Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dublin, toytown of literature

So Dublin has been named a UNESCO City of Literature. Greeting the news, the Irish Republic’s Minister of Tourism said, "Being one of only four cities in the world to achieve the status of UNESCO City of Literature, will enable Dublin to increase its market share of tourists and attract more people to both the city and the island of Ireland."

Indeed, Dublin is one of four cities, along with Edinburgh, Iowa and Melbourne – which are all, by the by, English speaking - to make it onto this apparently monolingual UNESCO programme. It is hard to know where to put the inverted commas around such titles as Cities of Literature awarded by an organisation best known for sending actresses out to Darfur for famine zone photo ops, but fortunately the Minister has helped clarify the issue. Literature, for her, and in Ireland in general, is merely one other article of consumption useful for generating revenues in the economic wasteland that is the actual existing Irish Republic. Read on at 3am magazine...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

European integration? Go to jail

Quite often Mr Wolfgang Schäuble and Madame Christine Lagarde make sense. But then again, it seems that just when the synapses get sparking all luminously, the connects short circuit. Take this initially promising declaration they have just posted to Herman Van Rompuy. “A single currency simply cannot work properly without enhanced economic policy coordination”. Correct. Indeed, it’s obvious that to avoid 15/26 members states trying to be Germany and eating each other up, that we need some European division of labour. Let the Germans make cars, French farmers strong cheeses, the Brits decent sitcoms. Let the Czechs be beautiful and rude, the Romanians export bananas, and so on, and so on. So how do you go about that? By throwing deficit states into jail, obviously. 

Eh? Well, look at the rest. It all goes Securitate when they wonder how to enforce the whole thing. How about “political sanctions such as the suspension of voting rights” for “member states which infringe common engagements in a serious and/or repeated manner”? In simple terms this is called disenfranchisement. It’s what happens to citizens when they get locked up for mugging grannies or doing over an off license. Surely the union has others ways to assert its authority than the creation of delinquent states? But then it would need leaders with democratic spines, a federating vision entirely devoid of Schäuble and Lagarde’s upstairs/downstairs mindset.

Green taxation, green sadism?

Individual consumer, Joe Sausage, muddling through this vale of CO2, be warned. If your planet is warming, seas are rising, glaciers turn to soup, entrapping polar kittens etc etc, then it’s all your fault, or your dodgy heater’s, or draughty attic. Take this case spotted by The Times yesterday – with hat doff to @tiredhack. The new caring Tory / LibDem admin is so concerned about “energy wastage” that it is toying with a scheme whereby homebuyers will have to pay “thousands of pounds in tax if the property they are purchasing has insufficient insulation, an old boiler or draughty windows.” The logic behind this is that “ministers are concerned that grants and other incentives for installing insulation are having limited effect and are being ignored by many homeowners.” 

Put on your jumpers, unincentivised homeowners. Cheerfully you have signed up for 30 years of credit slavery in a dodgy economic climate as austerity cutters come scything across the land. Cheerfully, government – in the name of the environment – makes those mortgage shackles just a little heavier about the neck. As The Times notes, owners may be forced to upgrade before houses can go out to market, which could result in “people becoming trapped, unable to sell but unable to afford to upgrade”. The scheme, by the way, comes ahead of the 2012 Green Deal. Would it be safe to predict that any Green Deal will inevitably lead to all sort of Catch 22’s for us reckless fuel-guzzlers? In the green-friendly world being made, the question of vital heat, and electricity, and water – everything which should be cheap – will always be recast as a fault, as original sin, on the part of the individual consumer. And he shall repay.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meet Europe’s highest paid politician has just posted a list of the world’s highest paid politicans, four of whom are European. Confining ourselves to the Eurololly-list only, we get Angela Merkel in fourth place, David Cameron third, second spot for Nicolas Sarkozy and taking the gold medal is…is…is… Monsieur Brian Cowen of the Irish Republic...

Who with his cool €263,000 can have a right laugh and say a Peuh to Sarkozy’s piffling €247,000, whose football team cheated Ireland of a World Cup, after all. And he can even toot a diamond encrusted vuvuzela of historical tables turned at David Cameron, whose ancestors cheated the great Irish people of nationhood and potatoes for seven thousand years at least. Having grown up in eighties Ireland, I know what a “boost” victories at the Eurovision were for our downtrodden race, so at least on the day that Moody’s gave it another downgrade and big life-loving Brian’s government just after sitting down thinking up another €3bn in cuts, we have this to sing about. Right?

P.S. One thing the post overlooked was the salaries of the two colossi locked in dreadful combat for supremacy at the head of the Union. Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy earn +500K apiece. With their healthier “continental” European lifestyles, they look a lot better than Brian though. Sort of.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Bring Paul the Octopus to Brussels

News has just come in at the Presseurop office’s that Paul the Psychic Octopus has officially retired, following his latest prophecy that Spain will beat the Dutch in this Sunday’s World Cup final. Octopus life expectancy being only two years, Paul, already an advanced two and a half, shall be no more by the European Championship 2012 and World Cup Brazil 2014. Spiegel reports that the director of the Sea Life Oberhausen acquarium where Paul currently resides, wants to “train” another octopus in the arts of divination.

Seeing as Paul’s accuracy rate this World Cup has been 100%, I propose that in his declining days his powers be put to the service of the European Union. Is Iceland or Serbia to be the next EU member state? Who will first leave the Eurozone – Greece or Germany? You can imagine the excitement in the glass palaces of Brussels as Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso drop the transparent boxes with national flags into Paul’s aquarium. Paul contracts and expands in wavy, whirly octopus motion in his liquid medium, edges towards a defaulting Greece, a Euroreluctant Germany, before prizing of the lid and gobbling the juicy mussel of fate.

And why should his prophecies be confined to the fate of nations only? Should the EU pass a carbon tax? Will slash and burn austerity budgets help the recovery? At what age should we retire? Will Catherine Ashton emerge from obscurity? Given that Sunday’s football final is now a foregone conclusion, the EU will no longer have to defend itself against accusations of back room deals and transparency deficits. Paul foresaw it all.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

ECB, the bank that looks after its own

A lovely little bit of news comes from the Financial Times today. The European Central Bank, champions of fiscal austerity across a continent, has been giving Romania an earful for hitting employees of the country’s central bank with a 25% pay cut. “In a strongly-worded statement,” the FT writes, “the ECB on Monday warned that Romania’s actions violated European Union treaties allowing monetary authorities to operate freely and without political interference.”

Let’s remember that this May Bucharest went on a public service slasher that would have had austerity zealots thrumming exquisitely at such innovations in fiscal pain. But while the ECB has absolutely nothing to say on the impoverishment of teachers and nurses, etc, its lower lips trembles when the budget machetes come down on colleagues. As the FT respectfully points out, the “ECB’s stance could trigger criticism that it sees central bankers as exempt from public spending cuts.” Less respectfully you could argue that the ECB’s attitude is entirely consistent with a union that preaches the bonkers economics of austerity while keeping its own institutions austerity free. As a quiet, ineluctable brazilification of a continent takes hold like so much CO2, you simply must look after your own.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Will the Tories do Sarkozy’s bidding?

European Voice reports that UK Foreign secretary William Hague, speaking at the Foreign Office in London, has said that the UK government is ‘determined’ to increase its influence in the European Union. “The idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction,” he said. “They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions.”

Such a confident, assured declaration makes for heady reading, only a day after the Daily Telegraph relayed predictions of senior European officials that “David Cameron will break his promise not to transfer powers to Brussels by yielding to plans for an EU economic government”. Springs to mind one Nicolas Sarkozy, who back in May soothed his party cadres nervous about the prospect of a Eurosceptic Tory government in the UK by saying that David Cameron will “do like the others. He’ll start out anti-European and he’ll finish pro-European. That’s the rule.”

Teetotaller Mr Sarkozy often sounds like a pub philosopher. Though pub philosophers are not always wrong, most Tories, I suspect, understand that Hague means to use this increased authority over in Brussels to return powers to Westminster, in order to avoid what those candid, and somewhat smarmy, Brussels officials predict. But I just wonder how. How do you become more of an authority and a power over in Europe without becoming, well, especially with all those bright young British officials, just more of an authority and power over in Europe? How do you do the EU, enfin, without becoming more EU? One suspects that Hague is trying to ménager la chèvre et le chou, keeping the ravenous EU super-goat happy whilst making sure it doesn’t guzzle the British cabbage. Your ideas would be welcome on this, preferably with a diagram or two.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Football cannot affect your retirement plan

Has France gone daft? 10 days after its shambles of a national football team shuffled out of the World Cup and we’ve got a public inquiry into the “fiasco”. Today, a parliamentary “Commission des affaires culturelles et de l'éducation” led by Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot held an in-camera hearing with French coach Raymond Domenech to determine why Les Bleus are so, well, rubbish.
I would have thought that you didn't need an inquiry to twig the fact that the petty, vindictive Domenech, who had the arrogance not to select the brilliant Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri (note - these are Arab names) was simply a rubbish coach who had even failed to earn his squad's respect. But apparently the nation needed to hear something else. But didn't. Hot off the press from Le Parisien, it seems that “the MPs were visibly disappointed”. “I didn’t understand why Raymond Domenech didn’t shake the South Africa coach’s hand,” whined Jean-François Copé of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement. “I learned nothing,” despaired his colleague Renaud Muselier. “But it is our role to conduct hearings with those responsible in football when the image of France is tarnished.” Meanwhile, Madame Bachelot, who obviously hasn’t punted a ball around with her foot for any length of time, is still doing her nut in about Les Bleu’s “mediocre intellectual baggage”.

Can the image of France ever recover? Should we have more left-brainers like hack philosopher Alain Finkielkraut (who calls the team “hooligans with the morals of the mafia”) showing off dribble skills instead of drivel? And what are politicos doing sticking their noses into the beautiful game? Typically the left-wing commentariat detects a conspiracy - this is a deliberate diversion from more “serious” issues like pension cuts, unemployment etc… (insert drone of vuvuzelas here).

Personally, I wonder if it’s not a French state desperate to look relevant, which is why it leaps at anything it thinks can rally public opinion. A few months ago it was the saddo minority taste that is the burqa, this week it’s a game that might get your adrenalin up for 90 minutes, but at the end of which leaves you back in exactly the same world you left when you switched on your telly. More relevant might be to haul Bachelot, Copé et al before a commission and ask them why keep running about in circles, making shrill about others, kicking the ball wide, diving in pseudo agony, when there’s a country to run.