration of many voters. But those are almost entirely homespun phenomena, for which Europe, the EU and the Commission just serve as a convenient whipping boy.

Viewed from a broader perspective, not much happened. There was the same low voter turnout across Europe of around 43% — six out of every ten voters said the election did not interest them.

The return of the old guard

Moreover, they basically voted the same old crowd back in. 569 of the European Parliament’s 751 members — or 76% —come from the big party machines — Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens — that run most European countries, in various coalitions.

Incumbent governments of right and left — Angela Merkel in Germany, Mario Renzi in Italy, Donald Tusk in Poland, Victor Orban in Hungary, Mark Rutte in the Netherlands — did pretty well.

There were exceptions. Syriza, the populist left party in Greece where the austerity regime has been particularly cruel, won a narrow lead over the ruling conservatives of New Democracy. But Syriza is not calling for the abolition of the Euro or for Greece to quit the EU.

What it wants is an easing of fiscal rules that is ironically along the lines of Britain’s Conservative-led government, where debt and deficit is twice the level of the Eurozone enforced limits. In addition, the Bank of England has been printing money as if John Maynard Keynes was in charge.

In fact, Europe’s far left did reasonably well and its group in the European Parliament has got bigger. But at 47 MEPs — or 6% of all seats — it is not about to turn Europe red.

France: From communists to the Front National

The head of the rightist Le Pen dynasty — almost a royal family in France – Marine Le Pen shook the tree by winning 25% of the vote. That is notably the same share of the French electorate that voted regularly for French communists between 1945 and 1975.

In the first direct election to the European Parliament in 1979, the French Communists got 21% of the vote and 19 MEPs. In fact, the longest serving MEP is a French communist from that era.

Like Marine Le Pen, the then French communist leader, Georges Marchais used to rant against Brussels bureaucrats. He, too, demanded that no foreign workers should be allowed into France as “French jobs should be reserved for French workers.”

French communist mayors bulldozed buildings put up by Muslim immigrants — just as Marine Le Pen and her Front national rail against Muslims in France. Plus ça change…

French premier Manuel Valls has described the vote for the extreme Front National as an “earthquake,” but surely he cannot have forgotten how Marine Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen defeated the Socialist presidential candidate Lionel Jospin in the 2002 contest for the Elysée.

That was a much bigger national shock than a few extreme rightist French MEPs going off to claim generous salaries and expenses in Strasbourg where the European Parliament meets.

In Britain, the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) did well. It thoroughly embarrassed the main parties by scoring more votes than Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrats who control the seats in the House of Commons. But the UK voters showed what they really thought of the election as seven out of every ten voters stayed at home.

Protest vote time

The European Parliament election in many countries is a cross between a protest vote moment to give the establishment parties a kicking and a chance to send all sorts of odd-ball party candidates to the European Parliament, including experts on UFO sightings.

The pure proportional voting system used at the European level allows some ugly MEPs from neo-fascist and openly anti-Semitic parties to be elected. But they tend to be shunned and have no influence.

Logically, the two politicians most united in their dislike of the EU, Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage, should link up. They have a combined total of 50 MEPs after the European Parliament elections. But Farage says that the Front National is “toxic” and has “embedded anti-Semitism” — a charge which Le Pen denies and has led her to issue libel writs against Farage.

That’s the problem with the extreme and fringe MEPs that get to the European Parliament. They can rarely agree on anything. Madame Le Pen, for her part, says she will block the working of the Parliament.

However, UKIP’s MEPs have already said they will draw their salary and expenses, but stay in England. What they plan to do is to campaign for a referendum to get Britain to quit the EU.

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised an In-Out referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected next year. He says he wants Britain to stay in the EU, but only if very major concessions are made that allow Britain to become a semi-detached EU member state.

Everything still up in the air

The 2014 European Parliament was meant to be a contest between two candidates for the European Commission president — the German Social Democrat, Martin Schulz and the Luxembourg EU veteran – the long-serving Christian Democrat prime minister, Jean Claude Juncker.

But Schulz has not won enough MEPs to insist on the job and while Juncker’s center-right group is the biggest with 212 MEPs out of 751, their share of the vote has gone down which lessens his claim on the European Commission president job.

Instead, it will be 28 heads of government who will meet and carve up jobs like the President of the Commission, the President of the European Council of national leaders, and other posts including the EU Foreign policy chief.

So the European Parliament election has settled nothing. Corridor wheeling and dealing will continue. Compromise and consensus will determine European legislation. The extremes of left and right will remain on the fringe.

There is no answer to genuine fears over mass arrivals of immigrant workers. The US-EU transatlantic free trade deal — TTIP — will remain difficult to complete, as European voters are nervous of any lessening of state protection over health care provision or cultural and creative industries.

There will also be more pressure on GAFA — Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon — as both Europe’s right and Europe’s left dislike the monopolistic power of the U.S. internet behemoths. The 26 million Europeans without work are unlikely to get a job following this election. The British debate over Brexit — Britain exiting the EU — will intensify.

Why Farage Will Not Work With ‘Toxic” Front National

Why Farage Will Not Work with Marine Le Pen

In refusing to enter into an alliance with the FN and PVV a few months ago Nigel Farage said he would not do so because of “embedded antisemitism” in the FN. He returned to the accusation after the EP election in the UK when he said:

“However impressive Marine Le Pen is, the Front National carries toxic baggage,” the Ukip leader said. “The best example is the comments by Jean-Marie Le Pen earlier this week.”  Nigel Farage 23 May

Farage is referring Jean Marie Le Pen’s statement last week that the Ebola virus would solve immigration questions (by killing immigrants)

Speaking on Tuesday night in Marseille shortly before a joint rally with Marine Le Pen, his daughter and current party leader, Mr Le Pen, 85, said: “There is a demographic explosion in the world and a risk of submersion. A replacement of (the national population) is under way.”

However, he added: “Monsieur Ebola can solve the problem in three months.”


On FN’s anti-semitism


Lucas Hartong, the most senior MEP for Mr Wilders’ PVV refused to campaign in the EU elections because he warned last month that the link with the Front National and the Austrian far-Right was wrong and would prove to be an electoral disaster.

“I am not at all surprised at the result. It’s what I warned of. I think there will be an internal fight now, people will want to work with Farage and to drop Le Pen,” he said.

“These parties have a tendency to anti-Semitism.”

Ukip Surge Makes Brexit More Likely, What Happened in Rotherham


Brexit More Likely After Ukip Surge in Votes

Note on UK elections by Denis MacShane, former Europe Minister

The big question is do the Conservatives and Labour deal with the rise of Ukip by pandering to Ukip demands about the EU and immigration. If so ‘Brexit’ – Britain leaving the EU becomes more likely as any referendum in 2017 will be impossible to win on the basis of free movement of workers as one of the four freedoms at the heart of membership of the EU.

For the last 15 years Conservative party politicians  have been attacking the EU and saying immigration into Britain needs to be controlled. Voters listened to the Tory anti-EU, anti-immmigrant message and decided to vote for the party that wants to isolate Britain from Europe and put up barriers.

Thursday’s result which will be confirmed by Ukip doubling its MEPs on Sunday night shows that British politics is now continental. Like in France, Italy, Greece, Belgium or the Netherlands here is a large anti-European block of votes which does not trust the main parties, and blames the European Union for national problems.

Without a radical change in the EU’s economic policy and a real effort to integrate and involve Europe’s national parliamentarians, Europe’s political crisis which has grown out of the 2008 economic crisis can only worsen and Britain which was the last major nation in West Europe to sign the Treaty of Rome in 1972 will be the first major nation to leave a European Union as hostility to Europe has become normal politics in England, not just in Ukip but in mainstream parties.

In Rotherham where I was an MP Ukip won 10 council seats out of 63. Three of the new Ukip councillors are Conservative Party wannabe councillors who moved to Ukip as the Tories are unpopular. They now will  enjoy a £12,000 allowance. Rotherham elected 3 BNP councillors in recent years and it seems that the BNP votes has moved in toto to Ukip. In one ward, the deputy leader of the Council, a highly respected, hard-working Asian councillor lost to Ukip by 39 votes. Respect, the anti-Labour Party, won 200 votes and this split in the left vote let in Ukip.

20 years ago Lib Dem councillors seemed to make a breakthrough and in the 1976 by-election the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant National Front party won 7 per cent of the vote.

In my twenty years as an MP the question of immigration was a top issue. I encountered hostliity against Pakistani immigrants of a most venemous, openly racist kind. Then hostliity against Kosovars fleeing the Balkan wars. There were ugly comments against other asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan or Africa. More lately there were strong remarks about East European immigrants workers. Property owners in Rotherham welcomed them as a source of profitable rented-out accommodation. New Slovakian and Polish food stores opened and Tesco had shelves for East European food. The Catholic church welcomed the increase in mass-goers.

As minister and then a Labour representative in EU political groups I argued that the UK should support local workers by increasing apprenticeships, and building council homes. I urged the enforcing of the EU agency workers directive to stop exploitation by employment agencies which Rotherham firms used to hire workers from abroad in preference to local workers. I said that tougher minimum wage inspections were needed to stop the low pay which new EU workers had to accept, I pleaded in vain with Labour ministers to support for EU working hours rules so reduce the ruthless exploitation of East European workers and transfer of employment to incomers. The latter became the norm for small businesses with the consequent result that many Rotherham workers felt they were excluded from local labour markets.

Sadly under  both Tony Blair and especially Gordon Brown there was strong opposition to worker protection measures and in particular a sustained refusal to support EU labour market directives which would have helped British workers faced with employers ready to exploit European workers. Gordon Brown did say he was in favour of ‘British jobs for British workers’ but on the ground employers were given the green light to exploit non-unionised, low-wage employees from the EU at the expense of British workers.

I am not sure how long the Ukip surge will be sustained and there is a degree of flakiness about some of their candidates, now councillors. The local Tories were unable to provide a coherent opposition. The Tories leading anti-European, Foreign Secretary, William Hague is Rotherham born and bred. Since he became leader of the Conservative Party in 1997, he had made anti-Europeanisn the beating heart of his political offer. This is in tune with many in his native Rotherham. But they think Ukip is more serious about getting out of Europe or putting up barriers to foreigners coming to the UK. It was after all Tory Ministers who sent out vans recently telling unwanted foreigners to “Go Home.” William Hague has helped sow the anti-foreigner, anti-Europe wind and is now reaping the Ukip whirlwind.

But does Labour have a real counter-offer?





The Unwanted European Parliament Has Power

The Unwanted European Parliament

I am not Indian but this week I can vote in the world’s biggest election in terms of voters – other than in India. The European Parliament is here to stay. Yes it needs reform. Yes, national parliaments need to be involved in EU law-making but those dreaming of abolishing the European Parliament remain fantasists. Much as the European Parliament generates easy mocking copy, especially over its perambulations between Brussels and Strasbourg it is time – irrespective of voting Tory, Labour, LibDem or Ukip – to take it seriously for three reasons.
First, its debates and decisions shape European policy. The European Court of Justice ruling against Google on ‘the right to delet’ – the decision that an individual citizen should control what is made public about his or her past not a profit-seeking private firm – follows endless anguished debates about the issue in the European Parliament.
Just as British judges are told they have to take the will of the Commons into account in their rulings so too does the ECJ have to pay attention to the European Parliament’s deliberations.
Second, the European Parliament now has powers of co-decision with the Commission and the heads of government granted to it under the Lisbon Treaty. The first big test of these new powers will be once the results are announced on May 25th. The two main political groupings – the centre-left Socialists and Democrats and the centre-right European People’s Party – are mutually insisting that their candidates to be European Commission president much be accepted and appointed.
The last three Commission presidents were, in effect, chosen by London as Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair vetoed candidates backed by Paris or Berlin and then proposed someone to Britain’s liking. That veto power has gone. Now the European Parliament is king-maker for key EU leadership posts.
The third reason the European Parliament is important is the number of ex national leaders and ministers who go there. Some of the British MEPs from all three parties are of high quality, as good as UK ministers or their shadows. They are unknown because the default setting of media coverage of the European Parliament is to deride and ignore it.
To be sure there are ‘nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes’ as Nick Clegg described MEPs David Cameron linked up with 2009 but with the majority of British parliamentarians not even elected we are not in a good position to wag fingers.
MEPs are far better financed than any national politicians and a large block of Ukip MEPs for example, will wreak havoc for Cameron, MIliband and Clegg alike as they campaign in the eleven months between their election and the general election next year.
The campaign leaflets of the main parties are all about domestic issues. There is no enthusiasm for or engagement with the European Union. In Berlin, there are posters everywhere for the European Parliament election. There has been serious TV debates, maybe not more enlightening than duel between over-briefed US presidential candidate but they are happening.
Nick Clegg got monstered by Nigel Farage on BBC2 and in turning the Ukip leader got kebabbed on LBC. But has anyone seen a debate about Europe rather than why the mainstream parties don’t like Ukip?
In Berlin, the streets are bedecked with European Parliament posters. There was one lively meeting in London but it was in French as the top Socialist MEP, Pervenche Berès, came to hunt for votes amongst French immigrant workers in London. She said there would be no offer to Cameron that can weaken the single market and its social rules and given she chairs the Employment and Social Committee of the European Parliament, her statement matters. But her packed meeting took place 200 metres from the Guardian office yet not a single journalist or UK politician turned up.
This indifference to the European Parliament and reduction of this week’s election to simply how many vote for Ukip is unworthy of serious politicians and commentators. If there is one thing worse than Euroscepticism or Europhilia it is Euroignorance. Pretending the European Parliament doesn’t matter is a foolish and very British error.

Denis MacShane is a former UK Europe Minister. His book on Brexit – Britain Leaving the EU will be published after the European Parliament election

TUC, Polish Solidarity in September 1980

This is a footnote to history. For some reason I cannot fathom Peter Hitchens started Twitter hares running by asserting that the Trades Union Congress failed to support the Polish union, Solidarity, after its creation in August-September 1980.

I had some interest as I wrote the first book on the Polish Union Solidarity (Spokesman, 1981, still available on Amazon!) based on regular visits to the Polish union in 1980 and 1981 on behalf of the International Metalworkers Federation where I worked after going into exile in September 1979. (Exile in the sense that no-one would offer me a job as a journalist after I finished a turbulent time as a leader of the National Union of Journalists in the late 1970s including the first ever BBC strike which took BBC News off air and the first ever national strike by all newspapers outside London. I applied for scores of jobs in journalism in the months after my NUJ period ended in May 1979 – just when Margaret Thatcher was elected. No-one would even give me an interview.)

I remained an NUJ delegate to the Trades Union Congress in the first week September 1980. The TV news had been full of the strikes in Gdansk and then the negotiations carried out in full public glare between the union, its leader, Lech Walesa, his advisors from the Polish intelligentsia like Tadeusz Mazoiwecki, Bronislaw Geremek, Adam Michnik, and Jacek Kuron, on one side and now long forgotten Polish communist officials on the other side.

Much earlier in the year the TUC had arranged for a delegation to go and see the official communist-controlled Polish trade union organization to discuss trade issues. In those days the TUC was much closer to government than in the last 35 years. The FCO and TUC exchanged officials and there was much suspicion in leftwing circles that the TUC was too close to the British state establishment.

By the time of the TUC Congress in the first week of September 1980, this visit to the official communist union in Poland had become an embarrassment. But the TUC’s cartoon image of being a cart-horse was not an accident. The TUC plodded slowly through debates and decisions.

It had within its ranks some unions under control of influence of the British Communist Party. Everyone knew who the ‘tankies’ (so-called after the Russian habit of sending tanks into Budapest or Prague to crush aspirations for democracy) were and which unions they were powerful in.

Nonetheless the TUC as an organization was firmly in the western anti-Communist ideological camp. The TUC had taken the lead in creating the non-communist International Confederation of Trade Unions. Its leaders strongly supported the European Economic Community which was always bitterly opposed by British communists who were proto-Ukipers as they regarded any sharing of sovereignty or opening of markets inherent in European construction as naked liberal capitalism.

The 1970s was the détente era promoted by Henry Kissinger and sealed by a kiss between Leonid Breshnev and Jimmy Carter.  There was a strong post-1968 anti-Soviet leftism that had considerable presence amongst younger trade union activists many of whom were delegates to the TUC Congress.

So they burst out with cheers and applause when the ‘fraternal delegate’ from the AFL-CIO (the American trade union centre whose international activities were accused of being piloted and paid for by the CIA) at the TUC praised the Gdansk strikers. ‘I think that we are on the eve of a small miracle, namely the right of workers to choose unions of their own, uninhibited by the interference of government or government-controlled trade unions,’ the American trade unionist said.

Normally the AFL-CIO speech was heard with police indifference as a friendly ritual. Now rank and file delegates were applauding the American.  The buzz in the hall and in the corridors and receptions afterwards continued as it became clear that most trade unionists (with the exception of hardline communists) were solidly on the side of their Polish comrades.

A message came from Warsaw that the proposed trip was now reduced to a one-day affair with no chance to visit Gdansk and meet Lech Walesa as the TUC requested. It should not be forgotten that in those days there were no Easyjet or Ryanair daily flights to Polish cities.  I had to fake a tourist visa for my many visits there which certainly broke the rules and was probably illegal. The Polish prosecuting authorities decided I had committed a crime when I was detained in May 1982 when taking money to the underground Solidarity union after it was repressed in December 1981.  Again, I had been deceitful when applying for a visa by saying it was purely for tourist reasons when I was undertaking a political visit to run western trade union money to the clandestine printing operating of the illegal Solidarity. In 1980 getting the TUC carthorse to Poland was not just a matter of booking a flight. Official visas and arrangements had to be negotiated.

Rank and file delegates spoke out in favour of Solidarnosc. Hardline anti-communists tried to score political points of their own. But most British trade unionists realized instinctively that something important and wonderful was happening as the glorious prize of freedom and democracy was being won by workers uniting in a trade union movement. Already the new Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher had decided to target trade unions as the ‘enemy within’ as she later called them. British trade unions made themselves easy targets because of their stupidity in the 1970s.  So they reached out to support workers in another country who were raising the trade union standard even if the Polish movement was nationalist, religious and about identity and core human rights not narrowly about workplace organization and fair wages.

One young delegate from the print union, the National Graphical Association, made a short intervention in favour of Solidarity which was cheered. So was Aidan White of the National Union of Journalists who asked why Lech Walesa was treated as a hero by the same British press that vilified Len Murray, the moderate, cautious TUC General Secretary. By the end of the TUC Congress, its president, Tom Jackson, a pro-American, pro-European anti-communist union leader read out a strong statement in support for Solidarity and announced the visit agreed in April was now cancelled. There were cheers at this statement. David Basnett, the GMB leader, a dull if worthy union official, who was to have led the delegation agreed six months previously but now cancelled, attacked the official Polish union and said : ‘We support the fight for democratic independent trade unions. We want to help them.’

From then on despite moans and mumbling from the TUC’s communists and pro-Soviet apologists the official TUC line along with the ICFTU, the AFL-CIO and the trade unions of the democratic world were strongly in favour of Solidarity. The TUC played an important role at the International Labour Organisation where support for Solidarity was moblised. The Labour Party of Michael Foot, Shirley Williams and Peter Shore rallies  strongly to the side of Solidarity and against the Soviet Union. One should not forget that the Sunday Times had had to pay libel damages to Michael Foot in the 1960s after the paper accused him of being a CIA agent. The left-wing Labour MP, Eric Heffer, heaved his considerable bulk into a too-tight Solidarity T-shirt and the Polish union did more damage to the status of the British communists  and other apologist for Sovietism than all the attacks by their opponents elsewhere in the Labour movement or the press.

Peter Hitchens was a labour – i.e. trade union – reporter in this period. He was a strong critic of communist and left-wing trade union activity.  History has already judged that the infantile leftism of some trade unions in the 1970s hastened the decline in influence and power of British trade unions. While British communists – unlike the French or Italian counterparts – never had much presence in parliamentary politics they were undoubtedly powerful and influential in British trade unions both openly and behind the scenes. British communists spear-headed the criticisms of the European Economic Community which they opposed with the fanatical fervour we now see in Ukip and in the off-shore owned press. To read the arguments of Nigel Farage and the former CPGC leader, John Gollan,about how Europe has destroyed British democracy makes one wonder if the British communism which was extremely nationalistic has morphed into today’s Ukip ideology.

The TUC can and was criticized for staying too close to whatever was the foreign policy line of the government because the TUC up to 1979 saw itself as a power in the realm. This ended under Mrs Thatcher’s government.

In all events, Peter Hitchens has not quite got it right but at an interval of 35 years that is hardly important. His article about me, the TUC and Solidarity in 1980 is below and apart from obiter dicta on myself I agree with many of his points.

At some stage someone might write a full accurate and balanced account of the events Mr Hitchens relates.

I should note that while Peter Hitchens and I have been on the opposite of many if not most political fences over the years he has always been friendly and courteous and good company. I shall never forget how he called me from Houston, Texas a day or two before his brother Christopher, one of my lifelong friends, died to say Christopher had sent his final best wishes. It was an important touching gesture and I shall always be grateful to Peter, at a trying, sad moment finding the time to call me with Christopher’s last greetings.


DM 11 May 2014


Solidarity Forever? The British Left and the Polish Uprising of 1980

By Peter Hitchens published on his Daily Mail blog

A disagreement on ‘Twaddle’ with Denis MacShane prompts me to look up the archives on a forgotten moment in the history of the British Labour movement. This was the reaction of the then-potent Trade Union Congress to the great Gdansk shipyard strike in Poland, which began in the middle of August 1980 and launched the movement called ‘Solidarity’ which eventually overturned Communist rule in Poland. Mr MacShane maintains that the British trade union movement happily welcomed this development. (‘Huge cheers for Sol[idarity] in 1980 TUC Congress’, he writes, merrily). I have a different recollection. I’d be glad of any others.


The TUC, official headquarters of British trade unionism,  might have (or so you would have thought) offered its instant support to the modern Tolpuddle martyrs, who had set themselves against an inflexible and autocratic government, by demanding the freedom to strike and organise. But it wasn’t quite like that.   I rather like Denis MacShane, despite the fact that he is a tediously orthodox post-1968 left-winger, can be utterly exasperating and ended up as a loyal servant of the Blair machine and enthusiastic propagandist for Britain’s absorption into the EU.


It is quite seldom that one encounters somebody who recognises, in such detail,  that the EU is very much a product of the 1968 cultural revolution, and is a fundamentally leftist project. I did not rejoice when his political career ended in personal disgrace, not being an enthusiast for selective justice or for the intervention of the police in politics. The most interesting thing about him is that he was born (the son of a Polish father and a Scottish mother) Denis Matyjaszek, the name under which he was involved in interesting escapades when he was a prominent student journalist at Oxford (I recently read of these while going through old archives of ‘Cherwell’, the Oxford student newspaper, and the ‘Oxford Mail’ for the fateful year of 1968, researching for a contemplated novel that may never be written). Plainly, such an ancestry gave him an individual and different perspective on the Britain of those times.


I don’t have a similar fondness for the TUC, which when I was a labour correspondent seemed unduly open to the influence of the Communist Party and its fellow-travellers. The trick was worked in this way. The CP was free to operate in the unions, where its really rather small number of well-organised and well-directed members could exercise a great influence by attending meetings assiduously, pursuing co-ordinated policy objective. Thus a union with a large block vote in Labour Party decisions and elections could be largely controlled by a small group of CP activists. They coudl also give union support the many acts of destabilisation of our economy, in the form of futile, self-damaging strikes,  which Moscow no doubt favoured in those days.


They could not do this in the Labour Party itself, where open CP membership was not allowed. But because the TUC had a powerful voice of its own, because its annual conference preceded Labour’s by a few weeks each year and it could therefore be used to rehearse battles and soften up the press and public,  and because senior Labour politicians would invariably attend and usually speak at its conference, it was the point at which the apparently tiny and significant CP could gain social, personal and political access to the topmost parts of the Labour power machine. Declared Communists, such as the Draughtsmen’s Union leader Ken Gill, actually sat on its General Council. Some people wonder why Britain, unlike France and Italy, never had a major working-class Communist movement. The truth is that Britain did, but that movement was half-in, half-out of the Labour Party and the TUC, and reached remarkably high, especially through secret membership


So, when the Gdansk strike became a major issue, the TUC hesitated. Its trade union duties conflicted with its fellow-travelling inclinations. Yes, it was a strike, which it might normally have supported.  But it was also a strike against what many TUC figures regarded as a ‘fraternal’ government. But some others in the TUC were keen to support Lech Walesa’s strike. The most prominent of these was Frank Chapple, an ex-Communist electrician who had (alongside Les Cannon) exposed and defeated ballot-rigging by Communists in his own union in 1961, a scandal now almost totally forgotten. He then became the principal voice of old-fashioned British trade unionism, doggedly devoted to preserving his members’ pay and conditions, suspicious of all leftist politics.  He ended up backing the SDP.


As the TUC hesitated and mumbled through its false teeth, taking a fortnight to offer a grudguing formula of semi-support, Chapple demanded a clear, unequivocal  statement of support for what was, after all, one of the most emotionally inspiring acts of courage in modern history, a genuine and peaceful popular uprising by industrial workers against the state which falsely claimed to be their servant and was in fact their master. From scrappy archives, I think I have established that Mr Chapple particularly wanted support for free trade unions in Poland, a demand which implied that the official unions were not free, as indeed they weren’t.  As far as I can make out from these archives,  he was first asked to withdraw it, and then defeated.


I remember the episode with what seems like clarity. But at a range of almost 34 years, what I recall is of course days of episodes concentrated by my memory into a single drama: The ugly, crowded conference hall, the brownish-grey figures of the then TUC leadership sitting in untelegenic rows as they were made to feel very awkward indeed (nobody in the Labour movement had any presentational skills in those days), Frank Chapple’s brave, heedless East-end pugnaciousness (how amusing to think that he had grown up in Hoxton, now a funky district of Tate Modern hopefuls and poseurs, then a particularly rough classroom in the school of hard knocks) , TUC ‘moderate’ David Basnett’s weary, baffled attempt to compromise (the story of his life –it was always hard to believe he’d been a wartime RAF pilot, but he had. Many of that generation of Labour had good war records) , the ever-present temptations of the outside world, with the English Channel shining just beyond the entrance doors in all its late-summer loveliness, and what had by then become for me the ceaseless desire to abandon this narrow world, cross that Channel and be abroad.


But then there was this drama. I have before me a front page of the Daily Mail for one of those momentous days in early September 1980. ‘POLE-AXED!’ it shouts. Then it quotes Frank Chapple in huge letters ‘The Polish government is treating the TUC with the contempt it feels they deserve’.


The story had by then degenerated into absurdity. The TUC leadership had planned to go on a delegation to meet the official (that is to say, tethered and muzzled and state-controlled) Polish ‘unions’ with which they had shamefully maintained relations. They were  horribly happy to shake hands with these ghastly people, wherever they could find them,  and I have never quite got over being stuck in a tram in Prague in 1978, while we were made to wait for a police-escorted official car containing the (then)  instantly-recognisable figure of Ray Buckton, leader of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, in whose handsome headquarters I used to attend meetings of the Hampstead Labour Party.


Anyway, the Poles, having offered a visit in which there had been no guarantee that the TUC delegation would meet anyone from the Gdansk strike, or indeed any genuine trade unionists. As Mr Chapple said ‘there was never any intention on behalf of the Polish authorities of allowing meetings with genuine representatives of the workers’.


All this  had happened after the TUC had *defeated* an attempt by Frank Chapple to call off the visit. This was the great difficulty faced by the TUC. They really, really wanted to maintain their relationship with the Communist fake trade unions. I and others had the impression this was more important to them than the Gdansk strike.


A few weeks later, Frank Chapple was, in a rare treat for coincidence theorists, chucked off a key committee of the TUC. As a leader in ‘The Times’ (then rather more conservative than it is now)  put it :’ It was not really Mr Frank Chapple’s fault that free trade unionism broke out in Poland last month . It was not even his fault that the official Polish trade union organization subsequently withdrew an invitation to a TUC delegation to visit the country, in circumstances acutely embarrassing to the TUC leadership. ‘


The leader says cheekily that Mr Chapple was ‘tactless enough to be right about Poland’, notes the ‘chagrin’ of the mainstream TUC leadership about Poland and recalls (correctly) that ‘there is a strand of opinion in the [trades union] movement for whom socialism matters more than freedom’.


As they come from the great, deep memory hole of ‘Before the Internet Was Invented’,  these archives are harder to get hold of than they ought to be, and I’m grateful to colleagues in the Associated Newspapers Library for helping me to refresh my memory. When time permits, I’ll dig a bit deeper. But I still think Denis is wrong about those ‘huge cheers’. I’d be prepared to compromise on ‘modest cheers’ from some of those present.

My other memory is quite clear. It is of walking into the bare, glum Hotel Morski in Gdansk two months later, having persuaded my then editor that the Gdansk strike was the biggest industrial story of the age, and meeting Lech Walesa himself, with a young Polish English student acting as my translator. The mere mention of the British TUC provoked an explosion of contempt in Walesa which came so fast and was so emphatic it was hard to get a shorthand note. But he certainly wasn’t responding to ‘huge cheers’. He could tell a hawk from a handsaw.

How Eurosphere Lost Ukraine

Open Democracy

The Eurosphere is losing Ukraine

Superpowers are bad losers. The Sovietsphere lost in Afghanistan, and then in Poland, Hungary and East Berlin in the 1980s. The Anglosphere lost in Iraq and Afghanistan after 2000. Now the Eurosphere is losing in Ukraine. In all cases, the end result is a turning back to introspective domestic politics and scratchy, unconfident foreign policy.
German business intervention
After appearing to wallow in schadenfreude over the US-EU divisions in handling the Ukraine crisis, Vladimir Putin says that he is pulling back from all-out confrontation. Russia’s president will have read the unambiguous language from the director of the Federation of German Industries, Markus Kerber, the bosses’ boss, who states that the ‘annexation of Crimea by Russia was a gross violation of international law. This is something that German industry cannot tolerate. It undermines the system of international government that was established after the fall of the Soviet Union, which has contributed to peace and stability in Europe for more than two decades.’
Kerber’s intervention carries far more weight than the windy neo-cold warriors like John McCain or Liam Fox. The German industry chief adds that ‘German businesses will support Ms. Merkel if she decides that sanctions are the only way to make President Vladimir Putin comply with international law.’
This is language that Putin understands. One cannot imagine the head of Britain’s CBI making such a clear statement. Putin reads German, and it is hard to imagine such a clear threat being conveyed in the name of German business without full consultation with the Kanzleramt and Angela Merkel herself.
The spectre of chaos
This warning en clair adds to the spectre of violent chaos on Russian borders, with the possibility that, if more mass murders take place, as in Maidan or Odessa, Ukrainians will decide to flee for sanctuary to neighbouring Russia or to the West, like the 2m who fled the wars between Milošević’s Serbs and Croats, Bosnians and Kosovars, and the retaliatory violence against Serbs in 1990-1999.

Where does that leave Putin? Having pocketed Crimea, and contributed to the increasing image of Ukraine as a failed state that will not easily find its way to any political or economic settlement, Putin can now say to both the Eurosphere and to Washington, ‘Look what a mess you’ve made of this. It’s your problem. Solve it if you can and I bet you can’t.’ He offers a tactical hint of ‘de-escalation,’ the fashionable new geopolitical word, by saying he doesn’t support East Ukraine independence plebiscites; and then does a 180 degree turn by stating that the May 25 presidential election can, after all, help resolve the situation.
Poor RT (Russia’s shiny English-language television service) and all the Putin apologists in the Eurosphere now left with egg on their faces, for they have been spouting the approved Moscow line that the presidential elections were a provocation and should be put off. What are they going to say now? One of the problems with the Ukraine discussion is the poverty of language or descriptive terms to explain what is going on. Never have so many clichés been deployed to so little purpose in so few weeks.
Bittersweet oranges
The Ukraine of the Orange Revolution descended into a permanent fight between its leading figures, notably Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko. Russia intervened blatantly, with the gas crisis of 2009. The European Union, meanwhile, was devoured by its financial crisis after 2008, and the United States sought to reset relations with Russia after the military years of President George Bush Jr. It was almost with relief that Ukraine – and by extension the world – accepted Putin’s candidate, Yanukovych, and voted him in as president in 2010.
Alas, Yanukovych had no more idea what to do than the defeated President Yushchenko. His mistakes were numerous: he imprisoned, after a fake trial, Tymoshenko, and instantly turned her into a global heroine; he was unwilling to reform the oligarch economy, instead devoting time and energy to promoting his son and other family members to the ranks of the oligarchs.
Ukraine and the EU
The EU had very little idea what to do about Ukraine, and no obvious ambitions. There could be no question of the 46m Ukrainians joining the EU in any conceivable future. The EU had no money for its own programmes so the idea that it could offer anything substantial to Ukraine was fanciful. Nor was there any conviction that Ukraine should enter NATO. Yes, since 2009, the EU had had what it called its Eastern Partnership process, which was its attempt to build a better relationship with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. But the EU was suffering from enlargement pains, with the rise of major political movements opposing the free movement of people, which campaigned against the admission of Bulgaria and Romania.
Back to Germany
As the German industry boss, Markus Kerber, wrote, ‘The root cause of the Ukrainian crisis is Mr Putin’s failure to understand what caused the Berlin Wall to fall. It was destroyed not from the West but by millions of people leaning against it and pushing with their bare hands.’

Like Serbia’s Milošević, Tunisia’s Ben Ali or Egypt’s Mubarak, Yanukovych could no longer remain in power; and his people refused to be cowered by the Maidan killings, and instead came together in one force and made clear he had to go. It was neither a coup nor a putsch, and the EU and US were not much more than cheering bystanders, as they were in Belgrade, Tunis or Cairo. Yanukovych, like Milošević, Ben Ali or Mubarak had to go, and go he went. But he has left a nation on the point of disintegration with no sense that a politics of compromise and tolerance can emerge.
While some in Washington look on with pleasure at Russia and Putin being revealed as neo-Soviet bullies, much of the rest of Europe looks with horror at the sheer hate and violence that has been unleashed. It seems clear that Europe is faced with another Yugoslavia as Ukraine slides into disintegrative chaos.
Putin has played a good hand. How, then, does the West fight back? The military spenders have been in force demanding more budgets. In response to the Ukrainian events, at a recent NATO meeting a Lithuanian general demanded more defence spending but did not explain why Lithuania’s defence budget was the lowest in Europe in terms of share of GDP spent on defence. It is not clear that having several NATO armoured divisions in situ on Ukrainian borders or a big US naval presence in the Black Sea would have made an iota of difference in the present crisis.
 After all, Nato was never so strong or well-financed as at the end of the Cold War yet all the military spending could not stop the Balkans wars which lasted twice as long as WW2.
There is conflict fatigue in Europe. Germany, in particular, longs for a return to the Genscher era of foreign policy when the Free Democrat foreign minister, under both Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, sought to be friends with everyone from Washington to Moscow to Beijing.

Berlin today wants to be pro-American, pro-Russian and pro-Kyiv; however, to govern is to choose; a pity that Berlin would prefer not to choose. Other countries like, for example, those who support the South Stream gas pipeline linking Russia to Bulgaria, and then upwards to Austria and Hungary via Serbia, want to hide under the duvet, and hope that Putin’s anger with Ukraine’s rejection of his man, Yanukovych, does not turn into the fight that the neo-cold warriors in Moscow and Washington appear to relish.
The British government has refused to lift a finger even to question the provenance of the money which has flowed to London; and Putin capitalism provides easy revenue for the City, PR firms, wine merchants, Savile Row, estate agents, the LSE and private schools.
The US Congress has passed into law the Magnitsky Act but, despite a unanimous House of Commons resolution, the British government ignores the will of MPs, and sends out a reassuring signal to Putin that he can get away with what he likes as far as ‘Londongrad’ is concerned.
William Hague is no Palmerston; he talks the talk but if he is not prepared to move on the issue of naming and denying visas to some vicious but minor state functionaries who killed the employee of a British firm, why should Putin take him or Britain seriously?
Disintegrative forces
Europe’s real weakness is not in the level of its defence spending but in the collapse of confidence, growth, economic hope and sense of direction of the entire EU. On the same day as the proposed Ukrainian presidential elections, there will be the European Parliament elections. This is likely to see a surge in exactly the nationalist, disintegrative forces that are tearing Ukraine apart.
Historians may come to see Ukraine as representing the moment in European history when the post-1945 efforts to build a new Europe finally came to an end. Whoever is elected on 25 May, as president of Ukraine will have little authority to impose his or her will across the nation. Similarly, whoever wins the European Parliament elections that same week, few expect the Second Coming of a Eurosphere leadership able to take Europe into a new era of growth, jobs and social justice.
The endgame
Putin has no need to invade, Ukraine or anywhere else. Europe has neither the money nor the political will to deal with this crisis, whereas Putin can offer an alternative vision of an authoritarian fusion of state power and post-liberal capitalism under the banner of assertive national identity. Putin has taken Russia into the heart of global capitalism, and the old guard of pre-Putin global capital who thought they had sorted out history after 1990, haven’t the faintest idea of what to do.
If the first decade of the 21st century saw the West profoundly weakened by the Anglosphere adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan, the second decade is seeing the Eurosphere, headed by the anti-Iraq war powers of Germany, France and Belgium, governing without any strategy or even minor tactics to handle the increasingly violent disintegration of one of Europe’s biggest states.

Yet the Eurosphere must never forget the aspirations of the young people of Ukraine, wherever they live. They want a European future, and were ready to protest and camp out in freezing weather, and even be killed for their right to a better life. In that sense, Europe is to blame. By offering, since the 1980s, a world vision in which hundreds of millions can live in peace, make money, be gay, not be tortured to death on a US prison gurney, or killed in a Moscow prison for daring to challenge the state; and argue out their differences in a free media and via ballot boxes, Europe has offered Ukrainians more than it can deliver.
Ukraine’s future can no longer be decided by old men flying in to Geneva from Washington and Moscow, to redraw borders, like Bismarck, Clemenceau or Wilson. Putin perhaps does not understand this, which is why, even as he is causing the European and NATO democracies to trip over themselves, he also has no real answer; a Ukraine, like Yugoslavia, with regions falling into disintegration, violence, no state power, and endless chaos and propaganda wars, is a contagious nightmare.
But until Europe recovers its confidence and finds a way forward, this crisis will not come to an easy end.