Saturday, May 28, 2011

Language, Culture and Policy

A pair of posts on language in Europe offer the latest on one of the less purely political (but nonetheless, structural) elements of EU integration. One defends French language, lamenting its diminution and the negative effect this has on francophone clout in EU affairs:

"The choice of language has wide repercussions... If a meeting is held solely in English, the follow-up report must be written in near-perfect English and so the responsibility will go, he says, to an English-speaking expert rather than a French-speaking one. Or had it been agreed that the European patent would only be in English (as opposed to English, French and German, as is currently proposed), the influence of a British approach and English jurisdiction would have been greater..."

Also see a recent video interview from Presseurop of Androulla Vassiliou, the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture and Multilingualism (how different these Europeans are -- the US government would never budget for a "language tsar" of any iteration.) In contrast with the first speaker above, Vassiliou seems to suggest that one should not take on a stiff resistance to learning other languages, because language learning constitutes "learning the culture of others" and serves as a "very good means of communication," as well as the considerable economic implications of language, and culture more broadly, within EU economic affairs. Vassiliou claims that the European cultural products sector (television, film, etc.) grosses more than the European auto industry... Can anyone verify this?

Tidbits on Libya and the EU

A brief from EUobserver reports that on May 26 Hadeiba Hadi, the Libyan Ambassador to the EU, defected from his post as representative of the Qaddafi regime in Brussels. His staff also resigned.

In a statement made to the AFP, Hadi explained that he and his team felt obliged to make a decision to "no longer represent the regime," which is currently embattled against rebel forces seeking to ouster the Libyan leader from his decades-long rule.

Speaking of EU-Libyan affairs, last week EU foreign affairs chief Lady Catherine Ashton opened an EU office in Benghazi, Libya, where rebel governing structures like the Transitional National Council (TNC) are based. In a statement made following a meeting with the TNC's Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Ashton promised EU partnership in policy areas including security, economy, health, education and civil society. 

The EU's move to set up shop in Benghazi marks perhaps the boldest diplomatic decision for Libya's long haul. This takes one step further the decision by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to be the first to recognize the Libyan rebels' legitimacy. Much remains to be seen in the development of a Libya without Qaddafi in charge -- and even this, though desired by much of the international community, is a far-from-certain outcome. 

In an unexpected result from the G8 conference currently taking place in Deauville, France, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev has offered to try to coax Qaddafi into stepping down. This seems like an unreliable hand-off of negotiating power should the decision-makers in Europe and the US decide to go with it. But it may allow Russia to assert itself as a key player in conflict resolution, while the EU and US would benefit from some much-needed relief to then focus on issues closer to home such as the ongoing euro crisis and global recession more broadly. More to follow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Live From New York: A Finnish Expat on the Euro Crisis

A Finn-come-New Yorker expounds on the transatlantic notions that surround the euro crisis, the recent victories by right-wing nationalist parties in Finland's elections, and how observers in the US  may or may not be able to comment on it all. A thought-provoking read.

"Our resentment toward being asked to help our far-flung partners in the Union is also exposing the hypocrisy behind another dearly held Finnish tradition: our disgust at how little compassion Americans seem to have for their fellow citizens in terms of sharing the wealth. When my friends criticize the United States for failing to provide universal health care, I point out that America is twice the size of the European Union. It’s not quite parallel, but if Finns were asked to contribute to the health care of the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, they might feel a little like Americans.
"And now they do.
"Friday afternoon, without the support of the True Finns, Portugal’s bailout was endorsed in Parliament, clearing the way for its approval by the European Union on Monday.
"Because they failed to get what they wanted, the True Finns dropped out of the negotiations to become a coalition partner in the new government.
"But even if they won’t play a major role in determining Finnish policy, the True Finns have prompted some lasting changes, and transformed Finland’s meek stance toward Europe. The leading parties have refused to back further bailouts unless the country in question provides direct guarantees on the loans. (...)
"And the debate they started — about what kind of country Finland is, and wants to be — continues. The True Finns fear that the Finnish way of life will be undermined by immigrants. In my “red-green” circles — as the politically leftist and environmentally aware are called — the fear is that Finland will succumb to close-minded bigots and lose the diversity and benefits that come from belonging to a larger European community.
"For my part, I did what I could to help — I offered a place on my couch in Brooklyn to any political refugees. But in the end, my friends in Helsinki seem to be deciding that this is no time for retreat. Instead they’ll stay to help determine the future of their country.
"Perhaps in the process, we Finns will learn something from that union of states on the other side of the Atlantic. And maybe we’ll even be able to offer some suggestions in return."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ashton, Clinton Meet -- Washington Snoozes

EEAS chief Lady Catherine Ashton and US Sectretary of State Hilary Clinton met in Washington Tuesday to discuss a buffet of global issues, notably Syria in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010. 

A random Google search revealed that, apart from CNN, no major US news networks or print outlets thought the event was worth covering. Meanwhile, transatlantic coverage continues to be dominated by the Arab Spring, late-phase details in the Osama Bin Laden execution, US relations with Pakistan and the Cannes Film Festival and, most recently, the scandal surrounding rape allegations against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (see previous EurAmerican post).

What does the EEAS -- and the EU more broadly -- have to do to make headlines in Washington?

Snippets on Strauss-Kahn

As International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sits in the Rikers Island jail following an arrest on allegations of rape, world media has been of many minds about what it means, and what to expect. They vary in what the predict and project, but all seem to bear the same breathless anticipation for what's around the corner.

Here are a few:

The Wall Street Journal's The Source reports that, contrary to fears, DSK's arrest has not led transatlantic markets to tank.

French political parties are scrambling to find firm footing in the lead-up to the country's presidential elections next year, and Sarkozy's has issued a (characteristically audacious) statement that the Socialist Party has lost “the moral part of the battle for the presidency,” the New York Times says.

Would-be successors to the notoriously womanizing public figure include the Swiss Josef Ackermann, the German Thomas Mirow, the Briton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde. Some European leaders, including Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, have argued that for the traditionally European-led organization, only a European should be considered, so as to continue to steer the Old Continent out of the debt crisis currently embroiling the European Union's monetary standing.  

The IMF has had a heavy, and generous, hand in the bailout process of the eurozone's worst-faring countries, and many in Europe fear their IMF help may dry up if one of theirs is not in control. This piece also notes that, "for the first time, there is a genuine possibility that the I.M.F. position could go to an official from a faster-growing non-Western country, reflecting the shifting global economy" (NYT also). 

EUobserver writes that two EU ministers who are both women -- Austrian finance minister Maria Fekter and Spanish senior official Elena Salgado -- have moved for Strauss-Kahn to step down, so as to preserve the image of the IMF and to take into account the "extraordinarily serious" nature of the allegations.

Presseurop reports via Mediapart that as "a harsh reminder of reality," the IMF boss, despite being "one of the most influential, most powerful, most popular men in the world," still has to "answer for his conduct as an ordinary citizen."  

Euronews covers the sore subject of Strauss-Kahn's damning portrayal in US media, which stands in stark contrast to the 'Guigou Law' passed in France last year to reinforce the presumption of innocence by banning the show of charged persons in handcuffs or being escorted by police. The law was named after the politician who drafted it, the Socialist Elisabeth Guigou.

“I found that image to be of unimaginable brutality, violence and cruelty,” said Guigou, in Global Post.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Reported Dead

"US president Barack Obama is due to make a statement shortly in which he is expected to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda. [...]
"Qais Azimy, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said that Afghan officials have confirmed that Bin Laden had died and that his body was with the United States.

"Officials would not confirm whether he had been killed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and said that the death of the al-Qaeda leader was more of a "symbolic victory", as he was no longer directly connected to the group's field operations, Azimy reported."
The Washington Post posits that this was a CIA operation. It comes on the heels of an already white-hot controversy involving CIA operative Raymond Davis, who was working undercover in Pakistan when he shot and killed two Pakistanis who allegedly tried to rob him. 

Late the night of Sunday, May 1, US President Barack Obama made an address from the White House -- after a delay of over an hour -- replete with imagery of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and an unabashedly pro-American, surprisingly hawkish stance on the breaking news. 

"Justice has been done," Obama declared. The US president also stressed that "we must remain vigilant," and that the operation against Bin Laden was not an act within a larger war against Islam. Importantly, Obama made explicit reference to the fact that this claim was originally made by former US President George W. Bush.

"We will be relentless in defense of our citizens, and our friends and allies," Obama said, with manifest resolution in his voice. 

Crowds spilled into the streets in Washington. Ecstatic chants erupted of "USA! USA!" from crowds that gathered in front of the White House.
The questions we transatlantic thinkers must now ask ourselves include:

- How should the US and Europe respond? 

- What are the security implications involved? How might we anticipate the possibility of reprisals, attacks or other violence in the West?

- What are the long-term effects of a killing of this magnitude, whether "symbolic" or real?

Your comments are welcome.