Thursday, September 23, 2010

US Embassy Engages French Banlieues

Check out this NY Times article on engagement in banlieues by the U.S. embassy in France. (Many thanks to Art Goldhammer's French Politics blog for the link.)

For those who may not be aware, "banlieue" is a politically charged term for the poverty- and crime-ridden, largely immigrant neighborhoods that surround many French cities. French president Nicolas Sarkozy made disparaging remarks against the banlieues during his 2007 presidential race, and the areas characterize what many call a long-running failure to integrate France's minorities.

Through its engagement, the U.S. embassy seeks to address a sense of abandonment felt by scores of banlieue-raised French youth. The article opens with this:

"BONDY, France -- The residents of this poor, multiracial Paris suburb say they have been abandoned. For 30 years, they say, the French authorities have written off Bondy and neighborhoods like it, treating their inhabitants as terminal delinquents and ignoring their potential.
This, residents note, is not the approach taken by the United States Department of State.

“We’re waiting for the president of the Republic, for his ministers,” said Gilbert Roger, the mayor of Bondy. “And we see the ambassador of the United States.”

Goldhammer's review of the article raises a good point about the how such bold diplomatic strides would be received in the United States:

"The following sentence [from the article] in particular raises a host of questions:

Since Mr. Obama’s election, the Americans have helped organize seminars for minority politicians, coaching them in electoral strategy, fund-raising and communications. 

One can only imagine what the reaction of, say, [House Republican leader] John Boehner would be to the news that the French embassy was coaching, say, Haitian-American politicians on how to knock off their no-doubt Republican opponents."

Ah, diplomacy in action. Central to the U.S. embassy's work is the question of currying favor, with whom, and at what cost-benefit balance: Is the embassy's best move to generate hearts-and-minds change within a largely underprivileged (and, importantly, preponderantly Muslim) popular base, or rather to avoid peeving the French political establishment?

Comments welcome.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Roubini on European Recession : "Hangover"

The economist fabled to have predicted the global financial crisis shoots from the hip on European recovery -- and describes a still-dire bill of economic health for the Old Continent. Nouriel Roubini, professor at New York University, dubs the European condition a "hangover" and one sure to continue galling livers for a good while to come.

The professor employs a host of disparaging idioms in his take on the EU's present status, decrying 1) the policies that "stole demand from the future," 2) the laughable "stress tests" (quote marks his) that only "kicked the can down the road,"  and 3) the lingering "fundamental problems of the eurozone." He singles out sitting EU president and Belgian head of state Yves Leterme as "unable to keep his own country together, let alone unite Europe."

He also dismisses the notion that the EU bail-out created anything beyond transient relief. Though Brussels policy heads managed in May to slap together a rescue fund, risk spreads have returned to their pre-bail-out levels for several European countries. Roubini sniffs that operatives "fudged" this summer's round of financial "stress tests" for European markets, serving to pep up world markets' frail confidence only temporarily -- a move that is already beginning to wear thin.

Even the sunniest eurozone example, Germany, suffers Roubini's ire, and he shrugs off that country's supposed promise as the EU's post-crisis front-runner:

"Even Germany’s temporary success is riddled with caveats. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, GDP fell much more in Germany – because of its dependence on collapsing global trade – than in the United States. A transitory rebound from such a hard fall is not surprising, and German output remains below pre-crisis levels."

In what may bear nightmarish implications,  the "double dip" recession so feared throughout the world may actually be taking root as we read his words.

"Indeed, the latest data from Germany – declining exports, falling factory orders, anemic industrial-production growth, and a slide in investors’ confidence – suggest that the [double dip] has started."

His forecast on current and future European politics provides little sustenance for optimists. He cites a litany of bummer political events ranging from Angela Merkel's recent shallacking in German regional elections, to unlikely odds that Sarkozy will initiate real (Roubini says "cosmetic") structural reforms in France -- and that is concurrent with sobering competition prospects from the Socialist Party's presidential likely, one Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Similarly unpopular leaders also face grim predictions across the EU's southern belt, from the vulnerable Presidents Silvio Berlusconi (Italy) and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero (Spain), to the bete noire of EU fiscal cohesion, George Papandreou (Greece).

If all that wasn't enough, Roubini finishes by going for broke on two scenarios for the eurozone's future. The first, the "best" case scenario (though hardly a good one) says the monetary bloc limps on some years longer. The second -- this is the 800-pound gorilla whose presence EU public officials from across the 27 states refuse to entertain -- predicts that "the eurozone will break up, owing to a combination of sovereign debt restructurings and exits by some weaker economies."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

US Congress, Anonymous Official Step in to EU Roma Row

When the EU-neglectful United States Congress interjects, it's serious. Democrats Benjamin Cardin (MD) and Alcee L. Hastings, and another official insisting on anonymity have criticized France's deportations of the Roma as a "shell game" for minority migration laws that have often played against the country's Muslim population, the largest in Europe. See the full story from EUobserver.

Ashton Names Many Key EU Foreign Posts

This just in from EUobserver:

"EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced the first tranche of EU ambassadors within the new diplomatic service on Wednesday (15 September) with the prized China posting going to a German diplomat.

The posts were advertised in March. Since then, the appointment process has been under the watchful eye of member states keen to make sure Ms Ashton toes the line on two main points - balancing the number of national and EU officials appointed to the service and making sure the under-represented eastern European states get a look in too.
Of the 28 heads of delegation and one deputy head named to date, 13 appointments are national diplomats and 16 are EU officials. Four of the appointees are from new member states while 22 of the posts went to men and seven to women.
"I believe I have appointed the best people for the right jobs," said Ms Ashton adding that she is confident they will do a "really great job."
The top strategic post of EU ambassador to Bejing went to Markus Ederer, a career diplomat currently heading the planning unit in the German foreign ministry.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roma Exile in Europe, Islamophobia in US

The EU affairs blog Gulf Stream Blues has a good, solid post comparing minority relations issues in the EU and the US. Though the article acknowledges its own liberal bent, it's a cogent and worthwhile read. (That's how we do it at EurAmerican: "Partisan, But Friendly.")

Gulf Stream's author is a Brussels-based American journalist with a collection of European interests much like those at this blog. (See each one's noticeably similar posts on the Belgian break-up rumors here on his and here on mine.)

And in other news, watch this space for an article tentatively titled, "The EEAS Comes to Washington: What Can Each Side Expect?," on the coming EU diplomatic service and whether the scramble to produce it will form a diplomatic corps with the grit to survive in the international jungle that is Washington, DC. There, I've announced it; I'm committed now. Article to follow soon.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Trichet Calls for "Credible Alertness" on Post-Crisis Euro

European Central Bank President, Jean-Claude Trichet

Financial Times editor Lionel Barber interviews President of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet. Couldn't embed the video here, but get it via the link at this twitter account: willfleeson

Watch for the nice EU-US comparison around minute mark 3:30, when Barber says the EU cannot boast a common currency and treasury, as can the US. "This is not Massachusetts," he points out, a statement of the obvious that only transatlantic wonks like EurAmerican may find appreciable. 

Also see insightful commentary on economic globalization after nine and a half minutes.

The German Finance Tsar's Super-German Stance

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble

I liked this from the BBC's "Gavin Hewitt's Europe" blog, which is Hewitt's interview with German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Berlin's economic recovery policy. The official asserts that his country's path out of crisis is a correct one, and belabors the point that he wishes no one think that Germany thinks it's the correct one. 

Note the emphatic, traditionally German avoidance of any claim to leadership or even being in the right, a holdover from the country's post-World War II guilt and geopolitical introspection. It's also the consensus-building, lead-by-suggestion style that has characterized the German role in the EU integration process since its start.

Q, Gavin Hewitt: (...) With the German economy doing quite well [in light of the crisis], why is there still a need for an austerity programme here? 
A, Wolfgang Schaeuble: It is not an austerity programme.

Q: Well, it is spending cuts, 80 billion euros of spending cuts.

A: Yes, of course 80 billion in four years... it's not as dramatic as it may seem. Our programme fits in with the EU Stability and Growth Pact [to bring deficits down to 3%]. It's what we call a growth-friendly deficit reduction and that is a [foundation stone] for sustainable growth.
Q: But is part of the reason why you are doing it, to set an example to other EU countries? 
A: No, we are not the teacher for Europe. My principle is that every country has to do its duty... We have to defend the stability of the euro and we have to be in line with the European Stability and Growth Pact. And we are doing it. Not more, not less. And if we do so, we can ask our friends and partners to do the same, not more, not less. We are not the teacher of Europe [emphases by EurA].
Q: You say you are not the teacher of Europe, but Germany is sending out a message that other countries should not live beyond their means.
A: Germany sends out the message that in principle a balanced deficit reduction is not against sustainable economic growth. That is our message.
It means what all Europeans had in mind when we where all together in Toronto at the G20 summit... to say that deficit reduction or exit strategy as it was mentioned in the G20 policy since two years, is the right way.
Of course, you have to make it the right way to fit it into the special situation in any economy, but in principle it's necessary and it's a precondition for sustainable growth. I think the decision of the US is a little critical, but it is not up to me to decide it. For Germany our way is the right one and we won't destroy growth. It's the opposite. Our policy is very good and one precondition for a good economic development.
Q: And what do you say to those who argue that by adopting spending cuts and with other European countries cutting their budget deficit at the same time that it risks choking off growth, just at a time when so many economies are vulnerable?
A: No, the German example is proof it isn't necessarily so. In Germany our policy of a sustainable fiscal framework is a good precondition to increasing internal demand. Internal demand, consumption and investment are all increasing. We have had the highest figures of imports in Germany in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany, therefore what we are doing is not against growth, not in Europe, not in our global responsibility, but it's in favour of growth, sustainable growth. (...)

 Also see my previous post in response to an NYT piece on German national pride here, or below.

German Pride, EU Crisis, and the US

Check out this big-picture perspective on resurgent national pride in Germany from the New York Times.  The country that Jurgen Habermas once termed the "self-absorbed colussus," crippled with guilt over two world wars, the horrors of the Nazi-led Holocaust and global acrimony spanning generations is now staging a comeback -- to itself. 

The historically conflicted "German-German relationship" of its citizens could be showing signs of thaw, evident in new roles of German prominence from crisis-time leadership in the European Union, to its soccer team's success in this summer's World Cup to the current preponderance of German acts on European pop charts. From the article:

“Maybe it’s our time again,” said Catherine Mendle, 25, a school social worker strolling the grounds and halls of the square glass and concrete Chancellery building on a recent afternoon as part of a government open house. A military band played in the background, and Mrs. Merkel signed autographs for curious visitors.
“We have this extreme helper syndrome, to try to make the world love us again, and it’s completely overdone,” Ms. Mendle said. Germany, she said, had been reduced to simple stereotypes — Oktoberfest, auto factories, the Holocaust. Its rich traditions in music and literature, and its enduring emphasis on social welfare and a strong commitment to the environment, deserve more respect abroad and at home, Ms. Mendle said.

And this on German politics and history:

 "... Chancellor Angela Merkel has led a bloc of countries fending off President Obama’s calls for stimulus spending to combat the economic crisis, certain that the world should follow Germany’s example of austerity.
German pride did not die after the country’s defeat in World War II. Instead, like Sleeping Beauty in the Brothers Grimm version of the folk tale, it only fell into a deep slumber. The country has now awakened, ready to celebrate its economic ingenuity, its cultural treasures and the unsullied stretches of its history.

As Germany embarks on this journey of self-discovery, the question is whether it will leave behind a European project which was built in no small measure on the nation’s postwar guilt and on its pocketbook."

It remains to be seen how Germany will deal with its load of problems also shared throughout Europe. On integration, for example, a stark line is drawn between the assimilated and those who suffer the brunt of the global unemployment trend, including immigrants, like the Turkish manual laborers brought in en masse during the 1970s and after. Immigration remains today a question roiled by entrenched opinion, and the European demographics problem doesn't help. The German vision for economic recovery stands at loggerheads with the socialized economic thinking of France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. 

The risk of playing the EU's rich daddy during the crisis, of course, is that other Europeans won't remedy their economic weaknesses exposed by the 2008 meltdown -- or worse yet, that Europe will come to expect German bail-outs at every hard turn -- both after the crisis and in the long run.

And what would such a reality mean for the United States? Frittered German cash means badly depleted EU capital, both of the economic and political kind. (And on the latter: ask an average American to name three EU leaders, they'll likely say "Uhh," "Hmm" and "What?") Skeptics and Euro-Doomers are already airing bold claims that "Europe is history" -- and that particular damning, from IHT editor-at-large Roger Cohen. 

A healthy future transatlantic relationship is not just a matter of national pride as with the Germans, a growing light within a confused-as-ever European palette. Both the US and Europe want to see a finished EU masterpiece -- not because it should be beautiful, but because it's vital to our common interests.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Belgian Unity Still Possible, Analyst Argues

A Belgian political scientist has insisted that Belgium need not fear separation just yet. Jean Faniel, a professor at Brussels Free University, insisted in today's EurActiv that a way out is still possible, outlining a strategy for workable coalition talks  and dismissing as hasty some of the rhetoric surrounding a potential split. 

"Three months since the elections and despite the recent collapse of government talks, Flemish and Francophone parties can still be brought together, Faniel argues.
"Having the two Assembly and Senate presidents from the Socialist and Flemish N-VA [nationalist] parties means that the election winners are forced to work hand in hand," said the researcher at the ULB's Centre for Research and Socio-political studies (CRISP).
"In this way, we retain representatives from all seven parties in the negotiations," he stressed, rather than "starting from zero again".
The analyst pointed out that significant progress had already been made on the transfer of competences to 'federal' authorities, covering over €15 billion. In his eyes, the most divisive issues still holding up an agreement are the splitting of the Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) electoral district around the Belgian capital and the future financing of Brussels.
"Brussels, where 35,000 people don't pay taxes, simply cannot support its €500 million annual expenses on university education," he remarked.
Faniel noted that whilst Belgian opinion had become increasingly polarised since the elections, this was not necessarily symptomatic of a call for the country to be split up.
"43-47% of Flemish people voted for parties that call themselves separatists, but poll surveys reveal that the issues concerning them were mostly social, economic or even to do with xenophobia, but not necessarily independence," he purports.
"Separatist parties have therefore been promoted on the political scene without us really being sure that that is what their voters wanted," something Francophone negotiators are to seize upon.
Playing down remarks such as those made by French MP Nicolas Dupon-Aignan that France "has to prepare to welcome its Wallon and Brussels compatriots," the analyst stressed that the separatist Francophone party Rassemblement Wallonie France had never had an MP elected.
"This is a question that has been around for a long time," he said, "but things are especially complex in Brussels with regards to Flanders and the European institutions". The capital remained to be the main thing preventing a split of the country, Faniel admitted.
 See the full text of Faniel's interview in French here

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

EP to Barroso: We're Not Schoolchildren

So much for Commission president Barroso's plan to fine absent MEPs for lack of attendance at today's "State of the Union" speech in Strasburg. EurActiv reports:

"Political group leaders in the European Parliament were left red-faced yesterday (6 September) after being forced to abandon a decision to force MEPs to attend the European Commission president's first ever 'State of the Union' address under the new Lisbon Treaty rules.

"... This decision was seen by many as insulting and anti-democratic and triggered an unprecedented email exchange between MEPs who revolted against their own leaders.

"This method and wording of the decision of the Conference of Presidents is not in accordance with the dignity of the free mandate and the independence of an elected MEP," one longtime parliamentarian said. "We are not schoolboys and schoolgirls."

Belgian Government Talks Fail -- Risk of Meltdown, Splitting of Country

The Future "State" of Belgium?

The Belgian national government crisis is again peaking in the red, with questions of separation now being voiced openly by the country's statesmen in Brussels. 

Following the meltdown Friday of negotiations between leading Socialist Laurette Onkelinx and separatist Flemish leaders for a coalition government, Onkelinx warned that the world should "get ready for the break-up of Belgium."

Even as King Albert II attempts to restart talks between the seven-party patchwork currently working toward a more stable Belgian government, the dysfunction is reeling and risks pushing the country into political chaos.

The underlying problem traces back to dissent between Belgium's two main linguistic communities, the French-speaking Walloon and the Dutch-speaking Flemish. The threat of Flemish secession has loomed with real potential since 2007, when a fractious multi-party coalition took nine months to solidify. Scarce public confidence and musical chairs among senior leaders only perpetuated the rift. 

In 2008 the high-profile Flemish figures Yves Leterme stepped down from the prime ministership to allow Herman Van Rompuy into power in December. Van Rompuy was called just eleven months later to take up the immensely demanding post of President of the European Council. Leterme then returned to his former seat as prime minister, only to see talks founder in April 2010 amid party disputes and overall dysfunction.

The Belgian political scene risks to devolve further if leaders and parties fail to cobble together a government, make it function and keep it working over time. 

Chiefs of the Belgian government in Brussels have chosen words with unusually strong tones on the prospect of a split. Francophone socialist Philippe Moureaux has warned of a "progressive organization of separation." Another senior from the Wallonia state government has expressed that "all options" are possible.

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that because if we split, it will be the weakest who will pay the heaviest price," Onkelinx, the francophone leader, has said, as reported by Agence France Presse.  "On the other hand, we can no longer ignore that among a large part of the Flemish population, it's their wish [to separate]... Loads of people think it's possible. (Our) politicians have to be prepared."

Some have dismissed Onkelinx's remarks as exaggerated. But almost all observers agree that such statements could rock not only the Belgian political scene, but far more broadly, European markets.
"I'm afraid the political parties are playing with fire," said Philippe Ledent, a Brussels-based economist at ING, in a Reuters wire. Continued rancor in the Belgian government could impact public finances and the country's stable image abroad. 

Some pessimistic Belgians fear that Belgium may take on a reputation as the "Greece of the North Sea," an echo of the Mediterranean nation's severe deficit woes in the last year. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Religiosity in the US: A Religious Outlier Indeed

Charles Blow created this fascinating chart on religiosity worldwide, with the US far removed from its counterparts in other industrialized countries. The graph was published in Saturday's NY Times, in an op-ed of sorts titled "Religious Outlier." This data, taken from a recent Gallup poll, draws from responders in 115 countries. Blow writes:

"Sixty-five percent of Americans say that religion is an important part of their daily lives. That is compared with just 30 percent of the French, 27 percent of the British and 24 percent of the Japanese.
"[Blow] used Gallup’s data to chart religiosity against gross domestic product per capita, and to group countries by their size and dominant religions.
The cliché goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

The Gallup poll hypothesizes a strong correlation between religiosity and income, and is appropriately titled "Religiosity Highest in World's Poorest Nations." And the poll sets forth this summary of the survey's implications:

"Social scientists have put forth numerous possible explanations for the relationship between the religiosity of a population and its average income level. One theory is that religion plays a more functional role in the world's poorest countries, helping many residents cope with a daily struggle to provide for themselves and their families. A previous Gallup analysis supports this idea, revealing that the relationship between religiosity and emotional wellbeing is stronger among poor countries than among those in the developed world."

Does Gallup mean to suggest that religion is practically necessary in the Third World, whereas in developed nations, religion takes a back seat to feelings of self-sufficiency and control over one's life path? What would those say who buck the trend -- including Americans, Italians, Greeks, and residents of the Persian Gulf? After all, Greece was religious well before its debt crisis, and the faithful Gulf boasts one of the highest concentrations of wealth in the world.

The comment board is open.

Barroso Threatens to Fine MEPs For Absence from Tuesday's Speech

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso has threatened fines if MEPs are not present for at least two-thirds of his upcoming address in the European Parliament on Tuesday, Sep. 8th, styled much like the traditional US "State of the Union" speech.

In the halls of the European Commission, Barroso was rumored to have been overheard pleading into his Blackberry, "C'mon, dude, it would mean a lot to me. You should come, c'moooon!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

Roma Controversy Intensifies at EU Level -- To What Effect on Future Policy?

Apart from perhaps a few glancing references, EurAmerican will leave the Roma deportation issue to other actors in the blogopshere (see Art Goldhammer's French Politics for extensive coverage of the issue and the crackling threads his posts inspire). But here's a significant development in the story from European Voice that is unfolding within the European Parliament itself and at other peaks of Europe's governing elite: 

"French expulsions of Roma will come under attack at the European Parliament next week. Four political groups will recommend a formal condemnation of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, or his centre-right government. They will also demand a European Commission view on whether France has violated human rights and breached EU law over recent weeks.
"The Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), the Greens and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) say they are “outraged” at the closure of camps and the return – including, in some cases, the forcible expulsion – of 900 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania."


Comparing US Recessions: A Visual

This from the NY Times Economix blog, charting job changes:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Chart by Amanda Cox

"The chart above shows job changes in this recession compared with recent ones, with the black line representing the current downturn. The line has risen since last year, but still has a long way to go before the job market fully recovers to its pre-recession level. Since the downturn began in December 2007, the economy has shed, on net, about 5.5 percent of its nonfarm payroll jobs. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that the working-age population has continued to grow, meaning that if the economy were healthy we should have more jobs today than we had before the recession."

If this was a work of art, it could be called "Economy in Freefall." It also roughly mirrors the sinking stomachs and attendant hopes of the tens of millions of un- or under-employed (and that's just in the States), who watch with baited breath as to which way the skinny black line might sketch out their future.

It is telling that I learned of this graph via a link from the French daily Le Figaro (it was even "selected by the editors"). Sure, it's apocryphal, but it's also indicative that the whole world is watching the US' battle against the recession.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

French Fast Food Goes Hallal

Kouchner Deplores EU Absence in Mideast Peace Talks; Ashton Claims 'No Place There Anyway'

From today's EurActiv:

"French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has deplored the absence of the European Union from direct talks between Israel and Palestine, which are due to start today (2 September) in Washington.
Speaking to the press in Paris, Kouchner said it was "regrettable" that the Union was not directly represented. (...)
"Europe is not condemned to be simply a financial partner. I think Europe should play a political role, in particular in the search for peace in the Middle East," he said.
This is not the first time Kouchner has touched upon the format of direct talks between Israel and Palestine. Last Friday, he said that EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton should be the Union's representative.
Ashton replied the next day, saying that she could not attend next month's Middle East peace talks due to an upcoming China trip, adding that she had no place there anyway."