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December 25, 2009

One big cop-out

So Copenhagen failed, and we're deep into the post-summit finger-pointing. Maybe we'll be able to analyze the scatter-pattern of accusations, retrace what went wrong, and fix it. More likely we'll just use the blame game as a convenient distraction from figuring out what to do next.

My favourite -- both as an article, and because I agree with him -- is Joss Garman in the Independent. He's fiery about Obama ("a speech so devoid of substance that he might as well have made it on speaker-phone from a beach in Hawaii"), and Wen Jiabao ("sulking in his hotel room, as if this were a teenager's house party instead of a final effort to stave off the breakdown of our biosphere."). But he still finds a few likeable figures, such as Lula and Ed Miliband.

Mark Lynas is more simplistic. His much-forwarded Guardian piece has one villain: China

The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful "deal" so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame.... China's strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and thenensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again.

Lynas staunchly defends both Gordon Brown and his own employer, the government of the Maldives*, while attacking the country chosen by both the British and American governments to carry the can. He tries very hard to present this support of the powerful as a contrarian position -- and, given he's writing for Guardian readers, I suppose it is. George Monbiot's article, for example, is more typical in blaming America. "The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama".

Lynas also snaps out a not-entirely-unfounded accusation against the NGO world: "Campaign groups never blame developing countries for failure; this is an iron rule that is never broken".

It's a shame he doesn't go into more detail on this. Developing countries seem to have largely outsourced their negotiating teams in environmental summits to NGOs, and to first-world campaigners willing to work cheaply for the good of the planet. It's the same trade of influence against expertise that happens when they rely on multinational corporations to provide legal or economic advice in trade negotiations -- just with added idealism. This area must conceal some fascinating culture clashes and conflicts of interest, which I'd love to see somebody dissect for public consumption.

  • It's hardly encouraging that the Guardian lets Lynas gush about the president of the Maldives without mentioning his conflict of interest.

December 23, 2009

European referendums

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 22, 2009

Sarko the troll

One one level, I know that mentioning French laws on the burqa is just playing into the UMPs tactics, which are basically a skilled case of legislative trolling. Ensure that what should be a non-issue stays constantly in the news, divert liberal energy into making a right-but-unpopular case, provide an way of expressing islamophobia under cover of women's rights, keep the fear and distrust simmering.

Anyway, Libération has some more details on the form the law is likely to take. "So as not to appear discriminatory", they write with justifiable snarkiness, the law will be against any covering of the entire face within a public space. Presumably they'll spend the coming weeks assuring exceptions for skiiers, motorcyclists, beekeepers, and anyone else with a non-religious reason to cover their face. [I guess they won't do anything about balaclava-wearing anarchists, oddly enough;)]

Meanwhile laïcite is being played in the other direction, in reaction to the Swiss minaret ban. At least, it is providing the language in which to condemn a statement that "when there are more minarets than Cathedrals in France, it will no longer be France".

December 8, 2009

Urban regeneration after a recession

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.