EU limits social housing in the Netherlands

December 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

How did I miss this? Oh, right, because our eyes collectively glaze over at the mention of anything from Brussels, regardless of how much it affects our world.

Thirty three per cent of housing stock in the Netherlands is owned by bodies that receive state funding. In 2005, the commission – the executive body of the EU – argued having more than 30 per cent of homes belonging to the social housing sector seemed ‘disproportionate’.

It expressed doubt about the compatibility of the Dutch social housing support systems with the European competition rules, and suggested that it could be a possible ‘manifest error’.


Phantom MEP expenses

May 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Back last year, the Telegraph thought the Phantom MEPs would be on to a cushy number:

the European Parliament has decided to give the MEPs only “observer” status from next year.
The deal will mean they can draw full salaries and allowances at an annual cost of over £6 million without any legislative duties to carry out.
The 18 MEPs, from 12 EU countries, including Britain’s West Midlands region, will be paid more than £76,000 a year, with staff and office allowances worth £210,000.

[That is, I was under the impression that the Phanton MEPs weren’t being paid. As usual, there’s a strong possibility that I’m just totally wrong]

Books on Italy

May 15th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Currently reading Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy. So naturally I glance online to see what others have made of it. Equally naturally, I find they’re strongly suggesting I find better books on Italian politics. Noting their suggestions, in preparation for the next time my thoughts take a turn bootward:

Paul Ginsborg, Italy and Its Discontents, a history of Italy 1980-2001 (following an earlier book covering the period to 1980):

the 1980s were years of “cynicism, opportunism and fear” – the conditions in which corruption could flourish, and from which Berlusconi would benefit.

Much of the blame lies with the Communist Party. Rather than serve as gatekeeper, filtering Autonomy’s contributions, the party co-operated in the suppression of groups to its left. The result was a weakened political system, the left avid for respectability while the right operated without constraints. If the Italian left is to regain the initiative, it will need to open itself again to influences like those of the autonomists.

. CT comment:

I’d recommend anyone interested in post-war Italy to read Ginsborg; his previous book on Italy from Liberation to the 1980s is also excellent, and his short book on Berlusconi is good. Ginsborg’s weak spot is that he doesn’t devote much attention to the conspiratorial side of politics. In that respect David Lane’s book on Berlusconi (the book of the Economist feature) is surprisingly good – he turns over quite a few stones. Philip Willan’s The Puppetmasters is the conspiracist account of post-war Italian politics in English; God only knows how accurate it is, but it’s extremely suggestive. The Dark Heart of Italy… meh. I enjoyed it (Tobias Jones writes well), but it’s a bit Orientalist. [links added]

European referendums

December 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Inspired by the Swiss minaret ban, a reasonably unpleasant German group is trying to force a pan-European referendum on banning minarets. Apparently

The Lisbon Treaty, which has now entered into force, contains a provision for referenda subsequent to the collection of one million signatures in favor of the measure in question. Just how such a process might work, however, has yet to be sufficiently established.

If that’s true, surely we’re about to be deluged in referendums? A million signatures on a European level is nothing. It’s the kind of number Greenpeace could collect without breaking a sweat, for instance, let alone any party organization.
I can’t find much trace of it in the Lisbon Treaty (but the treaty is massive, and I have no idea where to look). The closest is this delightfully vague and toothless provision:

Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of
Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.
The procedures and conditions required for such a citizens’ initiative shall be determined in accordance with the first paragraph of Article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. [article 8A.4]


December 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Alexander Lukashenko has often been referred to as Europe’s last dictator. All of a sudden, though, he seems to be on a push to rapidly liberalize Belarus’ economy and turn it into a high-tech paradise. But is this socialist island really ready to attract Western investors?

This is really simple. Business isn’t the opposite of dictatorship; it’s something almost orthogonal to it. If one man’s whim completely changes the government of a country, then it’s a dictatorship. Obviously I’m glad his current passions encompass encouraging business rather than staging purges, but that doesn’t make Lukashenko any less a dictator.


December 22nd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Ah, the ever-flexible French obsession with laïcite — now showing its good side, as the language in which to condemn a statement that “when there are more minarets than Cathedrals in France, it will no longer be France”.

Urban regeneration after a recession

December 8th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Le Monde points out that periods of recovery from recession are crucial in the growth, or decline, of inequality between districts. It is now that new businesses are created, or not, in depressed areas, and when they can most easily be nudged by state intervention.

C’est dans ces périodes, paradoxalement, que les écarts entre les territoires risquent de se creuser, entre ceux qui végètent et ceux qui rebondissent vite. Dans ces périodes, aussi, que le gouvernement, rassuré quant aux risques d’explosion sociale, peut être tenté de réduire les moyens, déjà limités, consacrés à la politique de la ville pour les redéployer sur d’autres priorités.

New Europe

October 15th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

The Wall Street Journal is, judging by its website, one of the few media organizations to pay serious attention to Central and Eastern Europe. It’s mostly paywalled, alas, but there is at least a dedicated [blog]( for us shallow-pocketed types.

Greek elections

October 14th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

I’m yet to find a decent analysis of the Greek election a week ago, which gave the centre-left Pasok Party their [largest victory ever](
Since my knowledge of Greek politics is limited to a vague awareness of [last winter’s riots](, I’m stuck with not-particularly-informative media pundits. For starters, it seems nobody even has any idea why the election happened. The ruling ND party could have continued for another couple of years, but instead called elections that everybody expected them to lose. Why?
Was it because Prime Minister [Konstantinos Karamanlis]( wanted out, on a personal level? (Many of his ministers didn’t want the election). Is there some impending disaster that he’d rather see blamed on the opposition? Or just that the recession will be painful, and it’s easier to dump that on Pasok?
The other question is why the centre-left won, when across the rest of europe they’re simultaneously disintegrating. As far as I can see the answers have little connection to Europe, or even to the dubious virtues of Pasok. The only international element is the economic collapse. Beyond that, it’s all Greek: the corruption, the unpopularity of Karamanlis, anger over December’s protests. Or something completely different, for all I know.
[normally when I write about something I know nothing about, I find myself learning a little in the process. Not this time]

The second president

October 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Forget who will be the first EU president. The more interesting question is, who will be the second? After 2+ years under the new constitution, what kind of figure would make a plausible president? Will interest groups trampled by the first president push for a low-key successor? Would the position — having, as it does, few formal powers — turn out to be of minor importance? Will the first president be re-elected again and again? (is that possible under the Treaty of Lisbon?) Will politicians start openly campaigning for the office, rather than putting up a public face of being surprised and honoured to be considered?

After the Irish referendum

October 10th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

This [via CT] is a good overview of the state of play on the Lisbon treaty:

But some diplomats say it is the foreign policy high representative who may emerge as the strongest figure in the new set-up.
The foreign policy chief will be powerful because he or she will not only speak on behalf of EU national governments but will also hold the title of Commission vice-president. The holder will oversee the EU’s multi-billion euro foreign aid budget and control a diplomatic service that will ultimately employ up to 3,000 officials.

Chansons des filles de mai

July 12th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve taken advantage of my stay in Paris to unearth in a library a book of poems that for years have been nestling, half-remembered, in my head. These are the Chansons des filles de mai, produced by an Italian writer, Alba de Cespedes, who was living in Paris during ’68. They aren’t her personal story, but a kind of emotional documentary of the young women she met during that year’s rebellion, a patchwork of very simple poems constructed from their conversations and self-justifications. This lets her capture both the angry euphoria of the girls who know themselves to be at the centre (or the start?) of a storm — and also the uncertainty of those feeling isolated, uncertain, constrained by motherhood or shyness, by their parents of by their own depressive lack of interest.
My friend Sara dramatised the collection in 2003, in the immediate aftermath of failed anti-war protests, and the slightly more distant aftermath of the Genoa G8 summit. But while the connections between times are real, they are also oddly insignificant. The poems are infused with politics, but they aren’t political poems. Sara writes of them as about ‘the will to live out ideals through your own life’. For me, what is even more touching is the recognition that desire can be worthwhile, even when the dreams are impossible. Or when the dreams are failing: this poem, describing the end of the protests, is the one I keep on remembering:

30 Mai 1968

Ce soir, notre quartier,
sur la rive
porte le deuil de ses rêves.
Derrière les fenêtres sans lumières
— orbites noires dans la pâleur des façads —
des yeux vides de regards
fixent les rues désertes.
Encore un soir,
le dernier,
nous serons entre nous:
les fous d’amour et de révolte.
Cette rive sera encore
la nôtre;
à nous seuls, prison, ghetto,
Ils resterons sur la leur.
Ils n’oseront pas traverser
la frontière
de la Seine.
Ils nous reconnaissent le droit
à cete veilée funèbre,
à cette liberté
surveillée — de loin —
par une armée qui veille
elle aussi,
qui épie
notre silence méprisant,
Quartier Latin, les étudiants
veillent dans la cour
de la Sorbonne.
La place de l’Odéon
serre entre ses bras
cette belle nuit de printemps.
Les mots des graffiti
qui pavoisent les fac,
circulent comme des feux follets
parmi les tables des cafés-tabac
du boulevard Saint-Germain.
Dans nos rues, coupables
de complicité,
les pavés-munitions arrachés
ont été replacés hâtivement,
C’est sur les mains de la jeunesse,
sur les pierres de son chemin
qu’ils rouleront demain,
de l’autre rive,
vers le week-end rassurant.
Dans leurs mansardes
autour de la Sorbonne,
dans des chambres de bonne
tapissées de posters
— le regard fier du Che –,
des garçons et des filles, armés
de poésie et de colère,
font l’amour avec un plaisir
mouillé des larmes.
Ces garçons aux cheveux longs,
ces filles aux jupes courtes,
sont les citoyens de nos rues
de la rive
L’odeur âpre de leurs corps
est l’air même
de notre quartier.
Partout, dans le Sixième,
sont affichés des tracts
en forme de poèmes.
Demain matin,
de bonne heure,
on les recouvrira
avec des publicités
de machines à laver
det de frigidaires.
Les hirondelles du Luxembourg
poussent des cris d’adieu.
Des pranches amassées sur le boulevard
s’exhale un dernier relent
de gaz;
mais rien n’en restera
lorsqu’ils viendront de l’autre rive
se faire photographier,
sur les squelettes des voitures
O nos enfants de mai,
héros de nuits criblées d’étoiles
et de coups.
On oppose le fer et l’acier
aux roses de l’imagination.
Aux carrefours, le long
des boulevards,
les yeux perçants
sur les toits des voitures
de police;
les paniers à salade, les ambulances,
les hommes habillés, casqués,
masqués de noir,
les boucliers noirs;
toute la panoplie
de la répression est prête
contre une révolution
qui n’aura pas lieu.
Les câbles du téléphone
traversent le ciel silencieux:
Littré, Odéon, Médicis
ne répondent pas
ce soir.
Derrière nos fenêtres closes,
près des téléphones muets,
des transistors éteints,
nous veillons en silence
nos espoirs matraqués.
Mais les gestes de nos enfants
de mai
restent — ineffaçables —
dans l’air le temps l’espace
de ce quartier,
sur la rive

— Alba de Cespedes

Hostages in France