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Published: Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2017 04:26:02 -0500


EU Doesn’t Want to Pay Fair Share for NATO

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 10:28:00 -0500

(image) Earlier this week, Defense Secretary James Mattis met his counterparts from other NATO member-states at a gathering in Brussels. There, he told them in diplomatic but no uncertain terms, that the U.S. expected other NATO countries to start spending their share on defense, that this was the "political reality" in the U.S. and a "fair demand." He was backed up by the defense chiefs of the U.K., which is one of a handful of countries that meets the NATO target of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending, and Germany, which is not. Mattis said if NATO members couldn't meet their commitments, the U.S. would have to moderate its own.

Yesterday, Mattis' reasonable and totally expected demand that NATO members spend as much on defense as NATO calls for was met with a bizarre response from the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker. At a speech at the Munich Security Conference, Juncker recommended that other European Union members who are also in NATO resist U.S. demands, arguing humanitarian aid and foreign development spending was also spending toward security. "It has been the American message for many, many years," Juncker said of Mattis' call on NATO members to meet their spending commitments. "I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this."

During the election, commentators freaked when then candidate Donald Trump suggested haphazardly in an interview that if Russia invaded one of the Baltic countries he'd have to determine whether they've met their commitment to NATO before responding. The Trumpian answer was interpreted as a threat to renege on NATO commitments. Less than a year later, it's Europe that's embracing ignoring its NATO commitments. Juncker's suggestion is preposterous. Foreign aid spending may contribute to security (though I doubt this assertion—such spending is just as if not far more likely to foster dependence and hinder development in recipient countries), but it is a wholly separate endeavor from NATO.

Of the EU NATO countries, Greece is the biggest spender as a proportion of its GDP—spending 2.38 percent. Debt-ridden Greece gets kicked around a lot by its fellow EU members, who are rightfully weary of bailing Greece out of its profligate domestic spending. If Greece can afford to meet its NATO commitments (and Estonia and Poland, two developing former Communist countries), there's no reason for the far prosperous Western European NATO countries to do the same. Germany spent just 1.19 percent of its GDP on defense last year—it is a fiscally responsible country that could easily meet the NATO target if it wanted to.

When I wrote about Mattis' comments earlier this week, I suggested the U.S. do both—demand Europe meet its commitments and moderate its own. Juncker's petulant and politically tone-deaf response to Mattis' call opens up the possibility for the U.S. to do both. Just because NATO members have for a long time failed to meet NATO spending targets does not mean such an arrangement is sustainable. The election of Donald Trump should've signaled that to Europe.

Europe vs. Trump

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 15:50:00 -0500

President Donald Trump's potential choice to represent the United States to the European Union said the president wouldn't "cow to the powers that be." In a radio interview in the United Kingdom, Ted Malloch, who European media report is likely to be Trump's choice, said the president's "heart was in his mouth" and in a reference to Coriolanus that he was "too noble for this world." "He'll speak his mind even if gets in trouble or held in disregard by others," Malloch, an American economist who runs a government relations consultancy and is currently teaching in England, said of Trump. "It used to be called honesty but in the age of baby talk and political correctness, and mostly bullshit, it's now regarded as dishonesty." Some European leaders have been pushing for a firm response from the EU to the possibility of a Malloch appointment, even before the latest interview. The leaders of two groups in Parliament, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the People's Party, sent a letter to the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council urging them to reject any request for diplomatic credentials for Malloch, calling him "outrageous malevolence" against EU values, Politico reports. The leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in European Parliament, Gianni Pittella, also argued against Malloch in a speech in parliament, and told Politico that the person the Trump administration has not yet indicated it would choose was "not welcome here." In a previous interview, Malloch compared the European Union to the Soviet Union, and said he'd like to help dismantle the former as he says he did the latter, according to Politico, and also said the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, was a "very adequate mayor, I think, of some city in Luxembourg and maybe he should go back and do that again." Trump has not yet made an appointment and the United States mission to the EU is being run by the former deputy. EU credentials are needed for access to certain institutions as well as tax exemptions and other privileges. Trump could theoretically choose only to name ambassadors to the individual member-states of the EU, and a new EU ambassador is not expected to take office until at least June even if the process is smooth. On his way out, Anthony Gardner, the last U.S. ambassador, Politico reported, told media the Trump administration shouldn't listen to advice from "fringe voices" like UKIP's Nigel Farage, who has been advising Trump, and pushing the idea that Brexit, which he championed, translated to support for his party's brand of nativism, despite support for Brexit coming from a much broader political spectrum. For comparison, UKIP has just one seat in the House of Commons. On the other hand, the anti-EU party received nearly 28 percent of the British vote, and 24 seats, in the European Parliament in the most recent elections. Voters are weary of ever larger and more bureaucratic institutions governing ever greater portions of their lives, and the failure to adequately acknowledge this by more mainstream parties has helped cede the ground to more "fringe" elements. Gardner insisted he would remain a sort of "shadow ambassador" to promote the EU, saying that half a century of American support for European integration has been "not only good for Europe, it has been good for the United States—for political, economic, and security reasons." The European integration project has been about eliminating interior barriers to the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services, but also about greater centralization and a larger bureaucracy. Support for these two goals is no more a natural partner than opposition, yet the broken mainstream politics on both sides of the Atlantic have managed to push just such a narrative, to varying success. It's a dangerous byproduct of the kind of populist rhetoric both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S., for example, have been deploying for years. Populist anger and cults of personality have had corrosive effects on the hea[...]

Could Britain Become the New Singapore?

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 07:00:00 -0500

On June 23, 2016, the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. The shock on both sides of the English Channel was palpable and two schools of thought on the impending divorce between the U.K. and the EU have emerged. The proponents of Brexit emphasize the benefits of free trade and continued (albeit inter-governmental and no longer supra-national) cooperation between the U.K. and the EU. They argue that an acrimonious divorce between the two would help neither party. Britain, they say, imports much more from the EU than the EU does from Britain, and a tariff war between the U.K. and the EU would not be in Europe's interest. They also argue that Britain, being a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is needed to counterbalance Russia. Britain's European partners within NATO, therefore, have an incentive to keep the U.K. more-or-less happy. The opponents of Brexit have warned that a vote in favor of the U.K.'s withdrawal from the EU would result in economic meltdown on the British Isles. Mercifully that has (so far) not come to pass, but that does not mean that Brexit negotiations will be plain sailing. The Eurocrats in Brussels, who will negotiate the terms of the British withdrawal from the EU, face their own set of incentives. Make the divorce between the EU and the U.K. too pleasant, they contend, and other EU countries may decide to follow the British example and leave the EU as well. In the months that have followed the Brexit referendum, the two sides have been maneuvering to occupy the high ground once the actual negotiations on Brexit commence. (That should happen by the end of March 2017, when the British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which deals with a member country's withdrawal from the EU.) The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, for example, let it be known that "Britain could transform its economic model into that of a corporate tax haven if the EU fails to provide it with an agreement on market access after Brexit." "I personally hope we will be able to remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking," Hammond said, "but if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different… We could be forced to change our economic model, and we will have to change our model to regain competitiveness. And you [Europeans] can be sure we will do whatever we have to do." The U.K. ministers, hope to "force EU leaders to give them a good Brexit deal by drafting legislation proving their threat to slash taxes is real. Ready-to-go Budgets will be drawn up cutting corporation tax and scrapping regulations if the negotiations are stalling... The move is designed to show those on the other side of the negotiating table that Britain is serious about becoming 'the new Singapore' unless trade barriers are kept low." Why Singapore? Let's look at a couple of statistics. In 1950, GDP per capita adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity was $5,689.91 in Singapore. It was $11,920.58 in the U.K. Average income in Singapore, in other words, amounted to 48 percent of that in the U.K. In 2016, income in Singapore was $82,168.33 and $42,287.17 in the U.K. Put differently, Singaporeans earned 94 percent more than the British. During the intervening years, Singaporean incomes rose by 1,344 percent, while British incomes rose by 256 percent. (A similar story could be told about life expectancy.) Based on these two telling statistics alone, the "threat" of Singaporean tax rates and regulatory framework ought not to be a mere negotiating strategy for the British government vis-a-vis the EU. It ought to be a goal of the British decision makers—regardless of what the EU decides![...]

The Neoliberal Era Is Over

Wed, 04 Jan 2017 10:20:00 -0500

Yesterday brought three bits of trade-related news from President-elect Donald Trump. The first was that he has nominated as the next United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who has long railed against what he calls "the utopian dreams of free traders." The second was, obviously, a tweet: General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A.or pay big border tax! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017 And third was the announcement from Ford Motor Co. that it is cancelling a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico while launching a $700 million factory in Michigan, which Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. told Trump himself in a phone call. We've already seen this cycle play out before—five weeks ago, over the span of a few days, the president-elect vowed to enact a 35 percent border tax, slammed an Indiana ball-bearings plant for moving its factory to Mexico, then declared victory after intervening in another manufacturer's siting decision. But coupled with recent political and societal developments in the increasingly morose continent of Europe, this latest bout of Trumpism spray-paints an exclamation point on a 2017 reality many are still slow to acknowledge: The post-Cold War age of ever-increasing trade, immigration, multilateral integration, and technocratic celebrations thereof, is in the rearview mirror. Once-dominant neoliberalism—I'm using the term here as it is deployed these days by its critics, rather than how it was used by its more domestically inclined originators—is on life support in the democratic West. And this deterioration long predates Donald Trump. Start with trade. After the destruction of World War II and the post-war European incursions by the Soviet Union, tariff reductions and free-trade zones have been understood in Paris, Bonn, London, and Washington as the best available tool to cement peace and stave off authoritarianism. American presidents from both major political parties—sporadic rhetorical spasms notwithstanding—have without exception assumed their role as the world's lead trade negotiator. Dwight Eisenhower, in the teeth of the Cold War, bucked nearly a century of Republican protectionism. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, after the collapse of communism, shouted down giant sucking sounds from all over the political spectrum. Even Barack Obama, who campaigned more vociferously against trade pacts than any postwar president, predictably reneged on his promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and appointed as his second-term Trade Representative a guy whose resume—Council on Foreign Relations, Citigroup, chief of staff in Robert Rubin's Treasury Department—couldn't be more neoliberal if it was cooked up in a laboratory. Compare that to the mercantilist economic views of Trump's pick, as expressed in a 2008 New York Times op-ed headlined "Grand Old Protectionists": Modern free traders […] embrace their ideal with a passion that makes Robespierre seem prudent. They allow no room for practicality, nuance or flexibility. They embrace unbridled free trade, even as it helps China become a superpower. They see only bright lines, even when it means bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organization. They oppose any trade limitations, even if we must depend on foreign countries to feed ourselves or equip our military. They see nothing but dogma—no matter how many jobs are lost, how high the trade deficit rises or how low the dollar falls. While the Trump administration's pivot on trade will feel abrupt, the politics behind it have been percolating for more than a decade. Free-trade Democrats, once a common sight on Capitol Hill, became all but extinct after the party re-took Congress in 2006 on a more economically populist platform. Hillary Clinton twice ran for president by campaigning against her husband's trade deals (even while bragging on his economic successe[...]

Italy Rejects Constitutional Reform Referendum—A Victory for Democracy, or Russia, or Who Knows What

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 08:00:00 -0500

Voters in Italy rejected a referendum on constitutional reforms advanced by the government of Matteo Renzi, on whose rule the referendum became a referendum, and who announced his resignation in the wake of the results. Various Italian governments in the last decades have pushed the issue of constitutional reform—in 2011, voters rejected an effort by then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to, among other things, make the prime ministership stronger at the expense of the presidency. Like the present effort, it was framed as a way to make governing Italy easier. Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina advised the pro-yes effort (he also worked on David Cameron's re-election and the Brexit Remain campaign), and Renzi visited the White House for a state dinner in October. The U.S. ambassador to Italy warned that a no vote could make it harder for Italy to attract foreign investment from places like the U.S. One of the key points in this reform effort was reducing the size and power of the Senate. The two chambers of the Italian legislature are currently considered 'perfectly symmetrical'—members of both chambers are elected at the same time for the same length terms, and both chambers have to pass the same piece of legislation for it to move on. The legislation passes from chamber to chamber until the two have passed the same bill, a process known as the "parliamentary shuffle," which can go on indefinitely. The proposed reforms would cut the Senate out of the process for a whole set of legislative issues, shrink the chamber, and fill it with regional assembly members and mayors. The reform would also award extra seats to the best performing party in the chamber of deputies, making it easier to put together stronger governments. The reforms were opposed by a cross-section of Italian political life, from the Northern League's Matteo Salvini to economist Mario Monti, who was selected to replace Berlusconi as prime minister, and previously served on the European Commission from 1995 to 2004, as well as members of Renzi's Democratic party. The Economist recommended a no vote. Meanwhile, opponents framed a "no" vote as another signpost on the road to populism, because of a perception that populist parties could benefit most from the prime minister's resignation, the consequent uncertainty, and a potential snap election. After the results were announced, Salvini tweeted "Viva Trump, viva Putin, viva la Le Pen e viva la Lega!" Beppe Grillo, a comedian who helped start a left-wing populist party, the Five Star Movement, meanwhile, called the vote a victory for democracy. The mentions of President-elect Trump, Russia President Vladimir Putin, and France's Marine Le Pen are a reference to the apparent confluence of interests of anti-globalist, populist and nationalist-type movements across the West. Like the attempt by some to connect Brexit to Trump, these kind of exercises don't work. While UKIP's Nigel Farage became a fast friend of Trump's, the Conservative Daniel Hannan, another pro-Brexit British politician, called Trump's rise a danger to the Republican party and American democracy and rejected parallels between Trumpism and Brexit as "absurdly overdone." Salvini's attempt to align the no vote with Trump, Putin, and France's National Front, , also illustrates the danger of opponents of reflexive anti-establishmentarianism who themselves reflexively lump disparate political movements and forces into one basket of deplorables. Last month, the Washington Post ran a story about "fake news" as part of a massive Russian propaganda effort, based in large part on a report by PropOrNot, a group that has kept the identity of its members a secret and has been accused itself of being a Ukrainian propaganda effort, that identified more than 200 websites as "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season." As The New Yorker's Adrien Chen noted last week, for PropOrNot "simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs ou[...]

The Ethical Argument for Free Trade - Daniel Hannan on Brexit

Mon, 28 Nov 2016 12:00:00 -0500

Daniel Hannan is one of Brexit's biggest champions. A Member of the European Parliament and a leading Euroskeptic, Hannan's advocacy of withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union has earned him international attention. While critics regarded the "Vote Leave" campaign as a dangerous retreat from globalization, Hannan has made consistent, libertarian arguments for withdrawal as a path towards greater democracy and free markets.

Noting the E.U.'s sluggish economic growth rates and its failure to establish free trade agreements with China and India, Hannan believes the U.K. should take charge of its own economic destiny. "I want people to be making the ethical argument for free trade as the supreme instrument of poverty alleviation, of conflict resolution and of social justice," Hannan says. He adds, "It's the multinationals that thrive on the distortions and the tariffs and the quotas, he says. "And it's the poor who will benefit most from their removal."

Hannan pushes back against the charge of Brexit as a symptom of xenophobia. Following the Brexit win, he says, poll numbers demonstrate that voters were most concerned with sovereignty. "All of the polls were very clear that the biggest issue was democracy. Immigration was a very distant second," he says. "People wanted a sense of control and I think that's a perfectly legitimate thing."

With Brexit not taking effect until 2019 and the terms of withdrawal not yet negotiated, the United Kingdom's future has rarely seemed so uncertain. In two year's time, the U.K. will have the opportunity to decide on its own policies of trade and immigration. Hannan is confident his country will do the right thing.


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Brexit Process Getting More Complicated

Fri, 04 Nov 2016 12:55:00 -0400

A ruling by England's High Court has called into question whether the government of the United Kingdom will follow through on the results of the Brexit referendum and actually withdraw from the European Union. The High Court ruled that the British government could not invoke Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty, which governs separation from the EU, without a vote of approval in Parliament. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, who was in favor of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union but says she is now committed to Brexit and making the UK a "fully-independent, sovereign country" again, intends to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, established in 2005. May telephoned the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other EU leaders insisting her government was working to invoke Article 50 by next March. The EU and the UK will have two years from the day Article 50 is invoked to negotiate a British withdrawal from the European Union before an automatic withdrawal kicks in. The European Union, started as a common market, has become the most complex supra-national government in world history. While its foundations are the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within its broader borders, a vast political bureaucracy has also been built. If May loses the appeals, her government will have to submit legislation to Parliament. Nick Clegg, former deputy prime minister and the Europe spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, indicated his party would try to amend the legislation in order to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union's single market, and that he'd like to see the public get "a say" on the final deal. Given Article 50 starts a clock on withdrawal, it's unclear how a second referendum would work. The EU has signaled it will not start Brexit negotiations until the British government invokes Article 50. In order to accommodate a second referendum, the EU would have to indicate that the British government was allowed to go back on Article 50. The June referendum in which British voters narrowly chose to leave the European Union, was a "consultative" referendum that did not have the force of law. Opponents of the results insist because it was consultative it requires a vote in Parliament before government action. Some members of parliament have suggested a snap election prior to such a vote. Before the Brexit vote, David Cameron, prime minister at the time, told the House of Commons that a vote to leave meant triggering Article 50 and that "the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away." While the prime minister, who campaigned for Remain, insisted throughout that the vote was not a referendum on him, he resigned after the Leave campaign won. Some leave campaigners hinted that it was possible to use a Leave vote to renegotiate better terms with the EU without invoking Article 50, but after the vote EU leaders, looking to discourage other populations from making a similar democratic decision, insisted the UK was obliged to invoke Article 50 and that no more renegotiations of membership would take place. Opponents of Brexit have also pushed the idea that voters made the wrong choice or that in some other way the results didn't matter. They say a small amount of voters may have changed their mind and point at the slim margin of victory (about 4 points)—this could be a good point. Britain has long had a complex relationship with the EU different from other member states that more easily ceded more of their sovereignty to European institutions. This vote was framed as the end of that dance—either the UK would commit to the European project or it wouldn't. Under such conditions perhaps it would have been a lot fairer to require a two thirds majority to pass. Consent is important, and if British voters are being asked to make more permanent the ceding of their[...]

Turkey's PM Rejects Europe's 'Red Line' On Freedom of the Press

Tue, 01 Nov 2016 11:20:00 -0400

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım defended the arrest of at least 13 journalists and rejected the European Union's "red line" regarding freedom of the press, amid the latest Turkish government crackdown on anyone it deems a threat in the aftermath of last summer's failed coup attempt. The secular and independent Cumhuriyet, one of the last "opposition" news outlets still technically allowed to operate in Turkey, was accused by the government of running "subliminal messages" to encourage the coup and/or attempting to legitimize it after the fact. The paper's editor-in-chief and "at least" 12 other staffers were arrested, according to Christian Science Monitor, and the Hurriyet Daily News reports the Cumhuriyet staffers (which in addition to journalists included a lawyer and a cartoonist) were charged with "committing crimes on behalf of" what the government describes as pro-Kurdish terror groups. European Parliament President Martin Schulz sent the following tweets to express official opposition to the actions of the Turkish government (which continues to seek membership in the European Union): The detention of Murat Sabuncu and other #Cumhuriyet journalists is yet another red-line crossed against freedom of expression in #Turkey — Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) October 31, 2016 .@cumhuriyetgzt isn't just any other independent newspaper: it's the oldest secular newspaper in the country, an institution of the Republic — Martin Schulz (@MartinSchulz) October 31, 2016 Prime Minister Yildrim responded to Schulz's comments in an address to his party in the Turkish parliament, saying, "Brother, we don't care about your red line. It's the people who draw the red line. What importance does your line have." Yildirim added, "Turkey is not a country to be brought in line with salvoes and threats. Turkey gets its power from the people and would be held accountable by the people." According to Christian Science Monitor: Since July, 170 media outlets have been shut down and 105 journalists arrested, according to the general secretary of the Turkish Journalists' Association. Additionally, more than 700 journalists have had their press credentials revoked. "Instead of moves to strengthen democracy we are faced with a counter coup," main opposition party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said after visiting Cumhuriyet. "We are faced with a situation where the coup has been used as an opportunity to silence society's intellectuals and mount pressure on media." The attempted coup, which lasted less than a day, has led to the arrest of almost 37,000 people and the removal of over 100,000 from their jobs in government. But the Turkish government's assaults on the free press and free speech long pre-date the coup. In the past year, two Cumhuriyet journalists were arrested for republishing Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, a Vice News reporter was imprisoned a Vice News reporter for 131 days, and the country's largest newspaper was seized by the government. Reports Without Borders has described Turkey "the world's biggest prison for journalists" and Columbia Journalism Review, called the country a "neo-authoritarian state."[...]

Socialist Regional Government in Belgium Torpedoes EU-Canada Free Trade Deal

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:50:00 -0400

(image) The European Union has failed to get approval for a trade deal with Canada (CETA) after one of the five regional governments in Belgium rejected the deal, which would have been the first the EU struck with a country in the G-7. The other 27 member states of the EU all consented to the deal.

All the other member countries approved the trade deal, but Belgium's federal government needed approval from its regional parliament and the French-speaking socialist government in Wallonia refused to endorse it, citing concerns about its impact on employment and consumer safety. It also claimed the deal jeopardized "social and environmental standards and the protection of public services" and objected to non-government arbitration.

The Belgian federal government held a crisis meeting of regional leaders, where Paul Magnette, the minister-president of Wallonia, said his government would not budge. "Every time you try to put an ultimatum it makes a calm debate and a democratic debate impossible," Magnette told reporters in Brussels. "We don't need an ultimatum. We will not decide anything under an ultimatum or under pressure."

An EU-Canada summit was planned for Thursday, where Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was supposed to sign the accord. His trip to Brussels may be delayed if the EU can't secure Belgium's support for the deal before then.

The EU and Canada have been negotiating the trade deal for seven years. If the EU is unable to approve it, it will call into question negotiations with Japan and the United States, both of which have been ongoing since 2013, and more broadly the EU's ability to operate as a cohesive free trade bloc that can enter into trade agreements with other countries and blocs.

Anti-free trade parties have been on the rise across Europe as America's major party presidential candidates have also embraced anti-free trade rhetoric and policies despite its crucial role in increased prosperity worldwide.

Euro Logic: We Must Kill Free Speech to Promote Free Speech

Tue, 27 Sep 2016 09:30:00 -0400

Recent "hate speech" investigations in European countries have been spawned by homily remarks by a Spanish Cardinal who opposed "radical feminism," a hyperbolic hashtag tweeted by a U.K. diversity coordinator, a chant for fewer Moroccan immigrants to enter the Netherlands, comments from a reality TV star implying Scottish people have Ebola, a man who put a sign in his home window saying "Islam out of Britian," French activists calling for boycotts of Israeli products, an anti-Semitic tweet sent to a British politician, a Facebook post referring to refugees to Germany as "scum," and various other sorts of so-called "verbal radicalism" on social media. One might consider any or all of these comments distasteful, but Americans (recent trends on college campuses notwithstanding) tend to appreciate that for a free-speech right to truly exist, we must severely limit the types of speech—true threats, slander, etc.—that don't deserve protection from government censorship and potential prosecution. Not so in European Union (E.U.) member countries, many of which have laws against any language that "insults," "offends," "degrades," "expresses contempt," or "incites hatred" based on certain protected traits like race, religion, or sexual orientation. As Nick Gillespie has put it, "hate speech" is like the secular equivalent of blasphemy. On Monday, Věra Jourová, the E.U. Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, gave a speech stressing the importance of such laws and calling for even more intense policing of so-called hate speech. (Just to be clear, by "hate speech" we are not talking about things like threats or criminal harassment.) "My top priority is to ensure that the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia is correctly translated into the national criminal codes and enforced, so that perpetrators of online hate speech are duly punished," Jourová said. The commissioner offered a characteristically European rationale for the imposition: only by government censorship of free expression can free expression flourish. "In recent years, we have seen messages of extremism and intolerance spread around the globe like wildfire" and "we need to stand united against this growing phenomenon," said Jourová. "Our commitment is to deliver change so that people do not need to live in fear, and to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected." "The spread of illegal hate speech online not only distresses the people it targets," she continued, "it also affects those who speak up for freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination in our society. If left unattended, the fear of intimidation can keep opinion makers, journalists and citizens away from social media platforms." It's easy to see how folks might buy Jourová's idea that allowing intolerant speech online "means a shrinking digital space for freedom of expression." We've all heard about public figures or controversial thinkers who were allegedly hounded off of social media by online criticism, with its harsh, vulgar, and sometimes violent tones. And what is gained by such uncivil opprobrium? By sanctioning not only violent threats and ongoing harassment but also speech that serves no purpose but to troll, denigrate, or spread bigotry, we can usher in a more welcoming environment for all sorts of ideas and speakers online... Or so the thinking goes, anyway. But the fatal flaw in this conceit is pretending there's some bright line between desirable, pro-social speech and speech that merely incites offense, fear, or feelings of negativity. Of course, many of us object on pure principle to censoring the latter forms of speech. But setting aside classical-liberal notions, there are still plenty of good arguments against EU-style speech policing.[...]

Can the European Union Survive?

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 15:15:00 -0400

(image) The European Union has had a rough go as of late. Beset by problems, from a flagging euro to sovereign debt crises in Greece and elsewhere to a massive influx of Syrian refugees—not to mention the stinging rebuke of the Brexit vote—many have begun to question whether the European project is likely to survive much longer.

To discuss this topic, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on Wednesday convened four scholars to offer their thoughts on the future viability of the E.U. While they disagreed about the answer, one thing united their remarks: the idea that the future of the union all comes down to economics.

Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute and Carlo Cottarelli of the International Monetary Fund were optimistic about the union's chances largely because keeping the E.U. together is in the self-interest of Germany, the country with the largest economy in Europe. The pair noted that the introduction of a common currency has allowed Germany to keep its exports artificially cheap and its manufacturing sector booming, which transformed it from a country divided during the Cold War into the success story it is today. As a result, the Germans "will pay any price to keep Europe and the Eurozone together," Bergsten thought.

Desmond Lachman and Vincent Reinhart (both of AEI) had a gloomier take. They likewise emphasized the economic dynamics of the E.U., but rather than seeing those forces as the glue keeping the union strong, they viewed them as the likely cause of its unraveling. The euro crisis has exposed deep flaws in the long-term feasibility of European integration, they said, and there are no quick fixes. Indeed, despite years of monetary stimulus and fiscal '"austerity" measures, the economies of member nations like Spain and Italy remain moribund, with sky-high rates of youth unemployment, rising sovereign debt, and non-performing banking sectors.

Moreover, the heavy-handed intervention of Brussels during the crisis has stoked anti-E.U. sentiment among both target countries—who resent their loss of sovereignty—and better-performing E.U. states (including Germany), where taxpayers are growing increasingly tired of footing the bill for endless bailouts. Should a Greek-style crisis spread to a larger economy, like Italy, Lachman and Reinhart contended, neither the political will nor the resources will exist to save the union.

Lachman noted that political dissatisfaction has already damaged the E.U.'s cohesiveness, prompting the British vote to leave the project altogether and giving rise to a successful Eurosceptic movement across the continent. From France's National Front to Germany's Alternative for Deutschland, a number of anti-establishment, anti-Brussels political parties are letting it be known that they are decidedly unwilling to "pay any price" to preserve the E.U.

Of course, whatever its problems, the E.U. is not likely to disappear overnight. Large taxpayer-funded projects rarely do.

The Unbearable Triteness of Brexit Commentary

Tue, 28 Jun 2016 16:40:00 -0400

It says something deeply disturbing about contemporary political discourse that Paul Krugman—who regularly ignores those he disagrees with as "knaves and fools" unworthy of his time and attention—was a voice of calm reason over Brexit. "I'm finding myself less horrified by Brexit than one might have expected," he wrote about the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. "The economic consequences will be bad, but not, I'd argue, as bad as many are claiming." Such shoulder-shrugging was in short supply, especially from those less well-versed in economics than the Nobel laureate. Indeed, the irredeemably smug insta-responses on both sides of the Brexit issue underscore that Americans are as quick to virtue-signal as they are to proclaim that the apocalypse is (yet again!) upon us. Throw in a solipsistic inability to see the world as in any way independent of domestic U.S. politics and you've got the making of a media shitstorm that left everybody hip-deep in manure but no clearer about what Brexit really means. Krugman's even-more-insufferable colleague at The New York Times, Roger Cohen, made Brexit all about himself. "It's not just the stupidity of the decision," he fumed. "It's not even the betrayal of British youth. It's far more: a personal loss. Europa, however flawed, was the dream of my generation." In perhaps the most-ridiculous commentary on the surprisingly lopsided "Leave" win, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow delivered a 15-minute history lecture that argued Great Britain's action would soon give rise to World War III because the only thing standing between a European war of all against all was a political union that dates all the way back to 1993 and a common currency that most members have used only since 2002. Given that the clock has not even yet started ticking on Britain's official exit and that NATO, which binds together a couple dozen European countries plus the United States and Canada, is still going strong, fears of a sixth Battle of Ypres seem, well, a tad exaggerated. And let's not pretend that the E.U. is some vague, toothless entity against which there are no legitimate reasons for resentment. Recently, for instance, the E.U.'s "commissioner for justice, consumers, and gender equality" (a real thing) issued strict rules for banning "hate speech" on the internet, and has secured the participation of Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter in enforcing disturbingly vague and illiberal rules. Even E.U. defenders, such as the Times' Cohen, grants that it needs serious changes. To categorically assert that 17.5 million Leave voters (against 16 million Remain voters) are simply racist and anti-immigrant is to ignore pro-Leave voices who are libertarian, cosmopolitan Brits such as science writer and House of Lords member Matt Ridley and member of the European Parliament Dan Hannan, both of whom support opening borders to more goods and people. The E.U., notes Ridley, "still has no trade deals with America, China, Japan, Brazil, India, Canada, Australia and Indonesia." Comedians ranging from Full Frontal's Samantha Bee to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump showcased another unseemly, widespread element of Brexit "analysis": It's really all about domestic U.S. politics, don't you know? Bee, a former Daily Show reporter who now heads up her own TBS show, attributed the Leave win to "xenophobia" and anger and argued that "Even a brain-damaged baboon couldn't miss the parallels between the U.S. and Britain." To be sure, Trump himself was tweeting up a storm drawing such connections. "Just arrived in Scotland," he tweeted immediately after the vote. "Place is going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back. No games!" (The Donald was als[...]

Brexit is an Opportunity For Britain to Return its Classical Liberal Roots

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:00:00 -0400

The United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union marks a historic shift in the nation's relationship not only with Europe but with the world. The uncertainty of what happens next has spooked investors. That is perhaps understandable: In the short term, there will be costs, not least being the considerable time and effort that must now be spent redefining the rules governing trade between individuals and businesses in the U.K. and their counterparts in other nations. In the longer term, however, Brexit presents a great opportunity for the U.K. to re-establish itself as a cosmopolitan, classical liberal democracy governed by the rule of law and open to trade. If it takes that path, then its prospects are far brighter than they would have been in an over-regulated, protectionist E.U.. Although recent polls indicated that the vote would be very close, investors had clearly expected the British public to vote to Remain. So when early results indicated that voters were choosing Leave, they reacted with incredulity, dumping Sterling, which fell to $1.32, its lowest level in 30 years, and selling off stocks around the world. As the sun rose over London, it became clear that Leave had won. At around 8am, as Brits ate their breakfast, the nation's Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had campaigned to remain in the E.U., announced that he would leave office by October. Meanwhile, Scotland's First Minister, Nicole Sturgeon, demanded another vote on Scotland's independence. In the three days since, social media has been awash with offended middle-class Remain voters describing Leave supporters as stupid and worse, a prankster group used bots to generate over 3 million mostly-fake signatures for a Petition for a new referendum on the U.K. Parliament's website (in an ironic twist, the petition was started by a Leave supporter), and a Labour MP has called on Parliament to reject the non-binding referendum vote. European politicians are in disarray over the vote. On Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission called for a speedy exit, reportedly saying that Brexit was "not an amicable divorce" but that "it was not exactly a tight love affair anyway". And the Czech foreign minister has called for Juncker to resign, blaming him for Brexit. Meanwhile, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and other E.U. leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have encouraged Britain's Parliament to reconsider. For Britain formally to begin the process of leaving the E.U., it must—according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty—notify the E.U. of that decision. The terms and date of exit will then be determined by agreement—but by default will occur two years after notification. While Britain has not yet formally notified the E.U. of its intention to leave, David Cameron has established an "E.U. Unit" in his cabinet, whose function is to develop the exit strategy. Assuming that Parliament does not over-ride the referendum result, many vexing decisions must now be taken, among them: What should be Britain's trade policy? How should immigration be reformed? And which British regulations required by the E.U. should be kept and which scrapped? To make matters worse (or at least more confusing), these questions are not necessarily independent of one another. Taking trade first: At present, the U.K. is part of the E.U. customs union and practically all trade policy decisions are made on an E.U.-wide basis. At present, all trade between the U.K. and other E.U. member states is tariff free—there are no taxes on import or exports. That applies not only to goods (which means anything physical, from oil to toasters) but also to services (such as computer programming, architecture, and financ[...]

Elitist Rage With the Pro-Brexit Masses Echoes Longstanding British Suspicion of Democracy

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:30:00 -0400

Hell hath no fury like an establishment spurned. If you didn't know this already, you certainly know it now, following the British people's vote for a "Brexit." A whopping 17.5 million of us voted last week to cut our nation's ties with the European Union (E.U.), against 16 million who voted to stay. And we did so against the advice of most of the political class, media "experts," the Brussels bureaucracy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Barack Obama, and virtually every other Western leader. Most shockingly of all—against the advice of celebs—not even Benedict Cumberbatch's earnest, crumpled face could make us want to stay. We defied them all. We rejected every E.U.-loving overture from the great and good and well-educated. And boy, are they mad. In the three days since this modern-day peasants' revolt—the poor and working-class voted for a Brexit in far large numbers than the well-to-do and well-connected—the political and media elites have rained damnation upon the little people. Their language has crossed the line from irritated to full-on misanthropic. They're calling into question the ability of ordinary people to rationally weigh up hefty political matters, and are even suggesting the referendum result be overturned in the name of the "national interest."  David Lammy, a member of Parliament (MP) representing the Labour Party, has been most explicit. He says we must "stop this madness" and "bring this nightmare to an end." The nightmare he's talking about is people voting for things he doesn't agree with. He says the people's will must now be overridden by a "vote in Parliament." It's terrifying that an elected MP doesn't seem to know how democracy works. Peter Sutherland, a United Nations (U.N.) Special Representative, likewise thinks the Brexit vote "must be overturned," because voters were led astray by a "distortion of facts." U.N. officials normally slam the thwarting of a people's will; now they promote it. And Tony Blair's former spin-doctor says he has "lawyers on the case" to see if a legal challenge can be mounted against the masses and their dumb decision. Lawyers v. the People: Bring it on. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, has threatened to veto the Brexit as it works its way through Parliament. This is a woman whose party received 1.5 million votes in the General Election last year, now saying she will usurp the will of 17.5million Brits who said screw-you to the E.U. Media commentary, meanwhile, has become positively unhinged and Victorian in its attitude to the throng. Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, finding that she didn't like some of the pro-Brexit arguments, said Brexiteers have "lifted several stones" and let out a "rude, crude… extremism." We all know what lives under stones. An Observer columnist, perusing the Brexit chatter, said "it is as if the sewers have burst." Over at the New Statesman—house magazine of the British left—a columnist claims it was "the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain [that] voted out, out, out." Reptiles, insects, shit flowing from the busted sewer of bad ideas—this is how the media elite views the minds and actions of Brexit people. A recurring theme in the elitist rage with the pro-Brexit crowd has been the idea that ordinary people aren't sufficiently clued-up to make big political decisions. We have witnessed a "populist paean to ignorance," says one observer. Apparently populist demagogues—like Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), and Boris Johnson, everyone's favorite bumbling, toffish politician—preyed on the anxieties of the little people and made them vote for something bad[...]

Friday A/V Club: The Brexit Video

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:00:00 -0400

(image) One of the odder items in the Kinks' catalog is "Down All the Days (till 1992)," a 1989 song that the Common Market Commission adopted as an unofficial anthem to promote European integration. The music is bombastic—someone once said it sounds like a Pepsi commercial—and you can see why a Eurocrat would like the lyrics: "Down all the days/All nations will unite as one/A new horizon clear to view/Down all the days to 1992."

But the man who wrote the track, Kinks leader Ray Davies, was actually a Eurosceptic. (He says this explicitly in his memoir Americana, but anyone familiar with his work would expect it.) When The New York Times asked him how he felt about the commission embracing his song, he commented that it was "part of an album that tells a whole story and was not written for Europe per se. They only picked out one verse that makes it seem as though it was written for the commission. But," he added gamely, "even though it wasn't, it seems kind of appropriate."

I can't say I'm fond of the song, but I rather like the video, a mournful piece of filmmaking that thoroughly undermines the lyrics' cheery optimism. The day after Britain voted to close the door on the European Union, it has resonances that no one, pro- or anti-Europe, would have anticipated a quarter-century ago:

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(For past installments of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)