Frankenpolitics: The Left defence of GMOs

Some background: Last September, Red Pepper, a progressive UK magazine, published a brief article,  “Silenced GM scientist speaks out against biotech coercion“, on its website about Gilles-Eric Seralini, the French molecular biologist sharply criticised by the scientific community for his infamous and headline-grabbing GMO-rat-tumour study, and promoting his British speaking tour. I’ve written for the magazine for many years and was furious that this discredited quack was being taken seriously by my colleagues. An extended email to the editors explaining the problems of the left-anti-GM position evolved into an essay for an upcoming print edition, which then turned into a multi-page debate between me and my friend Emma Hughes, a campaigner with the (really great) London-based environmental group Platform and who is also an opponent of genetic modification. 

The print edition has finally come out, but due to understandable space constraints, the full essay had to be condensed.

I present here a longer version because it contains a series of arguments that I feel are important but have yet to be made and did not make it into the print version, notably around Golden Rice, monoculture crops, superweeds, Big Organic, and the rhetoric of Indian anti-GM campaigner Vandana Shiva.

It is my hope in writing this that other Leftists will steadily begin to recognise that to oppose GM is in fact to take a detour from traditional left-wing ideas about progress, technology, nature – and, most of all, about political economy. Continue reading →

Socialize Big Pharma

Analysis piece originally published by Jacobin magazine and syndicated in Salon on 29 June, 2013. 

The pharmaceutical industry, like oil companies and arms manufacturers, isn’t viewed highly in the public imagination.

And for good reason. There is growing awareness of an inherent conflict of interest in the testing of drugs by the companies that manufacture them — like Pfizer, Merck and Eli Lilly — and a steady stream of tales from journalists, researchers and doctors of deliberately dodgy trials, buried unfavorable results, and purchased academic journals.

Yet the greatest crime of the world’s major private pharmaceutical companies is not what they do, but what they don’t do. In the ongoing war against bugs and infection, these companies have abandoned their posts at the most critical time: when the enemy is mounting its most ferocious attack in generations. As these firms continue to shirk their duties — effectively abandoning antibiotic research for some 30 years now — senior public health officials are warning that the world could soon return to the pre-antibiotic era, a miserable, fearful time that few people alive now remember. Continue reading →

JP Morgan to eurozone periphery: “Get rid of your pinko, anti-fascist constitutions”

Blog post originally appeared on my Austerityland blog hosted at the EUobserver, on 7 June, 2013. 

At times, I do marvel how antiseptic, bland even, that the language of the most wretchedly villainous documents can be.

Last week, the European economic research team with JP Morgan, the global financial giant, put out a 16-page paper on the state of play of euro area adjustment. This involved a totting up of what work has been done so far and what work has yet to be done in terms of sovereign, household and bank deleveraging; structural reform (reducing labour costs, making it easier to fire workers, privatisation, deregulation, liberalising ‘protected’ industries, etc.); and national political reform.

The takeaway in the small amount of coverage that I’ve seen of the paper was that its authors say the eurozone is about halfway through its period of adjustment, so austerity is still likely to be a feature of the landscape “for a very extended period.”

The bankers’ analysis probably otherwise received little attention because it is a bit ‘dog bites man‘: Big Bank Predicts Many More Years of Austerity. It’s not really as if anyone was expecting austerity to disappear any time soon, however much EU-IMF programme countries have been offered a relaxation of debt reduction commitments in return for ramping up the pace of structural adjustment.

The lack of coverage is a bit of a shame, because it’s the first public document I’ve come across where the authors are frank that the problem is not just a question of fiscal rectitude and boosting competitiveness, but that there is also an excess of democracy in some European countries that needs to be trimmed. Continue reading →

Dawkins vs democracy

Opinion piece originally appeared in Red Pepper on 22 May 2013.

Richard Dawkins, professional atheist and Twitter provocateur, has branched out beyond his recent foray into Muslim journalist-baiting to offer his recommendations for parliamentary reform. Following Labour ex-minister Frank Field’s call for the new Archbishop of Canterbury to give up the 25 seats the Church of England appoints to the House of Lords, and have the seats awarded instead to people from civil society, Dawkins burped out a series of tweets saying that these seats should be given to scientists and other ‘elites’.

‘Replace Lord Bishops by (elected) heads of Royal Society, British Academy, Roy Coll Physicians, Royal Academy etc,’ he tweeted, adding: ‘I want to be operated on by elite surgeons, flown by elite pilots, have my car fixed by elite mechanics. Why not elite electors of Lords?’

Each of these colleges of presumably godless elites would select their own representatives to the upper chamber, a suggestion that was met with a chorus of approving retweetage from the atheist brigadier’s amassed troops of skeptics, secularists and science fans.  Continue reading →

Kick ‘em all out? Anti-politics and post-democracy in the European Union

A paper I wrote for the journal of Statewatch, the EU civil liberties watchdog. It can be downloaded in full from the Statewatch website (pages 9-20).

One of the more cringeworthy moments of the last few years of sometimes ideological, sometimes street-fighting – but rarely parliamentary – combat between the European superintendents of austerity and their subjects came in October 2012 upon the occasion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens. Two Greek protesters had dressed themselves up in Nazi regalia, rode through the streets as if conquering soldiers in imitation of so many wartime newsreels, and burnt a flag emblazoned with a Swastika as a piece of radical theatre mocking the Berlin-led imposition of cuts and structural reforms. Continue reading →

Greece: “A promise from the army has been obtained to not intervene against a civil uprising”

Interview with former Greek ambassador was published in the New Statesman on 24 February, 2013.

It is always enlightening to hear the frank assessment of a diplomat upon leaving the service, once unshackled from “the patriotic art of lying for one’s country”, as 19th Century American journalist Ambrose Bierce described the craft.

Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos was a career diplomat with the Greek foreign ministry. As a junior officer with the service in the 1970s, he helped assure the then freshly democratic nation’s accession to the European Union (at the time the EEC). He was at different times Athens’ ambassador to Poland, Albania and Canada, and finally the director general of EU Affairs in the ministry.

Last year, he finally resigned as secretary general of the Black Sea Cooperation organisation, and entered the private sector, and now feels free to speak openly about his fury at what he says Europe and international lenders are doing to his country.

“At a certain moment, quite soon, there will be an explosion of social unrest. It will be very unpleasant,” he says, referring to 15 armed incidents in the previous ten days. Continue reading →

The TB drugs don’t work

This article was originally published on the Nature News blog on 17 October, 2012. 

The good news is that tuberculosis prevention efforts appear to have broken the back of the spread of the disease, according to the World Health Organisation’s latest annual report on the scourge, with new cases of TB falling by 2.2% between 2010 and 2011. The mortality rate has decreased 41% since 1990 and access to TB care has expanded considerably since the mid nineties, when tuberculosis was declared a global emergency by the UN body, with the WHO estimating that some 20 million lives have been saved since 1995. Continue reading →

Nanotechnology: Armed resistance

Investigative feature published in Nature on 5 September, 2012.

This piece was short-listed for the 2013 Association of British Science Writers award for Best Feature. The Nature podcast for 30 August also interviewed me about the topic (at the 13:50 mark), and I authored that week’s editorial on the same subject.

The shoe-box-sized package was addressed to Armando Herrera Corral. It stated that he was the recipient of an award and it was covered in official-looking stamps. Herrera, a computer scientist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico City, shook the box a number of times, and something solid jiggled inside. What could it be? He was excited and a little nervous — so much so, that he walked down the hall to the office of a colleague, robotics researcher Alejandro Aceves López, and asked Aceves to open it for him.

Aceves sat down at his desk to tear the box open. So when the 20-centimetre-long pipe bomb inside exploded, on 8 August 2011, Aceves took the full force in his chest. Metal pierced one of his lungs. “He was in intensive care. He was really bad,” says Herrera’s brother Gerardo, a theoretical physicist at the nearby Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (Cinvestav). Armando Herrera Corral, who was standing nearby when the bomb went off, escaped with a burst eardrum and burns to his legs.

The next day, an eco-anarchist group calling itself Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS) claimed responsibility for the bombing in a 5,500-word diatribe against nanotechnology that it published online. Police found a charred copy of a similar text in the detritus of the explosion. The bombers said that Herrera had been targeted for his role as director of the technology-transfer centre at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (commonly known as Monterrey Tec), “one of the major universities that has staked everything on the development of nanotechnology”. The text talked of the potential for the field to cause environmental “nanocontamination”, and concluded that technology and civilization as a whole should be held responsible for any environmental catastrophe. Chillingly, the bombers listed another five researchers at Monterrey Tec as presumptive targets, as well as a further six universities. Continue reading →

Massive shrinkage in African great ape habitat since 1990s

News article appeared on the Nature News Blog on 28 September, 2012.

Great-ape habitat in Africa has shrunk precipitously in the past two decades, according to the first continent-wide survey of the state of environmental conditions suitable for the animals.

Gorilla habitat has been hit particularly hard, researchers have concluded. Since 1995, Cross River gorillas have lost 59% of their habitat; eastern gorillas have lost 52%; and western gorillas have faced a 31% loss. Continue reading →

Put Whitey Back on the Moon

Opinion piece first appeared in Jacobin on 24 September, 2012. 

The death of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has unleashed wistful, “Where is my jetpack?” lamentation in some parts of the press, shocked into a realization that it’s been over 40 years since one of the greatest achievements of mankind – a bold feat of engineering in the service of irrepressible human curiosity and wanderlust. There’s been little advance out into the solar system since.

Martin Robbins in the Guardian issued a brilliant polemic attacking our abandonment of space, reminding us: “Nobody born since 1935 has stepped on another world,” and, sadder still: “The first man on the Moon will never meet the first man on Mars.”

Similar regret can found in the words of the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, on the passing of his friend: “I had truly hoped that on July 20th, 2019, Neil, Mike and I would be standing together to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of our moon landing, as we also anticipated the continued expansion of humanity into space, that our small mission helped make possible. Regrettably, this is not to be.” Continue reading →

Austerity for the people, welfare for the banks

I co-authored this article with Andrew Bowman, a research fellow with the University of Manchester’s Centre for Research on Socio-cultural Change (CRESC) and Financial Times blogger, originally published in Red Pepper in August 2012. 

While the eurozone teeters on the brink, construction work is underway in Frankfurt’s financial district on new headquarters for the European Central Bank (ECB). Due for completion in 2014, the 185 metre tall, futuristically designed skyscraper will have double the office space of the ECB’s current residence, the Eurotower. It embodies the expectations for the future of the single currency from the one institution that has no future without it.

As the drama of the financial crisis has unfolded over the past five years, press coverage and political debate has tended to focus predominantly on the actions of national political leaders. At many points, however, the back-stage central bank officials have been the most influential actors.

Nowhere is this truer than with the ECB. With EU decision-making processes incapable of reconciling national and pan-European interests, and in the absence of a fiscal policy for the eurozone, the ECB has filled the gap.  Continue reading →

Dawkins’ support for private schools lets Loch Ness Monster into biology class

Article originally published in Red Pepper on 11 July, 2012.

The news that thousands of Louisiana school-children will be taught that the Loch Ness Monster is real in order to show that the theory of evolution is false pinged around the atheist Twittersphere this week. Oh how the enlightened creatures on the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science discussion board chortled at yet another wacky tale of the American Taliban, sure to be shelved alongside efforts by North Carolina Senators this month to legislate away non-linear extrapolation of sea-level rise and the same state’s constitutional amendment in May restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

Largely missed in much of the coverage that focussed on the sheer nuttiness of those crazy happy-clappy Yanks, was that this sorry development is the predictable outcome of the broadest assault on public education yet by a US state, an agenda of radical privatisation that some of the most prominent New Atheists such as Dawkins, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and philosopher AC Grayling appear to be more than comfortable with.

As part of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s education system passed in May, pupils are to receive publicly funded vouchers to attend privately-run Christian schools teaching the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme, which attempts to disprove evolution. Continue reading →

South Korea aims to be second nation to engage in ‘scientific’ whaling

News article published on Nature News Blog on 5 July, 2012.

South Korea has announced that it hopes to launch a programme of ‘scientific’ whaling, a development that would make it the second such country to engage in the practice alongside Japan.

The South Korean delegation to the 64th conference of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), now meeting in Panama, said on Wednesday that the move is necessary to assess the size of the populations of minke whales off the Korean coast.

“Since 2001, the Korean government has been conducting a non-lethal sighting survey of the whale population to assess the status of the stock in Korean waters,” Joon-Suk Kang, the head of the delegation told the meeting in a prepared address. “But it has turned out that this survey alone cannot identify the different whale stocks and has delayed the proper assessment of the resources.” Continue reading →

UK fracking safe but US operations marred by ‘poor practices’

News article published on 29 June, 2012 on the Nature News Blog.

Hydraulic fracturing — or ‘fracking’, as it is popularly known — presents a “very low risk” of contaminating drinking water or triggering forceful earthquakes in the United Kingdom, and can safely be performed as long as companies engage in different practices from those that have produced concern in the United States.

This was the conclusion of an independent review of the controversial practice — in which a mixture of water, sand and proprietary chemicals are injected under high pressure into wells — published by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering today. The method fractures shale, creating fissures that allow previously inaccessible natural gas to flow more easily out of the well. Continue reading →

North Carolina Sea Level Rises Despite State Senators

News article appeared in Scientific American in June, 2012.

Could nature be mocking North Carolina’s law-makers? Less than two weeks after the state’s senate passed a bill banning state agencies from reporting that sea-level rise is accelerating, research has shown that the coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts is experiencing the fastest sea-level rise in the world.

Asbury Sallenger, an oceanographer at the US Geological Survey in St Petersburg, Florida, and his colleagues analysed tide-gauge records from around North America. On 24 June, they reported in Nature Climate Change that since 1980, sea-level rise between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and Boston, Massachusetts, has accelerated to between 2 and 3.7 millimetres per year. That is three to four times the global average, and it means the coast could see 20–29 centimetres of sea-level rise on top of the metre predicted for the world as a whole by 2100 ( A. H. Sallenger Jr et al. Nature Clim. Change; 2012).

“Many people mistakenly think that the rate of sea-level rise is the same everywhere as glaciers and ice caps melt,” says Marcia McNutt, director of the US Geological Survey. But variations in currents and land movements can cause large regional differences. The hotspot is consistent with the slowing measured in Atlantic Ocean circulation, which may be tied to changes in water temperature, salinity and density.

Read the rest of the article on the Scientific American website.

Bahrain and Syria jail medical workers to undermine protests

News article published on the Nature News Blog on 14 June, 2012.

Bahrain and Syria are imprisoning doctors for treating wounded anti-regime protesters, a tactic that aims at extinguishing medical neutrality in order to undermine anti-regime protests, the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies has warned.

On Thursday 14 June, a group of Bahraini physicians lost an appeal against lengthy convictions for alleged violent opposition activity, amongst other charges, accusations that the network, which campaigns against human rights violations and unjust imprisonment of scientists, scholars, engineers, and health professionals, say were trumped up and intended to intimidate health professionals.

Doctors brought in by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, an international expert group established in June last year, examined eight of the accused and found evidence of torture, including electric shocks and severe beatings. The others allege that they, too, were tortured to extract “confessions”, but independent doctors have not been permitted to examine them.

“By denying them medical care, the regime clearly doesn’t want the wounded protesters to survive,” the network’s executive director, Carol Corillon, told Nature. “If protesters know they won’t receive medical treatment, they’ll think twice about heading into the streets.”

“This is a flagrant violation of medical neutrality,” she added.

Bahrain’s top appeals court reduced a military court’s 5–15 year sentences to between 1 month and 5 years for 9 doctors from Salmaniya Medical Complex hospital, the largest in the capital, where protesters had fled during the height of anti-government protests in February last year.

To read the rest of the article, visit the Nature website.

Italian anti-GM group wins destruction of 30-year-old olive-tree project

News article originally published on Nature News Blog on 12 June, 2012. For complete article visit the Nature website.

The sudden government-ordered destruction of a 30-year-old publicly-funded research project in Italy involving transgenic olive trees, cherry trees and kiwifruit vines — one of the longest-running trials on genetic modification in Europe – began on Tuesday under pressure from an environmental group.

Eddo Rugini, a plant scientist at the University of Tuscia, launched his research in 1982, aiming to find varieties that are resistant to pathogens, mainly fungi and bacteria, so as to reduce pesticide use, as well as producing shorter trees that would ease cultivation in certain Italian landscapes. Continue reading →

Eco-anarchists target nuclear and nanotech workers

News article published in Nature on 28 May, 2012, under the headline: ‘Anarchists attack science’. I would have preferred a different headline, as I do not want to suggest that all anarchists would support such armed violence.

A loose coalition of eco-anarchist groups is increasingly launching violent attacks on scientists.

A group calling itself the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front has claimed responsibility for the non-fatal shooting of a nuclear-engineering executive on 7 May in Genoa, Italy. The same group sent a letter bomb to a Swiss pro-nuclear lobby group in 2011; attempted to bomb IBM’s nanotechnology laboratory in Switzerland in 2010; and has ties with a group responsible for at least four bomb attacks on nanotechnology facilities in Mexico. Security authorities say that such eco-anarchist groups are forging stronger links.

On 11 May, the cell sent a four-page letter to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera claiming responsibility for the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, the chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare, the nuclear-engineering subsidiary of aerospace and defence giant Finmeccanica. Believed by authorities to be genuine, the letter is riddled with anti-science rhetoric. The group targeted Adinolfi because he is a “sorcerer of the atom”, it wrote. “Adinolfi knows well that it is only a matter of time before a European Fukushima kills on our continent.”

“Science in centuries past promised us a golden age, but it is pushing us towards self-destruction and total slavery,” the letter continues. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world.” The group also threatened to carry out further attacks.

The Italian Ministry of the Interior has subsequently beefed up security at thousands of potential political, industrial and scientific targets. The measures include assigning bodyguards to 550 individuals.

The Olga Cell, named after an imprisoned Greek anarchist, is part of the Informal Anarchist Federation, which, in April 2011, claimed responsibility for sending a parcel bomb that exploded at the offices of the Swiss nuclear lobby group, Swissnuclear, in Olten. A letter found in the remains of the bomb demanded the release of three individuals who had been detained for plotting an attack on IBM’s flagship nanotechnology facility in Zurich earlier that year. In a situation report published this month, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service explicitly linked the federation to the IBM attack.

To read the rest of the article, visit the Nature website.


Green groups and scientists in battle amid sun, cheese and folk music

News article published on Nature News Blog on 28 May, 2012.

Say what you will about the scientific literacy of protesters against genetically modified (GM) crops, they certainly put on a good picnic.

Amid a mini-heatwave in the United Kingdom, some 200 activists with anti-GM campaign group Take the Flour Back descended upon the well-to-do town of Harpenden on the outskirts of London on Sunday with the intention of ‘decontaminating’ — or tearing up — fields of GM wheat. The grain, being tested by the local, publicly funded Rothamsted Researchagricultural institute, gives off an odour to repel aphids. The researchers use a synthetic form of a gene that encodes a protein that happens to be similar to one found in cows, and so the protesters say that Rothamsted is producing some unnatural cow–wheat monster that they had planned to uproot. Continue reading →

Ex-ECB chief: ‘If parliaments do not give us what we want, we will annul them’

Article originally published in Red Pepper on 21 May, 2012

If there is anyone left doubting that the struggle against austerity is fundamentally a struggle for democracy, the chilling proposal of former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet on how to solve the eurocrisis unveiled on Thursday, should quickly put paid to such overly microscopic focus.

Trichet has proposed what he calls ‘federation by exception,’ whereby if a country’s leaders or parliament ‘cannot implement sound budgetary policies,’ that country will be ‘taken into receivership’.

Recognising that it would not be possible in the timescale necessary to respond to the crisis to deliver a fully-fledged United States of Europe with the associated political and fiscal union, including fiscal transfers and common debt issuance, the former ECB president, who left office last November, said this ‘next step’ can at least be taken.  Continue reading →

Brussels task-force exploring restoration of Greek monarchy

This satire was originally intended to be an April Fool’s story for the EUobserver, but due to some editorial hiccups, it was never published. I’d planned on putting it up here straight away, but the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., etc. Anyway, it seems it might still be worth a laugh given what’s happening at the moment, despite some of the poll numbers being out of date.


The EU is exploring a possible restoration of the Greek monarchy, should an unclear general-election outcome produced a period of extended political instability, EUobserver has learnt.

A three-man working group in Brussels has been quietly tasked with taking soundings of Crown Prince Pavlos, the heir apparent of Constantine II, the last king of Greece, as to whether the 45-year-old yachtsman and investment banker would be willing to assume power under such circumstances. Continue reading →

Eastern Europe and the push for ‘double genocide’ laws

News article originally published in the Guardian on Tuesday 21 December 2010.

The European commission has rejected calls from eastern Europe to introduce a so-called double genocide law that would criminalise the denial of crimes perpetrated by communist regimes, in the same way many EU countries ban the denial of the Holocaust.

Last week six countries wrote to Viviane Reding, the European justice commissioner, calling for the “public condoning, denial and gross trivialisation of totalitarian crimes” to be punished.

Foreign ministers from LithuaniaLatviaBulgariaHungaryRomaniaand the Czech Republic said communist crimes “should be treated according to the same standards” as those of Nazi regimes, notably in those countries with Holocaust denial laws. Continue reading →

EU raids ebook publishers in price fixing investigation

News article that was originally published in the Guardian on 4 March, 2011

The European commission has launched morning raids on several publishing houses suspected of fixing the prices of ebooks, as a huge battle for the future of the sector is fought within the publishing and technology industries.

Officials in Brussels have refused to say how many or which publishers were targeted although a spokesman for Hachette, famed for its dictionaries, confirmed that it was among them. The inquiry is understood to be focused on French companies.

In a statement, the commission said that it “has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices”. Continue reading →

Roma campaigners dismiss Brussels’ claim on evictions and expulsions

News article originally published in the Guardian on Thursday 25 August 2011.

A year after a succession of countries in Europe began breaking up Roma encampments and expelling hundreds of EU citizens back mainly to Romania, the European commission has claimed it is winning the battle to protect citizens’ right to free movement across the bloc.

But advocates of Roma rights have warned Brussels that it is not doing enough to protect Europe’s largest minority ethnic group, and that evictions and deportations continue to be carried out, primarily by France and Italy.

The EU executive said it had resolved 90% of identified cases of infringement of freedom of movement since last summer.

The justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, warned that the commission would “not hesitate to speak out” if member states did not properly apply the fundamental right to freedom of movement and safeguard EU citizens “from facing arbitrary or disproportionate expulsion”. She said: “Last summer’s events were a wake-up call for Europe.” Continue reading →

EU bans GM-contaminated honey from general sale

News article originally published in the Guardian on Wednesday 7 September 2011

The European Union’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that honey which contains trace amounts of pollen from genetically modified (GM) corn must be labelled as GM produce and undergo full safety authorisation before it can be sold as food.

In what green groups are calling a “groundbreaking” ruling, the decision could force the EU to strengthen its already near-zero tolerance policy on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Bavarian beekeepers, some 500m from a test field for a modified maize crop developed by Monsanto – one of only two GM crops authorised as safe to be cultivated in Europe – claimed their honey had been “contaminated” by pollen from the plant.

The European court of justice found in their favour, a ruling that should offer grounds for the beekeepers to claim compensation in a German court. Continue reading →

The European roots of Somali piracy

This investigative feature was originally published in the EUobserver on 21 March, 2009

As global powers ratchet up the naval pressure off the coast of Somalia and the European Union this week prepares to play host to a major international conference on the growing scourge of piracy, very little attention is being paid to the other ‘piracy’ in the area – the decades of European illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters.

The Brussels conference – to take place on Wednesday (22 April) and Thursday – will for the most part be a donors’ conference that EU foreign affairs spokeswoman Cristina Gallach predicts will raise in the region of €200 million to bolster Somalia’s anaemic security forces.

Top EU officials, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the heads of the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the commanders of the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia and the EU anti-piracy flotilla will attend. Continue reading →

Ship Ahoy! Lobby firm buys up EU maritime officials

Investigation originally published in the EUobserver 12.07.10

Transparency campaigners are worried that a PR outfit that lobbies the EU on maritime issues has “bought up the top of the EU’s maritime department lock, stock and barrel.”

The alert comes as Malta’s Joe Borg, the commissioner responsible for maritime affairs and fisheries until last year, gets set to start work with Fipra, a PR consultancy actively lobbying on maritime issues, whose main office is about 100 yards from the commission’s headquarters in Brussels.

On 11 June, the commission gave Mr Borg the green light to work at the firm, saying: “In view of the fact that Mr Borg’s envisaged activity falls outside the scope of his portfolio during his time in office,” it did not even need to convene its Ad Hoc Ethical Committee, a body which examines potential conflict of interest when commissioners leave the EU. Continue reading →

Bosses: want to know who’ll join the union? There’s an app for that!

This analysis piece was originally published in Red Pepper in April, 2012

When governments are using the economic crisis as an excuse to strip away what remains of the post-war welfare-state consensus, when the likelihood of runaway climate change threatens civilisation, when unending wars and the collapse of civil liberties have become just ‘the new normal’, is it really the time or the place to raise the admittedly on-the-face-of-it nutty slogan ‘Nationalise Facebook Now’?

Oh yes, comrades, it is.  Or at least something like it, because the irresolubility of all these issues is ultimately the product of a common problem all tangled up with how we approach the ol’ Facebook conundrum. Sceptical? I’m feeling you, but roll with me here for a minute.

On Friday, an article by John Brownlee on Cult of Mac, the Apple news website, shone a light on a decidedly creepy little app called ‘Girls Around Me’, a geolocation maps service that uses freely available data from Foursquare and Facebook to deliver a map of women who have recently checked into different nearby locations via Foursquare or been checked in by someone else via FB and who have publicly visible Facebook profiles of women. Continue reading →

The ninth art meets the fourth estate

Feature originally published in Red Pepper in the January 2011 edition.

Tracing the emergence of comic-book journalism

Traditional print journalism may be in crisis, with once‑mighty, agenda-setting oak trees of national and regional newspapers in fear of felling. But elsewhere, the bright green buds of a new form of journalism are sprouting. Comic-book journalism, or, as it is called in France, ‘BD reportage’ (from les bandes dessinées, the francophone term for the ‘ninth art’ – comics), is flourishing.

Take just a few recent developments among the many that herald the arrival of the form.

In 2009 Joe Sacco, the cartoonist author of the groundbreaking Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, won a Pulitzer for his latest work, the 430-page Footnotes from Gaza, an Exposé, a genuine scoop, about two under-reported massacres that took place during the Suez crisis. Continue reading →

The state of democracy in Hungary: ‘The illness has advanced to a new stage’

News feature originally appeared in the EUobserver on 05.04.11, dateline Hejoszalonta, Hungary.

A gypsy girl of maybe eight, nine years old holds onto her little brother tightly. Looking out over the chicken-wire fence at the end of their mud garden in the Roma ghetto in the village of Hejoszalonta, they stare at the around 600 members of Hungary’s fascist party, Jobbik, and its paramilitary wing, the Magyar Garda, dressed in black or camouflage or just leather jackets, marching right past where they live with torches aloft and nationalist heavy metal music blasting.

An hour and a half north of Budapest, the village, home to just 850 people, 350 of them Roma, was the site last week of the murder of a 50-year-old woman. Jobbik immediately exploited the crime, declaring ahead of any arrest of suspects that the woman’s two Roma tenants were guilty and announced they were to come to the village and protect it from “gypsy terror”.

As the jack-booted marchers file past, Roma-rights activist Agnes Daroczi leads villagers in a chant from behind police lines that for all its moderation and reasonableness is shouted with no less ferocity: “Peace! Rule of Law! No fascists!’

Please visit a slide show of the rally and march. Continue reading →

BNP attends international far-right conference in Japan

News article originally appeared in the Guardian on Wednesday 11 August 2010.

The British National Party is taking part in a week-long conference in Japan organised by Nippon Issuikai, an extreme-right group that denies Japanese wartime atrocities.

Adam Walker, the BNP‘s staff manager, is in Tokyo along with 20 MEPs and members of the Alliance of European National Movements, the “europarty” that brings together far-right parties from across Europe.

Walker arrived in Tokyo today where he will spend the next week attending a congress on “The Future of Nationalist Movements” . Continue reading →

The EU’s ‘very odd’ atheist and freemason summits

In 2010, under pressure to balance the EU’s treaty-required regular consultations with religious leaders with those without faith, Brussels launched an annual summit between the three Roman Catholic presidents of the EU and representatives of atheist organisations. Oh, and freemasons too.

I first broke the story in ahead of the first summit and have followed the issue since in a series of three articles so far.

Full text of the three articles follows these links to the original texts:

EU to hold atheist and freemason summit

EU atheist-freemason summit ‘very odd’, says Europe’s chief unbeliever

Atheists say EU privileging religious leaders over non-believers Continue reading →

The EU’s ‘techno party’ is hollowing out democracy

Opinion piece originally published in the EUobserver on 30.11.11.

Not everybody’s into techno music. Some folks are a little bit country; others a little bit rock and roll.

But under what one Brussels wag recently called the EU’s ‘techno-party’ strategy – replacing elected representatives with technocrats and an end to consideration of fiscal policies by parliaments in favour of fiat by civil-servant ‘experts’ – nobody has any choice any more about what kind of music they want to listen to.

Economic policies will be decided for them, by the experts, by, if you will, those bangin’ bureaucrat and banker DJs in Brussels and Frankfurt.

Fiscal policy, like monetary policy, is simply too important for it to be ‘politicised’, the argument goes. The eurozone cataclysm is so serious that we no longer have time for “political games”, as European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso put it last Monday (21 November), speaking alongside Greece’s new unelected leader, ex-European-Central-Bank (ECB) man Lucas Papademos. Continue reading →

‘New system of European governance’ demands deeper austerity

News article on the EU’s ‘European Semester’ originally published in the EUobserver on 09.06.11.

The European taskmaster has cracked the whip. However much austerity has been imposed by EU member states, it is simply not enough.

That is the overriding message from the European Commission that runs through its recommendations for each of the 27 member states in the new, post-crisis system of radically centralised oversight and correction of national economic policies by the EU known as the ‘European Semester’.

“We are now implementing the new system of European governance,” commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, heralding the unveiling of 27 detailed – or ‘granular’, to use the adjective EU officials use – national prescriptions, telling member states what they are getting right and wrong with their fiscal policies and what they must do to ‘fix’ their economies. Continue reading →

Working the night-shift in the German austerity sweatshop – Part IV: The end of the eurozone

Analysis originally published in the EUobserver 13.12.10

But if what needs to happen cannot happen, what does Lord Skidelsky, a 71-year-old economic historian who has been witness to the full fifty years of European integration, think will?

“I don’t think immediately, but the most likely outcome is that some countries will have to devalue, which means leaving the eurozone. Germany’s domestic policy doesn’t allow any other option.”

“What I don’t know is whether the initial thrust for this will come from a Germany where people are fed up with bail-outs or from the peripheral states where people are fed up with continuous austerity.” Continue reading →

Working the night-shift in the German austerity sweatshop – Part III: Back to the future with the Werner Plan

Analysis originally published in the EUobserver 13.12.10.

So how do we get out of this mess?

It’s relatively simple, really. All that has to happen is a rebalancing of competitiveness between the core and the periphery.

“Of course much of the responsibility lies with Germany, doesn’t it?” continues Lord Skidelsky. “The euro was constructed in a way that benefited an export-led economy like Germany, but not everyone else. They have repressed wages to create room for exports, which then chokes off growth paths for other eurozone countries, who can’t readily increase their exports to Germany.”

The short version is that Germany must be forced to sharply boost its wages and inject stimulus: “Domestic demand in Germany should be expanded,” he concludes. Continue reading →

Working the night-shift in the German austerity sweatshop – Part II: The China of Europe


Analysis originally appeared in the EUobserver 10.12.10.

But how did we get into this mess in the first place?

In the 1990s during the run-up to the single currency and throughout the 2000s, all European countries battened down wage demands and loosened the regulations on companies (or, to use the jargon you often hear on the news without really knowing what it means: ‘They liberalised their labour markets’), but it was Germany that won the mad dash to the bottom. The steroids that Berlin had access to that no one else did to the same extent were the aforementioned discipline of labour enabled by the cheap-as-chalk ex-GDR and the rest of the east.

This drastically heightened Germany’s competitive advantage as labour costs per unit – how much it takes to make a given widget – in the periphery of the eurozone outstripped those in the core. This also freed up more spondoolees for German capital to upgrade its products, making sexy German machines that much sexier. Continue reading →

Working the night-shift in the German austerity sweatshop – Part I: Dr Merkel’s fiscal enema

Analysis originally appeared in the EUobserver 09.12.10.

There was a cheeky cartoon that made the Facebook and Twitter rounds a few days ago, posted by one of the Financial Times’ Alphaville bloggers. It went ‘viral,’ as the social-media consultants think the kids say. Bearing the title “Introducing Greater Germany,” it featured a map of Europe with all the German bits coloured blue.

The entire eurozone was blue.

If you passed over the map with your mouse, a caption popped up: “The area formerly known as the eurozone.”

Perhaps the author was taking a light jab at the good doctor of Berlin’s diagnosis and her decidedly uncomfortable austerity enemas prescribed to the entire euro area, or suggesting that through the EU’s bundesbank-inspired economic strictures, Germany, finally, in its third try at it, had managed to rule most of Europe. Continue reading →

The junta of experts tells us: ‘Vote how you like, but policies cannot change’

Opinion piece originally published in the EUobserver, 17.06.11.

Europe seems to have slipped almost imperceptibly in the space of only a few months into an electoral interzone, a crack in the pavement of democracy.

The formal trappings of clean elections – in which political parties with competing manifestoes contest a ballot free of voter intimidation – are all still there, but someone else has decided in advance what the result will be.

It’s not the voters that are intimidated any more: it’s the parties that are.

The count of EU member states now tallies to four – Ireland, Portugal, Finland and Greece – where this post-political phenomenon has materialised, but committed democrats across the Union should wonder which country is next.  Continue reading →

Hurling democracy into the volcano to appease the market gods

Opinion piece originally published in the EUobserver, 16.08.11.

Pacific islanders never actually threw virgins into volcanoes to appease angry gods; it was only ever a TV trope of bad American sketch comedy and Saturday-morning cartoons. But you remember how it worked? However many damsels were chucked in to the fiery pit, the lava would keep flowing, yet the only lesson those silly actors in their semi-racist Tiki-Lounge outfits and drinks in bamboo glasses with paper umbrellas learnt was that not enough ladies had been lobbed in.

Despite the certainly apocryphal nature of such behaviour in the South Pacific, European leaders seem intent on embracing the model. Indeed, I am half convinced that the European Commission has some super-secret-squirrel committee of experts locked in a room somewhere studying Joe vs the Volcano and re-runs of Gilligan’s Island to learn exactly how it’s done.

But it’s not vestal maidens (or, in the case of Joe vs the Volcano, Tom Hanks) that Berlusconi, Sarkozy and company are pitching into the magma; it’s public services, it’s decent wages; it’s democracy. And if one, two, three rounds of austerity are not enough, well, we need a fourth and a fifth! They just keep pitching more austerity packages into the rumbling crater. Continue reading →

Portugal: The EU’s managed democracy

Article originally published in Red Pepper in April 2011.

The European Union has crossed a line. It has intervened in the party-political process of one of its member states for the first time, and, exacerbating the transgression, in the midst of a bitter general election.

Portuguese citizens will still formally be allowed to vote how they like on 5 June, but while doing so, they will have very little if any choice over public spending, taxes, labour laws or the regulation of business.

Essentially all the policy decisions that governments can make, apart from those regarding defence and home affairs, have been amputated from the political process.

Ahead of the vote in Portugal, precipitated by loss of the parliament’s confidence in the governing minority centre-left Socialists and their resignation on 23 March, the wealthy countries in Europe, with the connivance of the European Commission and the European Central Bank playing the role of enforcer, have ordered the main political parties mid-campaign to put aside partisan politics for the sake of European financial stability and sign on to a crushing multi-year programme of austerity and structural adjustment.  Continue reading →

Don’t let your slightly racist gran be the only one to take on Europe’s silent coup

Article originally published in Red Pepper in April 2011.

She’s lovely really.

She has a painting of her you did when you were six framed in the kitchen, and however old you may be now, she still keeps Mars bar ice creams in the bottom freezer-bit of her little fridge for when you pop over. And the baby-blue and lemon-yellow Marks & Spencer’s golf shirt with three sailboats on the pocket that she sent you in the post last year for your birthday is now just quaint and endearing instead of the mortifying sartorial disaster similar gifts had been when you were thirteen (mainly because now as you live in your own flat, your mum can’t force you to wear it in public).

It’s just those slightly racist comments your gran makes from time to time that irk. All right, completely racist comments.

‘It’s terrible! Did you hear? Romanian gypsies are eating our donkeys! I tell you, ever since we joined the common market, waffle, waffle, nativist ignorant waffle, Churchill would never have waffle, waffle…’ But you’re only there for the weekend, so you zone out from most of it or politely disagree, but you try not to make too much of a fuss.  Continue reading →

The EU’s ‘orderly transition’ in Egypt and Tunisia

Article originally published in Red Pepper in February, 2011.

“We’re starting a betting pool on how long Ashton has left,” a fellow hack said as I sat down Wednesday evening in Brussels for an off-record briefing on Egypt and Tunisia from EU foreign policy chief Catherinne Ashton’s Middle East and north Africa managing director. “What are you in for? Two months? A week?”

This was only the slightly more jocular version of the growing elite consensus, expressed most prominently by a widely read Le Monde piece last week that described the Baroness as “nulle”, or “useless”. A pro-democracy upheaval is occurring in “our” sphere of influence and the EU is playing second fiddle to Washington, as one MEP put it, in dealing with the situation.

Ashton’s people deny this and insist that she, unlike her US counterpart Hilary Clinton, is hamstrung by the need to forge a common position between 27 fissiparous member states. But the critics will have none of this. For them, now is the make-or-break moment for what has been, so the consensus goes, a thoroughly unremarkable performance over the last 13 months for the EU’s new diplomatic-corps-cum-foreign-ministry, the External Action Service, and it’s grand poobah, High Representative Ashton.  Continue reading →

Getting off our knees?

Article originally published in Red Pepper in November, 2010.

‘Austerity strikes roil Europe’ – Christian Science Monitor; ‘Anti-austerity protests sweep across Europe’ – Associated Press; ‘European cities hit by anti-austerity protests’ – BBC.

From the nigh-on identical, panicked headlines that raced around the world on 29 September, the day of the pan-European day of action organised by the European Trades Union Congress, you would have thought that the entire continent was aflame with civil unrest, furious at the measures introduced by our governments – a sacrifice of the public sector, labour rights, social benefits, hurled into the volcano to slake the anger of the markets.

Perhaps there was a glint of something to it. Only weeks later, France would be paralysed by strikes and refinery blockades that left the country days away from running entirely out of petrol. Those clichéd, magic four integers, 1968, tumbled trembling once more from the lips of commentators and politicos. Greece, on the surface, appears to be tearing itself apart. One report in September from that most sober of news wires, Reuters, quoted a German economist from the Munich-based Ifo Institute for Economic Research, warning how ‘political fatigue with austerity policies typically sets in in the second year and could yet push Greece to default or the brink of civil war’.  Continue reading →

Get along, move along, shift…

Article originally published in Red Pepper in September 2010.

The European Commission has what could be called a ‘Condolence-O-Matic’ machine. Given the occasion of some wretched or not-quite-so-wretched tragedy or anniversary of a commonly agreed (but, crucially, non-controversial) historic injustice, Brussels copies and pastes in press-release form almost identical messages of condolence, regret and remembrance, whether the occasion be the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a Belgian train wreck, floods in Pakistan or the death of Michael Jackson.

But there was no solemn communique of sympathy on this year’s Roma Extermination Remembrance Day on 2 August. The day marks the 66th anniversary of the corralling of 2,897 men, women and children into the Zigeunerfamilienlager, or ‘gypsy family camp’, at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. And this summer it came amid a fresh wave of persecution meted out to Europe’s Roma community and travellers by some of the most powerful member states in the union.

The week before, French president Nicolas Sarkozy announced he was to destroy some 300 Roma encampments and cleanse France of around 700 Roma adults and children, later upped to 850. While human rights groups note a chilling echo of les rafles, the French round-ups of Jews during the second world war, the Elysee Palace claims the repatriations are voluntary, as the government is paying each adult EUR300 (plus EUR100 per child) to return to Romania or Bulgaria.  Continue reading →

The strange death of social democratic Europe

Essay commissioned by the Nordic Council for its online roundtable entitled: “Social Democrats: Crisis or rebirth?” in August 2010

Social democracy is not merely going through a rough patch: it has seen a steady decline in support over the last three decades. It is unlikely to see any revival in its fortunes until it rediscovers its foundational principles, and throws off the restrictions to its ‘radical horizon of the imagination’. If it does not, it is not just a tragedy for the parties themselves, but for all of Europe, as dark forces to the right of mainstream conservatism wait in the wings to fill the vacuum its absence creates.

A couple of months ahead of the European elections last June, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the Danish president of the Party of European Socialists, was at a debate in the European capital with David Rennie, the then Brussels correspondent for The Economist.

Rasmussen was crowing that the Socialists would romp to victory as Europeans, shocked by the economic crisis and fed up of years of deregulation, privatisation and growing inequality imposed by the centre-right, would return en masse to social democracy. A new era of a ‘Social Europe’ was in the offing, he insisted. Continue reading →

Maybe the Roma need their own Love Parade to get the EU to notice them

Opinion piece originally published in the EUobserver on 4 August, 2010.

Perhaps we could be accused of an excess of cynicism, but us hacks in the Brussels press corps regularly roll our eyes at the European Commission’s opportunistic penchant for putting out nigh-on-identical statements of condolence whenever there is a tragedy of any major or even minor description or anniversary of some ancient (but historically uncontroversial) wickedness: Kristallnacht, an earthquake in China, the Love Parade stampede, the death of Michael Jackson.

But the cynicism was warranted on Monday, when the EU condolence-o-matic seemed to be malfunctioning for some reason. There was no solemn communique of sympathy, no moment of silence, not even a bland message carefully crafted by PR flunkies recommitting to “Never again” do this or that on the evening of 2-3 of August, the night of Roma Extermination Remembrance, the international date for commemoration of the Gypsy and Sinti victims of the Pharrajimos or Samudaripen, the two Romani words used to describe the Holocaust.

Because you see, Monday is just not the right day to do so. But maybe next year one of the EU presidents will, so long as the date does not also awkwardly coincide with a wave of expulsions and new laws targetting the Roma as it so inopportunely does this year. Continue reading →

Nobel-Peace-thingie laureate and Israel’s BFF Baron Trimble of Lisnagarvey to monitor Gaza flotilla inquiry

In covering the announcement of plans by the Israeli cabinet to approve the establishment of an “independent public committee” to enquire into the events surrounding the attack on the Gaza aid convoy (I hate the word flotilla, however hash-tag-friendly the unusual word is), a gaggle of media outlets have led with the salient fact that one of the two international  observers of the enquiry, former leader of the Ulster Unionists, David Trimble, has a Nobel-Peace thingie.

Antipodean quotidien The Australian, part of arch Palestinian partisan Rupert Mudoch’s stable of pamphlets, actually sticks mention of the gong in its headline: ‘Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble to monitor Israel’s Gaza flotilla inquiry’.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Who could be more hard-assed on the Israelis than a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and one from Northern Ireland to boot? One of the passengers on the MV Rachel Corrie, the Johnny-come-lately Irish flotilla boat, was even a Nobel winner as well. I’m sure he was mortified to hear about the IDF’s capture of another initiate of the Nobel fellowship. Continue reading →

‘Do we really need another layer of democracy in the world?’ Snarf, snarf, guffaw.

One of the things one has to accustom oneself to in the capital of Europe is the thinly concealed contempt for democracy that so many characters have in this town. There is a lot of huffing and puffing and about democracy in Brussels, but the saccharine rhetoric is like one of those prize-winners at an icing competition – mouthwatering to look at but underneath it’s just a cardboard box instead of a real cake.

But I’m not even talking about the hypocrisy of rhetoric versus action, say, as in the EU’s recent approach to the coup in Honduras, as evident as this may be. No, I mean just the scorn toward responsible government found in the vernacular of the Bruxellois coterie of diplomats, lobbyists, think-tankies and fonctionnaires that is as unremarkable and quotidian as the mangling of English found in a commission press release. For all the gilded phraseology and bouquet of prizes that are handed out, guffaws at the amateurishness of the European Parliament, the idiocy of referendum-voting electorates and democracy in general are so common as to be almost unnoticeable. Continue reading →

Tuberculosis’ deadly return to Europe

Feature article appeared in the EUobserver on 15 February, 2010.

Vladimir appears as an unwrapped mummy, a skeleton of a man whose paper skin pulls taught over his Siberian bones. Top off, in stocking feet and navy Adidas track bottoms, he lies on his side as a nurse sponges the wounds left from the surgery he’s had to remove some ribs to let his one lung – the other also removed by the doctors – breathe more easily. He has an ancient sickness, tuberculosis, but his is a wretched new mutation of the disease that now seems impervious to almost all of mankind’s very much ageing weapons against it.

The 50-year-old former oil driller from Strezhevoy, a Rosneft company town in the far northwest of the Tomsk Oblast, is nevertheless surprisingly upbeat and chatty. “I suppose I’ll never run a marathon now,” he jokes, “I just wish I could at least walk a few metres without losing my breath.”

He’s been in the Tomsk TB hospital undergoing treatment for a disease against which very few drugs work at all for four years now. He complains that four years is a long time for a hospital whose library doesn’t have much of a selection, but he’s happy his wife has not left him “as, you know, it happens a lot in Russia,” and that she and his children come to visit. Continue reading →

That €400 million Europe’s sending to Haiti? A bit decorative with the truth

Governments have a decidedly crafty habit of announcing, reannouncing and announcing once again the same tranche of funding but in different contexts (and even re-announcing the announcements), making it look as though they are being more generous than they really are. There’s even a principle that says that if you haven’t announced the same chunk of cash at least three times in three different ways, you haven’t got the full bang for your public relations buck.

Here, the euphemism of ‘being economical with the truth’ is inverted: when delivering spending announcements, governments are rather too bountiful with the truth.

The European Union’s announcement of over €400 million in emergency assistance to Haiti in the wake of its cataclysmic earthquake is an object lesson in this sort of funding announcement flimflammery – and, equally, how journalists can be unwitting or witting accomplices in this deceit. Continue reading →

Battling the ‘Multilateral Zombie’ – EU climate strategy after Copenhagen

Analysis piece originally published on AnalysNorden, the policy discussion site of the Nordic Council, following the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen UN climate talks.

The rough hip-check Europe received in the Danish capital in December, sidelining the bloc during the eleventh-hour huddle between major powers that produced the Copenhagen Accord, has produced a wave of despondency and cynicism amongst Brussels pols, green lobbyists, and analysts – and carbon traders across the continent to boot.

They’re all having a crack at how poorly the EU played its hand during climate negotiations.

With its climate boy-scout badge afixed to its sleeve, Brussels headed off to Camp Copenhagen expecting to see its self-proclaimed leadership reflected in winning something along the lines of a broad commitment from other powers to at least a 20-percent cut in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020. Continue reading →

Brussels’ new pontiff

Article first published in Red Pepper in January, 2010.

It was a shame that Tony Blair was not appointed the first European president. I really did want Tone to get the gig – if only so I could throw a shoe at him. Apart from that, my interest in whether the prize was won by the former Labour leader – or, for that matter, by whichever other personage the European Council, that secular version of a secretive papal conclave, came up with – was acutely limited in comparison with my frustration that it was a secretive papal conclave doing the deciding.

From the pacifist anti-Blair flutterings of the Guardian’s Comment is Free web pages to the swivel-eyed Belgo-phobic fulminations my grandad takes as gospel in the Daily Express, most commentators across the union have lamented that the man who ultimately was installed, Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, is a political dwarf. The same goes for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s new foreign minister.

Of Van Rompuy, the blimpish Express headline yawped: ‘Britain ruled by a Belgian? You must be joking!’ This was followed by spitting, wholly fallacious philippics at ‘his crazed plans for building a European superstate and … ambitions for a massive new taxation offensive.’ They are missing the point: it’s not who wins the crown, it’s who is doing the anointing that matters.  Continue reading →

The rise of European Bobo politics

Feature originally published in Red Pepper in August 2009.

The success of Europe Ecologie in France and moderate advances elsewhere in the June European elections have emboldened the green right but disaster in Ireland, where the party was wiped out – and to a lesser extent in the Czech Republic – shows what happens when they abandon their principles for a shot at the big league. 

Since the France’s Europe Ecologie triumph in the European elections, the European media have been talking of a Green wave across the continent, with leading member Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s gurning visage nigh on inescapable.

But the effervescent Cohn-Bendit has every right to be in an especially jolly mood – the result was indeed truly spectacular. It saw them soaring from the 7.45 per cent of the French vote in the 2004 EU elections and their embarrassing 1.57 per cent in the 2007 presidential elections.  Continue reading →