Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The EU Constitution

I was disappointed when the Convention on the Future of Europe presented the document which would, with minor changes, become the Treaty establishing a Constitutional for Europe. My main disappointment was that the Constitution only reordered, and to some extent simplified, the existing treaties of the European Union and European Community.

However, the Constitution, without changing the Union significantly, did have three changes that are worth reviving and entering into a new treaty. The three changes, which in my opinion would make the EU more democratic, are:

1) Article I-25: 'Double Majority' voting procedures in the Council.
Under the this new definition of 'qualified majority', measures could only pass when supported by 55% of the Council members, consisting of at least 15 members and representing at least 65% of the population of the Union.

2) Article I-35: Joint decision procedure between Parliament and Council as the ordinary legislative procedure.
Although the co-decision procedure is already used for the vast majority of areas of EU law, this provision would increase Parliaments legislative power.

3) Article I-9: Incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights as legally binding.

It is my hope that these three changes will be salvaged from the Constitution as a Treaty amendment. It would be a shame if fear of 'competence creep' from national states to the EU, which is the real reason for opposition to the Constitution, would prevent the EU from becoming more democratic. I can also only hope that European leaders, such as Angela Merkel will focus on these changes, rather than reintroducing suggestions which were previously rejected, such as references to God or Christian values.

The liberal Newsweek.

For the last few months I've been subscribing to Newsweek for two reasons: 1) to get non-British news reporting and 2) the student subscription rates are very favourable. I've subscribed to Newsweek before and I knew that what I was getting was a cut down version of US edition with a couple of international articles added.

What has surprised me, however, is how right wing and anti-Continental European Newsweek is. With columnist like Fareed Zakaria, Jeffrey E. Garten and Robert J Samuelson, Newsweek is remarkable in favour of radical free-market economics and US interventionalsim based on the moral superiority of the US. News from Continental European countries is reported with an air of superiority and contempt. The reporting on particular Germany and France is unnuanced and constantly repeat the simple line that all both countries need is the destruction social welfare.

I'm not against strong editorial lines of newspapers, on the contrary. The historian E.H. Carr wrote in his classic "What is History?"*: "When you read a work of history always listen out for the buzzing. If you can detect none, either you are tone deaf or your historian is a dull dog." The buzzing E.H. Carr writes about is the historians philosophical approach to history and his interpretation of sources and events. Because "History means interpretation" the good historian will give himself away in his writing. I believe the same is true for news reporting and Newsweek has a clear ideological approach to international news.

What disturbs me, however, is that Newsweek is generally considered to be left leaning and liberal. Of course Newsweek is liberal compared to Fox News and may be liberal on social issues. But, if Newsweek is liberal, then the mainstream US media is, contravy to conventional wisdom, very conservative and right wing.

Carr, E.H. What is History? (London, Macmillan, 1961).

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Here's a small list of some of the things that cause me to be overwhelmed with feelings of despair:

- My poor academic skills.
- My inability earlier today to find the keys to the front door and open it before the caller (whoever it was) left.
- Tony Blair.
- Being on a waiting list to the university's counseling service.
- The church.
- The failure of Socialism to produce economic growth to rival Capitalism.
- Being told that I will have to wait until March 19 before I will get the results of the electromyography (EMG) performed on December 1st.
- "New Labour."
- The erosion of civil liberties in Europe as well as in America.
- My chances of finding a job after I graduate.

p.s. A small reason to be cheerful is, however, Guardian Columnist Timothy Garton Ash's response to German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries' proposal for an EU wide ban on Holocaust denial and public displays of Nazi insignia, which can be read here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The EU and Outlawing of Holocaust Denial

The German agenda for its January-June 2007 presidency of the Council of the European Union, includes according to this Guardian article and this BBC article, a proposal to outlaw Holocaust denial in all EU countries.

The proposal, which seems to be the brainchild of Germany's Justice minister Brigitte Zypries, is in my opinion bizarre. Not only is the outlawing of holocaust denial an affront to freedom of speech and contravy to the constitutions of several EU countries, but it is also likely fuel anti-EU sentiment in Northern European countries where freedom of speech is particularly treasured.

However, the main question for me is on what legal basis does Germany propose to introduce such a ban? The EU does not generally have any competence in the area of criminal law, although the third pillar of the EU treaty does concern cooperation within the area of Justice and Home Affairs.

The answer to my question could be Article 29 of the Treay on the European Union, which states that one of the EU's objectives is to combat racism and xenophobia through "approximation... of rules on criminal matters." However Article 29 stipulates that this can happen only "when necessary" and is subject to Article 31(e), which limits approximation to "establishing minimum rules relating to constituent elements criminal acts." Finally, any measure adopted by the Council within this area of EU law must, according to Article 34, be adopted unanimously and cannot have direct effect.

This all leaves me somewhat confused and doubtful as to whether the proposal will be implemented. To summarise: First, the EU has a very limited competence within the area of criminal law and then only seek harmonisation of minimum rules when necessary. Secondly, when the Council acts on matters of justice it can only do so unanimously. Thirdly, such a measure would be unconstitutional in several countries. Finally, the proposal will be seen by many as an unacceptable EU interference in national states sovereignty.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blog Birthday

Just realised today that I've missed my own 1-year blog birthday on January 10. Makes me think back on the last year and all the rubbish I've been writing. Its really all Lasse Bech's fault. He's the one who got me into blogging. So please address any complaints to Lasse here!

Its been fun blogging and I've been surprised by how many new acquaintances you get from it. I've made friends with Marcel, Jan, Perez and others who've stumbled across 'locus standi' (or 'non-denial denial' as it used to be called). Blogging has also enabled me to keep in touch with old friends such as Kenneth, Niels and Lasse. Finally, my blog has enabled some old friends, with whom I'd lost contact, to get back in touch after finding it via Google.

To mark this I would like to welcome my friend Charles to the blogosphere. Charles is from Michigan, is a committed christian and a good guy (at least thats what his wife says ;-) ) I look forward to reading his blog 'A Common Journey'.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Oliver Cromwell and religious freedom.

Just wanted to draw attention to a very interesting article by my friend and acquaintance, Dr. David Trim, published in Liberty Magazine. Part I of the article can be read here and Part II here. Dr. Trim examines how Oliver Cromwell's "commitment to religious liberty was combined with an inclination toward social repression," and argues that the modern Religious Right is heirs to Cromwell's ideology.

Really, really worth reading.

David Trim, now lecturer in History at Newbold College in England, was a fellow history student at Newbold in the early 1990's, where we had the privilege to study under the legendary Dr. Harry Leonard. David Trim was also my cricket team captain!

Monday, January 08, 2007

American Exceptionalism.

Heres a quoute from an article by Joshua Kurlantzick in January's issue of Prospect, entitled 'Ecxeptional America':

The Democrats must reclaim the most important narrative in US political history - that America is not one leader among many but an exceptional, moral and generous country that can inspire other nations. Europeans may cite examples of amoral or self-interested US foreign policy. But the exceptionalist narrative, drawing as it does on the country's founding utopian vision, resonates with Americans.
I think Kurlantzick is right. The exceptionalist (or manifest destiny) narrative is the dominant American narrative.

In the last 30 years Republicans, particularly under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have successfully been able to appeal to an messianic vision of America's role in the world. Democrats, on the other hand, have been hesitant to extol American virtue.

This is a shame because Democrats could offer a much better vision of American exceptionalism. An America dominated by the exceptionalist visions of Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman, would have much greater positive impact on the world than the Neo-Conservative imperialism which has dominated under Bush.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

On regrets.

The Iraqi governments arrest of a guard suspected of being the one who recorded and publicised Saddam Hussein's execution, reminds me of the time George W. Bush called a New York Times reporter "a major league asshole". Bush never appologised for the remark, only for it being heard.

The Iraqi government is missing the point. Its not the filming that has exposed them as barbaric. Its the execution itself and the behaviour of those present. If the government wants to arrest someone, they should go after the ones jeering and taunting the condemned man.

The person filming the event should be applauded, as he has given the world the opportunity to see what hangings really are like and shown that executions are simply acts of revenge.

Just like Bush, the Iraqi government is not regretting the event, only that it was seen and heard.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Personal thoughts on the New Year.

I hate new years like some people hate birthdays. Learning to accept a new calendar year as the norm, forces me to accept that life is passing by. This new year seems particularly cruel.

2006 was for me an "Annus Horribilis". A year with very little joy and with much anxiety and grief. A year that started with hopes of finally finding a calling in life, ended with all my hopes for the future dashed.

2007 is therefore just a number for me. It holds no promises and no opportunities and I have no portion in it.