Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: EU

Dirty Britain

Many detached observers have asked what the point of Brexit is. Who benefits?

Many people have asked the simple question: why is the UK going through the ghastly and costly process of leaving the EU?  Remainers are fighting to keep jobs and save businesses, are fearful about their livelihoods. The government’s own research has clearly shown that there will be major disruption to the economy and to the daily lives of ordinary people. Did anyone vote in the referendum to be worse off? Who benefits from this chaos?

The prime minister’s more attractive and brighter sister, Rachel, has some ideas on the subject, “People who have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no deal Brexit”. Ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, explored the same theme, alleging that Johnson “is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.” Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, said Hammond was right to question the political connections of some of the hedge funds with a financial interest in no deal.

Peter Jukes wrote in Byline Times on 23 September 2019: “according to City insiders, Boris Johnson’s push towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit is a ‘free lunch’ for hedge funds and currency traders.” Sir Jim O’Neill, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs’ Asset Management, said “A lot of them are saying thank goodness for Boris, he’s giving us a chance to make some money”.

Byline Times determined how many donations to Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership campaign came from hedge funds, City traders or wealthy investors. This revealed that, between 24 May and 23 July 2019, £357,500 of the £552,500 came from such donors. They made up 65% of the value of the donations, and 30 out of 40 (75%) of the number of donors. “Boris Johnson remains heavily reliant on one of the few sectors hedge funds, foreign exchange and derivative trading which could actually profit from a sudden decline in share prices or the fall of sterling.”

Molly Scott Cato is a current Member of the European Parliament. She writes: “Lives may be lost and our economy destroyed, but for many of the key Brexit players a No Deal scenario and the chaos this would cause is simply an opportunity to maximise their returns.” Jacob Rees-Mogg was a thorn in the flesh of Theresa May with his clique of radicals within the Conservative Party, the ERG (Economic Research Group). Although he was strongly in favour of Brexit, he was canny enough to move his own hedge fund to Dublin to retain the advantages of being in the EU. He is no longer a rebel, but is in the government as Leader of the House of Commons. His Somerset Capital Management was managed via subsidiaries in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Singapore. Many of those who strongly support Brexit have reason to fear new EU regulations on tax havens. The EU recently tripled its list of tax havens to include fifteen countries.

Crispin Odey was a major contributor to the Leave campaign. He told the BBC on the morning of the referendum result that he had made £220m speculating that the markets would fall, saying “‘Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca’ – the morning has gold in its mouth”. He has now bet £300m against British businesses, so that he will profit when they collapse as a result of No Deal Brexit. Odey Asset Management – friend to Boris Johnson– has been actively shorting UK high street retail chains.  High street retailers are doing badly because of online shopping.  Odey is shorting their shares wholesale, which only makes matters worse.

Richard Tice co-founded the Leave campaign with Arron Banks, whose finances in relation to the Leave campaign are far from transparent. Tice is the chairman of the Brexit Party, a Eurosceptic political party which participated in the 2019 European parliamentary election. Tice has listed his property business offshore on a stock exchange in Guernsey. In 2019, Tice was elected as a Brexit Party Member of the European Parliament for the East of England. Molly Scott Cato writes that Tice describes his economic activity as “expertise in ‘distressed debt’. Others would call this vulture capitalism, and sharks like Tice are circling as the Brexit they have campaigned for destroys genuine businesses and makes their assets available for snapping up at low prices.” Tice is the lover of Isabel Oakeshott whose book on David Cameron included an allegation that Cameron, during his university days, performed a sex act involving a dead pig. The unsubstantiated story was dependent on hearsay and Oakeshott subsequently conceded her source could have been “deranged”.

Five candidates for the Brexit Party were businessmen and millionaires with links to tax havens. Nigel Farage admitted setting up a tax haven trust fund on the Isle of Man for “inheritance purposes”. Yorkshire candidate John Longworth advised the Hottinger Group, which is owned by an offshore firm named in the Panama Papers. South West candidate James Glancy is chief executive and part-owner of a security consultancy whose largest shareholder is based offshore on the Isle of Man. South East candidate Chris Ellis was chairman for a diamond mine business operating through a company in the British Virgin Islands and named in the Paradise Papers. London candidate Graham Shore is co-owner of Shore Capital Group which says it will “take advantage of Brexit uncertainty” and whose ultimate parent company is based in Guernsey. Among the City hedge fund operators backing Boris Johnson are David Lilley of RK Capital, Jon Wood of SRM Global, and Johan Christofferson of Christofferson, Robb and Co. These patriotic Brexiteers are seeking financial gain from undermining their country and its institutions.

Some people have rubbished claims of dirty dealings and told us we do not understand how hedge funds work. That may be true because they are specifically designed for us not to understand. Hedge funds are risk-takers. They invest in risky stocks or projects, in the hope of making above-average returns. George Kerevan writes: “Brexit is not a cry for help from the English underclass.  It is a carefully stage-managed campaign by global finance capital in the form of the hedge funds.  It is being orchestrated out of hedge fund self-interest and the greed of billionaires.  Boris Johnson is their front man.”

Guto Bebb, a former Conservative minister ejected from the party for opposing a no-deal Brexit, said: “The dubious financiers who supported the ‘leave’ campaign and the prime minister’s leadership campaign are betting against Britain. The PM should put the interests of the country first rather than facilitating a financial bonanza for a few.”

Brexit Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday July 7 2016.

Colman's Column3

George Bernard Shaw, an Irishman, once wrote: “Do not believe the laws of God were suspended for England because you were born here.”

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David Cameron has post-dated his resignation as prime minister of the UK until October. English football manager, Roy Hodgson, resigned immediately after his team put in an appalling performance in the European Championship against Iceland.  Iceland has a population of 330,000 and 100 professional players. Diehard England football fans always think that this time the World Cup or the Euros will be different – until they’re not.

 

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 03:  Roy Hodgson, manager of England looks on prior to the International friendly match between England and Norway at Wembley Stadium on September 3, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Many in the EU will be grateful for the UK’s departure, breathing a sigh of relief that they will be spared British exceptionalism and superiority. They will be grateful that the fantasy that Britain is doing the EU a favour is at an end.

In the early 90s, I was talking to a EU insider who compared the behaviour of delegates from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Irish went to all the social events in Brussels and got to know everybody, and generally got what they wanted by way of charm and intelligence and working the system. The Brits complained a lot and went to bed early.

Cameron’s Legacy

David Cameron promised to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in order to appease the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party – those John Major called the “bastards”. This cynical ploy has not only led to the possible fragmentation of the EU, with far-right parties, which are strongly represented in the European Parliament, calling for similar exit referenda in their own nations, it certainly means the end of the UK.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and most major cities, including London, voted Remain. The referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 resulted in a victory for those wanting to stay in the UK. I warned at the time that, although the victory could not be challenged, there could be serious consequences if the views of the 44% who wanted Scottish independence within the EU were not considered. In the general election of May 2015, the Scottish National Party won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats to become the third largest party in the Commons.

Cameron’s legacy on Ireland could be an end to the peace process. An important element of the Good Friday Agreement was that the terrorists’ goal of a united Ireland was subsumed  because the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were both co-operating within the EU. Cameron’s legacy will be the re-erecting of the border between the six counties and the 26 counties – with all the tensions that will bring. Another scenario, however, is that Northern Ireland might join the Republic – Sinn Fein have already called for a referendum on removing the border. In a bizarre twist, Ian Paisley Jr, son of the fire-breathing pastor who bellowed “No surrender!” has advised his constituents to apply for Irish passports. Another border issue now looks rather different – in Gibraltar, 95% voted to Remain, so that outpost of doughty Englishness may become part of Spain to stay in the EU.

What Was the Plan?

Some of the more cogent arguments for remaining made by derided “experts” indicated that a divorce after 43 years of marriage was likely to be extremely complicated, messy and acrimonious. Disentangling trade agreements and establishing a host of new bi-lateral agreements with individual states will be a nightmarish task which will take decades and require the input of armies of experts and bureaucrats.

The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond warned that the Leavites needed to tell voters how they planned to reconcile “mutually incompatible” promises made during the referendum campaign over restricting immigration at the same time as continuing free trade.

That Is Not What We Meant at All

As soon as the result was known, the Leavites started backtracking. The 17 million or so who voted for Brexit were being told almost from the moment the polls closed that they weren’t going to get any of what they had voted for anyway. Michael Gove had been happy about leaving the single market and damn the economic costs. Others now concede the UK will have to stay in the single market. Daniel Hannan MEP admitted that free movement of labour might continue. While votes were still being counted, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party confessed that it had been “a mistake” for Vote Leave to pretend that there would be an extra £350m a week for the NHS. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s promise to scrap VAT on energy bills were obviously fanciful with an economy slowing down and they are irrelevant when there is no government.

Take Me to your Leader

Who is in charge? Cameron quickly announced his resignation but he will be hanging on until October. Michael Gove and Theresa May have announced they will be running for the leadership of the Conservative Party but Boris Johnson has said he will not run – apart from running away from the mess he has created. The opposition Labour Party is in disarray with a majority of MPs calling on Jeremy Corbyn to resign from the leadership.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty


Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty sets out how an EU country might voluntarily leave the union. The UK will be the first full member state to invoke Article 50. The only precedent is Greenland leaving the EU in 1985 after two years of negotiation. It has a population of 55,000, and only one product: fish.

Failure to conclude new arrangements within two years results in the exiting state falling out of the EU with no new provisions in place. If negotiations are not concluded within two years, Britain risks having to leave the EU with no deal at all.

Leavites and Cameron seem reluctant to get the withdrawal moving. However, some EU bigwigs do not want to indulge their delaying tactics. Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU commission president, said: “It doesn’t make any sense to wait until October to try and negotiate the terms of their departure. I would like to get started immediately”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi insisted there could be no formal or informal talks about Britain’s new relationship until the Article 50 had been activated.

The UK will have to renegotiate 80,000 pages of EU agreements, deciding those to be kept in UK law and those to jettison. This will keep parliament busy for decades. Successive governments have made swingeing cuts in the civil service supposedly in the interests of economy and efficiency. The Leavites have excoriated “Brussels bureaucracy” and it is a karmic irony that they have succeeded in unleashing a bureaucratic hell on Whitehall with too few people to deal with it.

Any Turning Back?

The result of the referendum was, legally, purely advisory. To put withdrawal into action it requires the endorsement of parliament. There is another irony in that. A major theme of the Leave campaign was bringing back sovereignty to the UK. The sovereign power of the UK is the monarch in parliament. Lord Heseltine has pointed out: “There is a majority of something like 350 in the House of Commons broadly in favour of the European relationship …There is no way you are going to get those people to say black is white and change their minds unless a) they know what the deal is and b) it has been supported either by an election or by another referendum”. Another estimate is that less than 200 of the 650 MPs supported leaving.

Geoffrey Robertson QC writes: “Before Brexit can be triggered, parliament must repeal the 1972 European Communities Act by which it voted to take us into the European Union – and MPs have every right, and indeed a duty if they think it best for Britain, to vote to stay.”

http://epaper.ceylontoday.lk/TodayEpaper.php?id=2016-07-07

 

More next week on why this happened.

The EU as Moral Tutor

On May 9 there was a court hearing concerning a domestic-violence case in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, one of Armenia’s most socially conservative areas. Activist Robert Aharonian condemned two women’s rights advocates operating under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, part of the Soros network, for promoting “European values”. A man in Armenia “has a right to slap his wife,” he claimed. He opposes all those diaspora Armenians who use NGO grants to operate in Armenia, and “advocate European perversion.” Allowing wives to report their husbands to the police, he asserted, ultimately breaks families apart. Armenia wants to join the EU so has to pay lip service to “European values”.

The EU presents itself as a moral model to the world. The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

One wonders how this will play given the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament (EP), where a number of far right parties scored big successes on low turnouts. Some wag answered the question:”What are European values?” thus. “Appeasement, bureaucracy, group-think, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and not having babies.”

The values that the EU claims for itself are set out in Article I-2 of the Constitution and are supposed to be common to all member states. These values are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. Any European state wishing to become a member of the EU must respect these. Any member state not meeting these criteria can, in theory, be kicked out.

Free Movement

The Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous “four freedoms”) and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Nationalism raised its ugly head in the EP elections and many who do not believe in the “free movement of persons” won seats. Last week, I wrote about the problems many states will have because of declining fertility rates. If Europeans are not having enough babies, they will have to import workers to do the dirty jobs and to pay into their pension fund. Even when they admit this, right-wingers, like the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, do not like it: “Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It’s impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in…that would be an economic solution, but it’s not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization.”

If one looks at the treatment of Roma in Belfast as well as Bucharest, one can see that even the free movement of EU citizens within the EU is not universally welcomed. Many people in Western Europe feel little kinship with Bulgaria and Romania, which is why most west European governments limited the right to work of Bulgarians and Romanians.

One Spaniard was not too happy about the freedom of Britons to move around Europe: “I used to live on a beautiful section of coast. Now I live next to a nasty urbanization, full of English people who buy from themselves, drink English beer in English bars, visit English doctors and eat an abomination called Pukka Pies. Their refusing to learn even the most basic of Spanish is famous here, and even if I wanted to go to ‘The Queen Vic’, I won’t because they only have menus in English and German.”

Extraordinary Rendition

Many EU states helped with the movement of people when GW Bush wanted to torture them. A report published in 2013 by the Open Society entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition revealed that, of pre-2004 EU states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands –did not cooperate with the rendition programme, in which suspects were picked off the streets and secretly flown from country to country to be tortured. Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to transfer terror suspects secretly at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Mubarak’s soundproof cells in Egypt. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.

At the time the report was written, legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations were pending against Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania before the European Court of Human Rights.

 

The Open Society report concludes: “by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture.” How does that fit with European values?

 

Corruption

Many Sri Lankans take a masochistic pride in the corruption of their politicians. Sorry chaps, but Sri Lankans are mere minnows compared to the Grand Panjandrums of Europe. The human rights of Europeans are seriously undermined by the endemic graft and thievery within the EU.

Some people blame this on enlargement – things got worse when we let those dodgy eastern Europeans in. Optimists hope that the magic wand of western European values will reduce the corruption of these shady newcomers and one day do the same for the Western Balkans and Turkey, and perhaps even Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.

Unfortunately, the really big corruption is in the older member states and the culprits are senior statesmen.

Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor for sixteen years. He took two million in illegal donations. When he was exposed, he refused to reveal donors’ names for fear of revealing the favours they had bought. Gerhard Schröder guaranteed a billion-euro loan to Gazprom for the building of a Baltic pipeline. A few weeks after leaving government, he was working for Gazprom at a salary larger than the one he received as Chancellor. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen two presidents of the Republic in succession forced to resign under a cloud of corruption.

 

Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic for twelve years, was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of office and conflicts of interest. Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly took some $20 million from Gaddafi for the electoral campaign that won him the presidency. Christine Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, is under interrogation for her role in the award of €420 million in “compensation” to a friend of Sarkozy, Bernard Tapie, a well-known crook with a prison record. The socialist minister for the budget, Jérôme Cahuzac, whose brief was to uphold fiscal probity and equity, had €15 million in hidden deposits in Switzerland and Singapore.

In Britain, Blair lied to Parliament about £1 million paid into party coffers by racing car magnate Bernie Ecclestone, currently under indictment in Bavaria for bribes of €33 million. Currently, Blair takes cash from a South Korean oil company run by a convicted felon with interests in Iraq and the feudal dynasty of Kuwait. He also does PR for the Nazarbaev dictatorship in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record would not meet EU standards.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, as well as allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for its torture programme, channelled into his bank account more than €400,000 in unexplained payments before becoming Taoiseach. He then voted himself the highest salary of any premier in Europe – €310,000, more even than the US president – a year before having to resign. Even after his disgrace, he wangled himself a handsome pension and generous expenses. In 2011, €8.8 million of taxpayers’ money was paid out in pensions for 109 former ministers, Ahern topping the list with €152,331.

On a public appearance at a ploughing contest, Bertie was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators saw the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation of corruption at the top. Daniel Finn in the New Left Review, described Bertie Ahern as “A shrewd political operator with a gift for speaking at length without supplying his audience with any information”. At a corruption tribunal, Ahern’s testimony was described as “rambling and incoherent” and he changed his story so many times some of it had to be lies. Polls showed that less than one-third of voters believed him. Last November, a drunken man attacked Ahern with a crutch inside the Sean O’Casey bar just off O’Connell Street. Ahern declined to talk about the attack, which came three years after number of customers in another Dublin pub verbally abused him.

The European Value of Impunity

Bankers and leading politicians do not usually go to prison. Elites can enrich themselves without fear of retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes the only real value in political life. When it all goes wrong, the public has to pay by bailing out the banks and the state and by enduring austerity measures. Austerity is not thrift, which is generally seen as a morally virtuous. Austerity benefits the already very wealthy, who can profit from cheaper asset prices by picking them up now and selling them later. That is European value.

 

Beware of Greeks Bearing Good News

This article appeared in the March 2014 edition of Echelon magazine.

Greece takes on the Presidency of the Council of the EU

It is not so long ago that there was much talk about Grexit – Greek exit from the eurozone and possibly the EU itself. Now Greece holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU. Every six months a member state of the EU holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU and presides over its work. This is not to be confused with President of the European Council (current incumbent Herman Van Rompuy) or the President of the European Commission (currently José Manuel Barroso). During the time a state holds the Presidency of the Council, it plays host to the majority of the EU’s events and plays a key role in the activities of the EU. It is responsible for organising EU meetings, setting the Union’s political agenda and ensuring its development, integration and security.

As I write, Greece holds the Presidency from January-June 2014. The Greek government will have to lead hundreds of meetings, conduct complex negotiations, and host 13 ministerial councils in Athens. The Greeks will have to manage with a budget for the next six months that is about 40 percent lower than that of the previous presidency. Greece’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dimitris Kourkoulas, announced, to show what good managers Greeks could be, that he planned to make do with an even less than the allocation.

Panagiotis Ioakeimidis, professor for European policy at the University of Athens believes the presidency will give Greece the opportunity to improve its image within Europe and restore the credibility it has lost in recent years. Greek Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted that Greece was not thinking of its domestic priorities, but of those of the EU. The EU parliamentary elections in May are likely to bring a new political balance and a rise in euroscepticism and representation for far right groups.

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras declared: “Greece starts the EU presidency on a positive record, with a primary surplus and an imminent recovery. This is going to be a presidency of hope – hope for more Europe, and hope for a better Europe.”  Athens seems to want to do whatever it takes to show that Greece is on the path to recovery, reminiscent of what Ireland did last year when it held the presidency of the EU. Hit by the economic crisis, Ireland was in an ideal position to lead the way in driving forward policies and legislation on core priorities of jobs, stability and growth. Getting agreement on the €960 billion Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) budget for 2014-2020 was arguably the Irish Presidency’s greatest achievement. The budget is effectively an investment in key policy areas that will help boost growth and create jobs in all Member States. By December, Ireland became the first EU member to exit its bailout.

 

Few believe at this stage that Athens can make good. The latest figures show a jobless rate of 27.4%, with youth unemployment standing at 59.6%. Critics say the average Greek on the Athens omnibus does not perceive improvement and the upcoming municipal elections, which will take place at the same time of the EU parliamentary elections in May, might show the crisis is not over. Austerity policies have shrunk the labour market by 21%, throwing 40% of the workforce out of the national insurance system.

 

The state holding the presidency should not push through their own interest. Nonetheless, Greece started its six months in charge by declaring that the imposition of austerity by Berlin and Brussels could no longer be tolerated. One of the first things the new presidency will have to do is renegotiate with the Troika about itself. Greece will also have to reach an agreement with the rest of the eurozone on how to finance its debts beyond 2014, when the current aid program ends.

This will be Athens’ fifth run in the rotating presidency. Previously, they tried to advance a socially conscious agenda, albeit with moderate success. In 1988, Andreas Papandreou pushed for a European Social Charter, which only a year later became a reality under the French presidency. In 1994, Athens’ social agenda was set aside in the face of negotiations for an enlargement of the EU to the north. In 2014, in particular, Greece wants to devote attention to youth unemployment and EU subsidies to get young people into jobs. Greece plans to focus on proposals for a banking union and amending the data protection act, and the policy of particular importance to its own interests – growth.

According to figures from the Greek Finance Ministry, 98% of EU bailout funds have been directed back to Greece’s lenders, rescuing French and German banks, while only 1.6% of the money from the European Stability Mechanism’s flows into the real Greek economy. Officials are lethargic about pursuing tax evaders — including the 2,000 prominent Greeks with Swiss bank accounts on a list provided to the Athens government by IMF managing director Christine Lagarde.

In order to maintain the pretence that Greece has turned the corner and is on the road to recovery, EU and Greek officials celebrated the beginning of the EU presidency amid draconian security and a ban on public demonstrations. Nigel Farage of the Eurosceptic UKIP became a hero to Greeks when he told PM Samaras “I must congratulate you for getting the Greek presidency off to such a cracking start.” Farage said Samaras should drop his party’s name, New Democracy. “I suggest you call it No Democracy because Greece is now under foreign control. You can’t make any decisions, you have been bailed out and you have surrendered democracy, the thing your country invented in the first place.”

Although Venizelos warned of the growing appeal of neo-Nazis, there is a strong folk-memory of what German Nazis did to Greece during World War II. There is rising anti-German feeling in Greece, even though, in the year up to August 2013 Germans were the biggest spenders among visitors to Greece, with a total of 541 million euros. Angela Merkel is seen as the architect of the austerity policies that are hurting Greeks. Merkel, whose steering of the euro crisis propelled her to soaring popularity at home and a third term, has become increasingly resented in the rest of the EU. Greek newspapers regularly run articles on how much money Germany owes Greece. There is persistent resentment over hundreds of billions of euros in reparations that Greeks say Germany owes the country from World War II, money that some say should go toward helping to forgive Greece’s debt. Just before the Greek Presidency was due to begin, a gunman sprayed the German Ambassador’s residence in Athens with bullets.

Some critics question the wisdom of the rotating presidency. Greece was the recipient of the EU’s biggest bailout. Other EU states were anxious when Cyprus, a bankrupt member, whose economy represents a mere 0.2% of the eurozone, led policy-making just when Europe faced its greatest hour of need. Barely a week before taking over the presidency, Cyprus was forced to follow Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain in resorting to the EU and IMF for emergency financial assistance. Another economically weak country, Italy, takes over the presidency in July 2014. Italy is not relying on money from the bailout fund, but it too is suffering from a recession and is heavily in debt. After Italy, Latvia, the newest member to join the eurozone, takes over. In 2008, Latvia lost a full quarter of its economic output and during its recovery lost 8.5% of its population.

George Soros wrote, “What was meant to be a voluntary association of equal states has now been transformed by the euro crisis into a relationship between creditor and debtor countries that is neither voluntary nor equal. Indeed, the euro could destroy the EU altogether.”

 

 

The Price of the Eurozone

This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of Echelon.

Is the Irish economy a specimen case for the future of the euro?

Some time ago, I met a delegation from the Irish Development and Investment Authority, which was visiting Colombo. I mistakenly thought that they had come to invest in Sri Lanka. In fact, they were looking to persuade Sri Lankans to invest in Ireland. The leader of the delegation admitted that, after the Irish economy doing very well for many years, “the wheels came off the bicycle”. Would not Ireland be a dodgy proposition for Sri Lankan investors? The official Irish line was that Sri Lankan businesses could benefit from Ireland’s long experience as an influential member of the EU. Ireland could be a gateway to Europe for Sri Lankan entrepreneurs. Ireland also has, through its diaspora, strong traditional ties to US markets, which Sri Lankan businesses could exploit.

As the old year 2013 waned, there was jubilation in some quarters in Ireland that the wheels of the bicycle had been fixed. On December 15th, Ireland became the first nation in the eurozone to leave its €67.5 billion bailout package provided by the EU and the IMF back in 2010. The Taoiseach [Prime Minister] Enda Kenny publicly thanked the Irish people for their sacrifices during three years of austerity. The Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, described the people of Ireland as the “real heroes and heroines”.

Ireland had long been an enthusiastic member of the EU and had gained much from it in infrastructure improvements and farm subsidies. I was living in Ireland during the changeover (beginning in 1999 and completed in 2002) from the punt to the euro. Whatever the experts might have said, we paid more in the supermarket after the punt disappeared. Another concern was that in the eurozone, any flexibility in managing national economies would be lost. It has, indeed, proved disastrous that countries in the Eurozone cannot devalue their currencies to attract investment and boost exports. Fiscal stringency to protect the euro will make it harder for countries to stimulate their economies with government spending.

Despite the Irish “success”, the eurozone still has not resolved the issues that threaten its future as well as its present. From 2000-2007, the flow of funds from the core to the periphery was presented as evidence of the success of the euro. After the crisis, these positive “flows” of capital suddenly became negative “imbalances”. The euro project now required that the taxpayers of the peripheral countries should pay the debts of the banks. In the case of Ireland, it is ironic that a Portuguese Communist should have insisted that Ireland must bail out the banks, which had contributed mightily to causing Ireland’s crisis. Manuel Barroso, the EU president, for whom no Irish citizen ever voted, insisted this was the only way of preventing bank runs all over Europe.

The measures taken to enable exit from the bailout have slimmed down Ireland’s banking industry. Foreign banks have pulled out. There were six big native banks before the crisis. Only three are still in business. The Irish state owns most of Allied Irish Bank (AIB) and Permanent TSB, as well as a 14% stake in Bank of Ireland. Between them, AIB and Bank of Ireland provide over 86% of new mortgage lending. Bailed-out banks are under pressure with bad debts. Ten per cent of the Bank of Ireland’s owner-occupier residential mortgages are in arrears. If the banks cannot raise money on the markets, deposits may be raided – as happened in Cyprus. The inability of banks to lend to Irish businesses is making the domestic economy stagnate.

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) is sitting on a cash mountain of nearly €25bn, placed on deposit in the Central Bank of Ireland, receiving interest at a rate of a mere 0.1% per annum. Ireland needs to keep such reserves in case there is a euro implosion, (or Irish exit from the euro). If the NTMA keeps its reserves in euros or in banks of eurozone countries, there is a danger that the reserves would be ‘sequestered’ when the collapse comes.

Eurostat, the EU  data agency, has calculated the cost of the banking crisis in each EU country. To date it has cost every individual in Ireland nearly €9,000.  The average throughout the EU is €192 per capita. The Irish people have paid 42 percent of the total cost of the European banking crisis.

It does not stop there. The ECB came up with a ruse, which extended cash to the banks in return for their dodgy loans, only if the banks then bought high-yielding government bonds. Finance Minister Michael Noonan claimed that the deal “eases the burden on everybody”.  The first principal payment on these bonds is not due until 25 years from now. The children and the grandchildren of the “real heroes and heroines” will have to pay the ‘debt’.

If there are any grandchildren. Government policy is to use emigration to reduce unemployment. There are posters around Ireland encouraging young people to apply for visas to America. In Dublin’s main shopping district, emigration “shops” help people find work abroad and do the paperwork. The welfare authorities tell the unemployed to find work abroad. Only mass emigration has stopped unemployment figures from rising over 20 per cent. This is a huge drain of human capital from the country. Growth will require a suitable labour force and the skills of the unemployed may have become obsolete during their long spells of joblessness. As Mario Draghi of the ECB and others have suggested, young people may be at a particular disadvantage because of lack of experience, or the skills employers are seeking. Employers  may have to depend on cheaper migrant labour and there has long been anti-immigrant sentiment in Ireland as elsewhere.

Would Sri Lankan businesses be wise to invest in Ireland? Forbes magazine would say yes. Forbes did a survey grading 145 nations on 11 different factors: property rights, innovation, taxes, technology, corruption, freedom (personal, trade and monetary), red tape, investor protection and stock market performance. Ireland came top in this index.

However, whatever Forbes might say, the Irish economy, and the eurozone, is still in a fragile state. Ireland’s national debt may rise to as much as 140% of GDP before stabilising. Ireland is not likely to provide a huge market for Sri Lanka exports. In order to exit the bailout, and pay off the gambling debts of the banks, the government opted for swingeing cuts in wages and benefits. Further cuts are planned. In November 2013, Eurostat reported that Ireland had the largest net emigration rate of any EU country at 7.6 people emigrating per 1,000 population. The current population is around 4.5 million. Those Irish people who are still there do not have much money to spend at present or for the near future. Will the last Irishman to leave please turn out the lights?

In Ireland’s case, the woes of the euro are the cause, not the consequence of the banking problems. Latvia recently joined the Eurozone. Latvia’s growth rate in 2014 is forecast to be four times higher than of the rest of the eurozone. Latvia’s accession has shown that one of Europe’s most (apparently) dynamic economies still regards the Eurozone as a club worth joining. Time will tell whether Latvia’s progress will be sustainable within the Eurozone or whether Latvian citizens will end up paying the price like the Irish. Those of them who are left in Latvia – between 2008 and 2012, Latvia’s population fell by about 8.5 per cent.

 

The Romanians Are Coming

Britain trembles before an invasion from Eastern Europe.

In January 2014, hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians will be swarming all over the UK, clogging up the NHS and defrauding the benefit system. At least, that is what the doomsayers foretell. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but a number of countries, including Britain, imposed restrictions on the right of their nationals to work. These restrictions will expire at the end of 2013. Mainstream parties fear that the migration issue will give a boost to right-wing parties in the European parliament elections in spring 2014.

Since 2010, there has been a marked decline in non-EU net immigration. As a proportion of non-British immigration to the UK, it has dropped from 73% in June 2010 to 57% in June 2013. In the last year alone, it has fallen from 172,000 to 140,000. This year, net migration from the EU has gone up by 72,000 to 106,000. The recent increase in net EU migration has come from the older, more established (and traditionally more wealthy) EU member states, not the new member states from central and eastern Europe. It would seem that the crisis in the peripheral eurozone countries has made the UK a popular destination for migrants from countries such as Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 60 complaints expressing concerns about a high-profile van advertisement campaign. The adverts telling illegal immigrants to go home or not to come were “reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past”. Adverts displayed on billboards on vans in six London boroughs told overstaying migrants: “Go home, or you’ll be picked up and deported.”Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable has previously described the scheme as “stupid and offensive” and ­Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council in London, said it was “an act of desperation”. There was also a campaign telling Romanians how horrible Britain is. This investigation is in addition to one by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into a wave of immigration spot checks across the country.

I get a rather queasy feeling when I hear Sri Lankans who have settled in England complaining about Kosavars and Somalis swamping the country and indulging in crime. Migration is a contentious topic all over Europe now. Whenever cold winds blow through the economies of European nations, “natives” look to the incomers in their midst as scapegoats. Politicians take advantage of the fears of ordinary people in order to make political capital and to win cheap votes. Discontent about immigration often gives rise to racism and fascism. It is very difficult to have a rational debate on the subject, though some have tried.

Migration out of Britain

Romania is an increasingly attractive proposition for British people. Though some expats reported corruption and bureaucracy, that was outweighed by low cost of living-  £25 a year council tax, beer for £1 a pint, flat income tax of 16 per cent. They were warmly received by their hosts, albeit occasionally taken advantage of.

Chris Lawson is happy to live in Romania. He told me: “I may be something of a romantic, but it is broadly true that, in Transylvania, Romanians, Hungarians, Saxons, Armenians, Jews and Roma have been living peacefully with each other for centuries, a model for the rest of Europe.” Another Brit living in Romania, Paul Wood is in the recruitment business. He says:  “When I moved here in 1998 the Romanian standard of living was that of Britain in 1959 and many of the ways of thinking were late 1950’s too. Things have changed a lot since then, but by no means out of recognition. Romanians have virtues that some in Great Britain have lost. Romanian women are womanly (and very often beautiful), Romanian men are virile even if they seem quite otherwise at first sight. Romanians are family minded and esteem education. They are old-fashioned, clean-cut, self-reliant, sceptical of authority and they believe in freedom.“

UK Government Response

David Cameron proposed stopping new EU arrivals from receiving benefits for their first three months in Britain There are proposals in the new immigration bill to require EU migrants to pay for the use of the NHS. Cameron’s plans failed to placate Tory backbench critics who demanded more draconian restrictions.

Labour leader Ed Miliband jumped on the migrant-bashing bandwagon. He said that he thought the Labour government’s decision to permit the unlimited immigration of eastern European migrants had been a mistake. He claimed they had underestimated the potential number of migrants and that the scale of migration had had a negative impact on wages.

European Commissioners condemn Cameron’s measures, given that the Government has been a keen supporter of EU enlargement and British citizens take full advantage of freedom of movement. Laszlo Andor, the European Employment Commissioner, warned that the move risked showing  the UK as the  “nasty country” in the EU. Viviane Reding, the Justice Commissioner, said she did not understand the “political logic” of the moves, given that the Government has been a keen supporter of EU enlargement and British citizens take full advantage of freedom of movement, setting up homes and businesses overseas.

However, the new governing coalition formed by Angela Merkel in Germany had committed itself to “reducing incentives for migration” by amending its domestic laws on welfare. Downing Street said the development proved that Mr Cameron’s initiative was gaining wide support across the EU. President François Hollande’s government in France also called for tighter restrictions on EU migrants and Britain says its stance is also being backed by the Netherlands and Austria.

UKIP (UK Independence Party) hopes to become the largest British party in the European Parliament after next May’s elections. Nigel Farage claimed: “The whole political scene is changing because of the strength of UKIP.”

For and Against Immigration

There is a debate going on in Britain about whether mass immigration is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, there are those who argue that mass immigration has undermined the British economy and society. They argue that low-skilled immigrants have taken jobs from unskilled natives, while high-skilled immigration reduces opportunities for ambitious and talented Britons. On the other hand, some claim that there is little evidence that immigration has made more than a marginal contribution to reducing educational or labour market opportunities for less advantaged Britons.

Benefits of Migration

A study by University College London’s migration research unit, found that people from the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – were most likely to make a positive contribution to the UK’s finances. Migrants from the EEA paid about 34 per cent more in taxes than they received in benefits over the ten years from 2001 to 2011.  The study found a positive and significant association between productivity growth and the increase in the employment of migrant workers between 1997 and 2007.

The European Commission published a report by consultancy firm ICF GHK as a response to concerns from some EU member states about the application of EU law on social security to migrants. The report concluded that, in most countries, immigrants do not claim more welfare benefits than nationals.

Even the Treasury’s official watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility extols the benefits of immigration.  Britain, it said, has no choice but to welcome hundreds of thousands of new migrant workers every year in order to stabilise public finances and to help pay the growing bills for the NHS and pensions. Migrants to the UK tend (at the moment) to be young, they pay a third more in tax than they receive in benefits, and fill tough jobs.

David Goodheart

David Goodheart is Editor-at-Large of Prospect magazine. He has published a book called The British Dream. He argues that low-skilled immigrants have taken jobs from unskilled natives, while high-skilled immigration reduces both the incentives and opportunities for ambitious and talented natives. He writes of a “Saudi Arabianisation” of the labour market where millions of long-standing residents sitting at home on benefit while poorer foreigners come in and take the sort of jobs they would have been doing.

Goodheart also claims that the failure of at least some immigrants to integrate has led to the decline of a shared sense of community.

Jonathan Portes is director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office. Reviewing Goodheart’s book, he claimed there was a contradiction between Goodheart’s reasonable discussion of the evidence on economics and integration and his unsubstantiated and alarmist talk. Portes argued that there is little or no evidence that immigration has made more than a marginal contribution to reducing educational or labour market opportunities for less advantaged Britons. Unemployment of native-born youth rose less in areas that experienced a larger change in the share of immigrants.

Paul Collier

Paul Collier an Oxford economist at Centre for the Study of African Economies, has published a book called Exodus. Collier says that when studying migration, he was struck by the gulf between the strength with which opinions were held and the depth of ignorance about the subject. On the left, “distaste and disdain for opponents of immigration have become differentiating tests of identity. Beneath the vitriol is the fear that any concession to popular prejudice risks unleashing anti-immigrant violence.”

“In high-income societies, the effect of immigration on the average incomes of the indigenous population is trivial. Economies are not damaged by immigration; nor do they need it. The distributional effects can be more substantial but they depend on the composition of immigration.”

A Mongrel Race

“Foreigners” have been settling in Britain for many centuries. In fact, the British themselves are a mongrel race. The Picts and Celts were colonised by the Romans who, in 250AD, brought a contingent of black legionnaires, drawn from the African part of the empire. When the Romans left in the fifth century, Germanic tribes, Jutes, Angles and Saxons, moved in, followed 400 years later by the Vikings. In 1066, the Normans brought the French language and many rules of governance that survive today. William the Conqueror brought in Jews to help develop commerce, finance and trade.

At the end of the Second World War, there were work shortages in Europe and labour shortages in Britain. The British government needed immigrants. On 22 June 1948, the Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury, delivering hundreds of men from the West Indies, encouraged by adverts for work. This was the start of mass immigration to the UK and the arrival of different cultures.

Racial tension seems to be the price Britain has to pay for once having an empire and for having labour shortages. There were race riots as far back as the 1950s. The 1981 riots, that started in Brixton and flared up all over the country, arose because of  resentment that the police were targeting young black men in the belief that it would stop street crime. The subsequent Scarman Report found that “racial disadvantage is a fact of current British life”.

Enoch Powell

Enoch Powell, as Minister for Health, had been responsible for recruiting thousands of black nurses to the NHS. Nevertheless, in the sixties, he became the unlikely spokesman for the beleaguered white working class, even winning the endorsement of Eric Clapton. Powell had dockers marching through the streets chanting his name after he made a speech warning of “rivers of blood”. He was sacked by prime minister Edward Heath, who said: “I have told Mr Powell that I consider the speech he made in Birmingham yesterday to have been racialist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions. This is unacceptable from one of the leaders of the Conservative Party.”

David Frost interviewed Enoch Powell in 1968, soon after the  controversial speech. I watched it at the Pimlico family home of a university friend and flatmate. He was a middle-class Marxist who affected scruffy clothes and a disdain for personal hygiene. I recall that when I persistently complained about him leaving the bath in our home dirty he responded: “I thought you were supposed to be working class”.  My friend’s mother was very posh and worked with a writer connected to the BBC. The father was a liberal vicar with an independent income. Their house was very different from my parents’ council house. Despite feeling my social inferiority, I shared their middle class outrage that Frost was too soft on Powell.

Powell deployed anecdote and hearsay in a way that knowingly played to the prejudices of those of those who were more racist than he was. This austere and donnish classicist had dockers marching through the streets in his support. Because he was a contrarian and mischief-maker, it is likely that he took delight in raising issues that both parties shrouded in complicit silence. His speech raised matters of real concern. In particular, he was right to suggest that areas like Wolverhampton were experiencing acute problems in adjusting to the concentration of recent immigrants.

According to Paul Collier, Powell’s forecast of immigrant numbers was remarkably accurate but his forecast of their social consequences was “grotesquely wrong”. “All high-income societies have developed robust conventions against intergroup violence.”

Nevertheless, one can, without wanting to join a fascist party, empathise with those white working class people who feel in their gut that decisions that they were powerless to influence were made by people who were cushioned from the consequences of those decisions. Collier writes: “In these circumstances, liberal intellectuals who dismiss concerns about future migration, as distinct from the complaints about its past effects, are being cavalier at other people’s expense. It is the indigenous poor, existing immigrants and people left behind in the countries of origin who are potentially at risk, not the middle classes.”

Powell’s memory is alive today. Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister Vince Cable likened Conservative “panic” about Romanian and Bulgarian migration to Powell’s speech. “We periodically get these immigration panics in the UK. I remember going back to Enoch Powell and ‘rivers of blood’ and all that. If you go back a century it was panics over Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe,” Mr Cable told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show.

 

Conclusion

According to UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the relaxed EU work regulations due to take effect on January 1 2014 will change the very infrastructure of London and other British cities. London has already changed irreparably. Rich financiers have made it unaffordable for the working class. The real threat to British stability comes from governments giving incentives to wealthy elites to take up residence. Russians receive a quarter of the ‘investor visas’ that the UK gives to those who can pay a million pounds. The proprietor of the London Evening Standard is  Alexander Yevgenievich Lebedev, a Russian oligarch and former officer of the foreign intelligence directorate of the KGB.

It seems unlikely, that there will be a huge influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. Many believe it  improbable that those who do try Britain will stay permanently. Indications are that young people will try to make some money in the UK doing jobs for which they are over-qualified and then return to Romania using their savings to establish a family back home.

Paul Wood says: “If Britain and other Western European countries have decided that they need immigrants, and they have, they should be very grateful that the EU has a supply on hand of Romanian immigrants who share a European culture and will fit in easily. Probably no immigrants in the world assimilate as quickly as Romanians who seem not to stay together in clusters like other immigrant groups.”

In The Week, Nigel Horne interviewed some Romanians already in Britain. Andrea has a degree in accountancy from Bucharest and works as a cleaner in London. “It’s just… it is not a real life. It is only about making money so we can go home with the deposit to buy a place to live. I miss my family and friends – and the fresh air…We don’t want to come here NOT to work – we want to work and make money. If there was no job I would go home.” Romanian labour minister, Mariana Campenau, said it is the British, who exploit the welfare system, shunning jobs in favour of living on benefits. “If Romanians are happy to take up those vacancies, why should they be blamed?”

Between May 2004 and September 2009, 1.5 million workers migrated from the new EU member states to the UK. Many have returned home. Migration from Poland in particular has become temporary and circular in nature. In 2009, for the first time since the enlargement, more nationals of the eight Central and Eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004 left the UK than arrived.

Paul Wood thinks differently. “The Romanians who return to Romania after working abroad will create the Romania of the future. They are the candidates I most value as a recruiter. On the other hand, inevitably, the great majority will not return and this is a huge, irreparable loss to Romania.”

Even if large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians do descend on the UK, ordinary people will probably get along fine as they have mostly done with previous waves of immigrants. Nevertheless, there will always be those who resent immigrants. There is legitimacy to the fears of working class people having their neighbourhoods changing around them. However, it is evil and dangerous for politicians to exploit this.

Resurgence of the Right

Austerity feeds Fascism in Europe

Germany and France initially got together to lay the foundations for  the European Union project as an attempt by to prevent the two nations going to war yet again. The project was also an attempt to rebuild a continent laid waste by Nazism and nationalism. Today, fascism is gnawing away like a rat at the EU’s moral core. Most of the member countries in the EU today have some history of fascism. The economic crisis and the austerity measures implemented to counter it have exacerbated the situation.

Neo-Nazism borrows elements from German National Socialist doctrine, including militant nationalism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. Anti-Muslim sentiment is also now a component. Targeting of “the other” is common. Migrants are easy targets to blame when “natives” are unemployed.

In 2012, the European Parliament allocated €289,266 to the European Alliance of National Movements (EANM). Among the seven members of EANM are the British National Party, France’s Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik, all of which are xenophobic. Claude Moraes, a UK Labour MEP, accused the BNP of “views which are undemocratic, such as repatriation of part of the population”.

There will be European Parliamentary elections in six months’ time. These elections usually have a low turnout, which gives an opportunity for protest voters. From next May, the European Parliament could have a radically different complexion. The Dutch Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, has agreed an electoral pact with the French National Front. According to polls, National Front is the most popular party in France. In Austria, there has been a resurgence in support for parties whose views uncomfortably echo that celebrated Austrian, Adolf Hitler.

Germany

After the war, the far-right in Germany itself quickly re-grouped. The Deutsche Rechtspartei was founded in 1946. The Socialist Reich Party was founded in 1949. The German Social Union) was another 1950s Neo-Nazi organisation. The currently most successful rightist movement is the National Democratic Party (NPD), which won 9.2% in the 2004 state election in Saxony, and 1.6% of the nation-wide vote in the 2005 federal elections.

In 2011, Verfassungsschutz (Federal German intelligence) reported 25,000 right-wing extremists in Germany. In the same report, 15.905 crimes committed in 2010 were classified as far-right motivated. These crimes included 762 acts of violence in 2010. In 2011, neo-Nazis were linked to ten murders.

The NPD may be entering the mainstream. However, it has dubious friends such as Homeland-Faithful German Youth, which organises annual marches to mark the bombing of Dresden. NPD leader Udo Voigt was charged with incitement for distributing race-hate pamphlets about German footballer Patrick Owomoyela, whose mother is Nigerian. There are many smaller groups preaching anti-Semitism and calling for violence against immigrants. German neo-Nazis frequently attack refugees’ hostels.

There are many neo-Nazi enclaves in economically depressed East Germany. Dotted around the tiny village of Jamel, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, the vast majority of residents are neo-Nazis – and proud of it. There have been reports of pro-Hitler parties here during the summer where attendees chant ‘Heil’ around a bonfire.

France

France outlaws Nazi organizations, yet a significant number exist. The French government estimated that neo-Nazi groups in France had 3,500 members. In 2011 alone, 129 violent actions were recorded in France against Jews. In France in 2011, 260 threats were recorded, 15% related to neo-Nazi ideology.

An Ifop poll for the Nouvel Observateur suggested in October that Marine le Pen’s National Front (FN) will win 24 per cent of the  vote in next May’s elections for the European Parliament. Mass immigration from Eastern Europe, and from Muslim countries, has been the main target of the FN’s campaigning. Harry Roselmack, France’s first black newsreader, wrote in Le Monde on November 5 2013, “Xenophobia and racism are the essential glue that binds the FN. And it is not unhelpful to see its republican veneer crack from time to time.”
Italy

A significant minority of Italians look back fondly on the period between 1922 and 1943 when Mussolini got the trains to run on time, drained the Pontine Marshes and won a small empire for Italy. Fascism is still alive in mainstream Italian politics, thanks in part to Berlusconi merging his Forza Italia party with the Alleanza Nazionale, which has neo-fascist roots.

“Most old people remember only the total devastation fascism brought,” said Alberto Martinelli, a political science professor at the University of Milan, “But a minority, while not saying outright they loved Mussolini, will say how things were better”

The dictator also still provides a rallying point for today’s far-right sympathisers, Italian football hooligans, and the politically ambitious CasaPound, named after the celebrated American poet Ezra Pound who sided with Mussolini during the war. CasaPound won over 25,000 votes in the Lazio regional elections.

Every year, on October 28th, Mussolini’s admirers celebrate the anniversary of Fascists’ March on Rome. They march and pray, blessed by a Fascist priest, the famous Father Tam who gave a Fascist salute during a skinhead protest march held in Milan.

Hungary

The far-right Jobbik Party won 17 percent of the Hungarian Parliament in 2010.  The party scapegoats Jews and ethnic Roma. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has failed to establish a strict line between his centre-right Fidesz party and Jobbik, and he has been reluctant to condemn its policies. A Jobbik Member of Parliament called for Jews in Hungary to be put on lists, saying they are a “security risk.”

Greece

The far right political party Chrysi Avyi (Golden Dawn) received 6.92% of the votes in the elections of 17 June 2012, entering the Greek parliament with 18 representatives. A few Golden Dawn members participated in the Bosnian War and were present during the Srebrenica massacre. Court testimonies recently revealed that Golden Dawn party members have allegedly committed dozens of criminal acts, including attempted homicides and violent street raids. The magistrate’s report revealed that party members had military training, including the use of assault weaponry. The Racist Violence Recording Network, a group monitoring hate crimes in Greece, estimates there have been 300 serious assaults by far-right gangs in the country over the past two years. Nearly all of them involve multiple attackers and end with stab wounds and broken bones. A Golden Dawn supporter stabbed anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fissas to death in the heart and chest on September 17.

Conclusion

The re-articulation of nationalist discourses in Greece is disturbing. Some online comment threads are reminiscent of Colombo Telegraph. A foreigner stirs up the trolls with this contribution: “Golden Dawn sounds like something I would clean my toilet with. You blame everyone for your nation’s position but yourselves. You know why Greece is suffering. It’s not because of America, or Jews, or immigrants. It’s because you have not contributed anything to the world in 2000 years. You live off tourists walking through the rot and ruin of an ancient era that is never coming back. You are not a nation, or a people. You are a museum. What do you think you’re going to do, conquer what Hitler could not, get rid of immigrants and hope jobs appear out of nowhere? What a joke a once proud people have become.” Responses to the provocation were like this: “What a pile of horseshit. This is all LIES. … misinformation and Zionist propaganda.”

Some in Greece have called for restrictions on hate speech from the right. In Sri Lanka also, hate speech has the potential to rekindle conflict. Censorship, however, is a slippery slope.

The rise of the neo-Nazis raises many complex issues, in addition to the question of freedom of speech and association. The economic crisis has highlighted the de-legitimization of liberal democratic practices and institutions. Even before the crisis took hold, many who were sympathetic to European integration and the single market, were somewhat queasy about the tyranny of un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels. Whatever about the moral tone of the EU project, the reality was too often rule by directive rather than democracy. The crisis has led to troika technocrats dictating to elected governments.

In Greece, from the 90s onwards new nationalist, anti-European discourses highlighted the democratic deficit. If EU institutions were not to be trusted, was violence not justified?

Are we seeing a similar situation in Sri Lanka? Is there a danger that frustration with the ineffectiveness of the democratic opposition will lead to extra-parliamentary action by extremists nostalgic for a non-existent past glory?

Perhaps no far right party will ever take power again as in Germany in 1933.  Vigilance, however, is essential.

 

 

Just because you’re paranoid…

This article was posted on The Agonist on September 30 2009. It still seems relevant following David Cameron’s visit in November 2013.

 

One can detect something of a siege mentality in Sri Lanka. There is a strong feeling that, after winning a long and brutal war, the country’s independence is threatened by unfair criticism from abroad. An important element in this is in the complex relationship with INGOs (International Non-governmental Organizations).

Susantha Goonatilake called his book on foreign-funded NGOs in Sri Lanka Recolonization.

In his conclusion he wrote:”Sri Lankan NGOs emerged in the late 1970s when the then government cracked down on democracy, transparency and accountability and killed locally-grown civil society… Sri Lanka thus became a partial NGO franchise state, with the NGOs attempting to erode the country’s sovereignty …The NGOs are now being squeezed and widely criticised, not only by the media, but also through massive street protests and countrywide posters. The coming years will see an outcome of the struggle between real civil society and foreign-funded NGOs. This struggle, which is partly between a reconciliation agenda and local voices, echoes Sri Lanka’s 500-year-old struggle with western colonial powers.”

There is a common resentment among Sri Lankans about the perceived arrogance of NGOs and the foreign correspondents that rely on them for access and information.

Gomin Dayasri has written about this: ”It’s a stopover in paradise for a Foreign Correspondent to live majestically on his overseas allowance. Such comfortable digs are not in the market in the recession-stung home country. There is exotic food and groovy watering holes at affordable prices. NGOs provide the freebies and roll out the red carpet…With the LTTE gone where they will go? After a few more horror stories to demean the Security Forces and back to the west to face the shock treatment of recession. War is an investment relief to the Foreign Correspondent. The order will soon come to pack the flak jackets and return to a not so sweet home and to wait patiently for a call to another exotic destination?”

I used to wonder why the Sri Lanka government was so paranoid about NGOs and foreign criticism. It seemed a bit crass to seek international help and get all huffy about foreign interference.

During the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), to the outside world it would have seemed that the Norwegian facilitators were doing a difficult job in trying to bring peace to the war-torn island and getting very little thanks for it.

The leader of the Norwegian team was Erik Solheim, currently Norway’s International Development Minister. He recently called on the UN to investigate charges of war crimes in Sri Lanka, following the screening of a video on Channel 4 purporting to show Sri Lankan soldiers shooting unarmed Tamils. The Sri Lanka government claims that the video has been proved to be a fake.

The interrogation of Kumaran Padmanathan aka ”˜KP’, the LTTE’s arms procurer caught over two months ago, is helping to expose an international network that kept the Tigers in fighting trim. It has been revealed that the Norwegian government helped the LTTE to establish relations with Eritrea, which allowed the group to purchase arms, ammunition and equipment from China on Eritrean end-user certificates and other documents. Erik Solheim had been directly involved in forming the Eritrean-LTTE relationship. The LTTE had used Eritrean and also North Korean end-user-certificates to procure arms from China which were smuggled in several consignments before the Sri Lanka Navy destroyed eight floating arsenals September 2006 and October 2007.

Sri Lanka recently established diplomatic relations with Eritrea with a view to pursuing LTTE assets in that country. KP has revealed that an LTTE-owned business venture was entrusted with operating the International Airport in Asmara and that during the last leg of the war, it had been planned to smuggle the leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran to Eritrea.

Over 90 per cent of the entire Tigers’ heavy equipment, including a range of artillery pieces and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns captured by the Sri Lankan army were of Chinese origin.

Many Sri Lankans have long been suspicious about Norwegian influence in their country. Eyebrows were raised when Norwegian People’s Aid, a Norwegian Government-funded NGO said its heavy earth-moving vehicles, trucks & tractors had been ”stolen” by the LTTE. NPA had been implicated in smuggling arms to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. When the Sri Lanka Army captured the LTTE’s Stanley Base and other camps they found electricity generators, water pumps, tents, water dowsers belonging to INGOs. The massive bunkers could have been built with the stolen vehicles.

Norwegians were suspected of training LTTE Sea Tigers in Thailand. There was also speculation that Norway provided sophisticated satellite and communication equipment to the LTTE during the 2002 CFA truce.

CARE is a leading international organization based in Atlanta, Georgia which operates in more than 65 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. On its website it acknowledges that, although there is a great deal of poverty to be addressed in the USA itself, it prefers to work in foreign countries. It has more than 14,500 employees worldwide. More than 90 percent of CARE International staff are nationals of the countries where it operates.

According to the Kotahena Police, investigations have revealed that the bomb exploded at the Pittala Junction in Kollupitiya targeting Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was taken to Colombo from Kilinochchi in a vehicle belonging to CARE International. Police arrested Sivalingam Arunan, Patmanathan Iiyer Sriskandaraja Sharma and Arunasalam Arumugam Perumal in connection with the assassination attempt. The bomb material had been buried at a safe house in Wellawatte after being carried in a CARE International van. Later, it was transported to Modera and fixed to the three-wheeler of the suicide cadre Lateef Mohamed Faris.

Two Sri Lankan UN workers were arrested in June on suspicion of using NGO activity as a cover for aiding the LTTE. The two men in detention are a 45 year old employee of the UNHCR and a 31 year-old man employed by the UN Office for Project Services.

Recent reports indicate that five Russians were ”˜smuggled’ into the country in the guise of NGO personnel, to provide special training to personal bodyguards of Prabhakaran in the Wanni. A local bodyguard, who was arrested at a refugee camp in the Wanni, revealed that 35 bodyguards had been trained by the Russians. The training included firing, driving and dismantling a vehicle and reassembling it in a very short time. Prabakharan’s son Charles Anthony had received training from the Russians. An extensive investigation is under way to identify these Russians and the NGO that supported them. Defence officials suspect these Russians could be retired members of a Russian defence unit.

Police believe that some NGO employees in the IDP camps are Black Tigers whose mission is to assassinate VIPs visiting the camps. A report in The Island newspaper of 30 September claims that 20,000, believed to be LTTE cadres, have escaped from the IDP camps. Senior Superintendent Kasturiratne said special police teams from Kandy had been dispatched to the IDP camps in the north to conduct investigations. The SSP said that followers of the terrorist organisation were still moving around though the leadership of the movement had been destroyed. He said explosives and arms had been recovered from Pudikudiiruppu and other locations in the north and east on information provided by the LTTE suspects in custody.

Sri Lanka is waiting trepidatiously for the EU to report on GSP Plus, which, simply put, is a preferential tariff advantageous to the exports of the Sri Lanka garment industry. The EU created the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) from the early 1970s onwards, pursuant to a series of decisions made by the signatories of GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

Following a challenge from the WTO the EU had to redesign the GSP scheme. Countries lose the standard GSP scheme concessions when they are no longer classified as developing nations. The least-developed countries also lose their duty- free preferences once they become middle-income countries. They then fall into the standard GSP category and pay the 10% duty.

In order to qualify for GSP+ applicant nations had to ratify and implement 27 international conventions, account for less than one per cent of total imports into the EU, and its five main exports should account for more than 75 per cent of its total exports. If recipient countries fall short of the three GSP+ criteria, they will automatically be out of the scheme.

The EU seems to be implementing the GSP+ scheme in such a way as to spite the WTO for ruling against them. The EU is trying to disqualify Sri Lanka on the grounds that she is in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. What the WTO seemed to have had in mind were de-selection criteria in keeping with the ”˜development, financial and trade needs’ of the recipient country and stability and predictability in tariff regimes.
The EU paid local NGOs to make representations to itself to the effect that Sri Lanka was not in compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Then they paid another committee of experts to examine the documents they had paid for earlier. Nobody knows who made submissions to this three-member committee of experts appointed by the European Commission.

The irony of the situation is that Sri Lanka is trying to recover from a horrendous thirty-year civil war and the garment industry has an important role to play in rebuilding the north and east by providing employment and helping rebuild the infrastructure.

The association of companies called Sri Lanka Apparel is contributing to post-war reconstruction by establishing a new garment factory, specialising in baby clothes, in the war-affected district of Trincomalee. The factory benefited from a special incentive scheme to attract investments into the Eastern Province and has generated 1,000 jobs. The factory opened in September, 2009 and will initially export all of its output to the UK. It has the capacity to produce 100 pieces per month and in six months will increase capacity to 1.2m – 2m pieces per month.

Another Sri Lanka Apparel member company has made water and sanitation the central theme of its corporate social responsibility programme. It has been building hygienic bathing facilities for displaced people in the camps at Menik Farm in northern Sri Lanka. The project employed people living in the camps and provided them with income.

That particular company has also supported the Government’s efforts to rebuild the economy of the Eastern Province by investing 250 million rupees in a factory at Punani in the Batticaloa District, which currently employs 220 people, most of whom are from families that were displaced by the conflict.

A key feature of the Sri Lankan garment industry is that it seems to do more than pay lip-service to the concept of corporate social responsibility. Sri Lanka, as a nation, has fostered enlightened, socially-responsible legislation and has committed itself to 27 of the ILO Core Conventions. The mission of the industry is to employ ethical practices, thereby contributing to the economic development of the country while improving the quality of life of the apparel industry’s workforce and their communities.

An initiative called Garments without Guilt enabled Sri Lanka Apparel to forge a niche for itself in western markets where companies and consumers were uncomfortable after revelations about Asian sweatshops. This success has been threatened by the financial crisis and will be further threatened if GSP + is withdrawn. Was ethical marketing merely a luxury of a booming world economy which will have to be jettisoned in grimmer times? Kumar Mirchandani of Sri Lanka Apparel told me that the association will not abandon its principles. Whatever the competition might try, Sri Lanka Apparel is committed to ethical business. ”There is no excuse for unethical behaviour, no matter what the economic conditions are. This is the message Sri Lanka Apparel is sending”.

It is ironical that because of the perceptions of the EU about human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government, thousands of innocent Sri Lankan workers in an industry that achieved success because of its ethical business practices will be thrown out of work and factories in the war-torn north and east may have to close.

Much of what is called loosely ”aid” is in fact investment for a return or loans on which Sri Lanka pays interest. GSP + is not charity. Sri Lanka was one of the original 24 signatories to GATT in 1947, and what Article 1 of GATT envisaged was equal opportunity for everybody whereby member states would refrain from discriminating between one another and grant similar treatment to all countries. The stability as well as predictability of tariffs is essential for traders to make investment decisions. At the time they load their ships, they should know that the applicable tariff will not be higher when the goods reach the destination.

The EU may push Sri Lanka to the position where she has no alternative but to mount a challenge in the WTO.

Something Rotten in the EU

The EU’s democratic deficit oils the wheels of the gravy train and encourages corruption.

Hamlet spoke of “something rotten in the state of Denmark”. Today Denmark serves as a benchmark for low corruption compared to the rest of the EU. The view from Europe used to be that corruption was a problem in developing countries, while the EU set a model of the rule of law and had a mission to export good governance. A recent report indicates that this is not so, and has probably never been the case. The estimated cost of corruption cited in that report, published on 9 April 2013 by the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, amounts to nearly one-third the proposed EU budget for 2014-2020.

Tobacco Poison

Tobacco is a poisonous substance that has a corrupting effect, physically and morally. Dealing in this deadly drug has highlighted the potential for corruption in the EU. Health Commissioner John Dalli resigned in October 2012, but the ‘Dalligate’ affair rumbles on in Dalli’s native Malta.

John Dalli left his post after a report from OLAF (Office de Lutte Anti-fraude) accused him of taking bribes from the tobacco lobby. The tobacco firm Swedish Match alleged that Dalli solicited a €60 million bribe to alter the tobacco directive for which he was responsible. The company manufactures Snus, a tobacco product consumed by placing it under the lip for extended periods. The sale of snus is illegal in the EU.

MEP Jose Bové alleged that Swedish Match’s lawyer lied about a crucial meeting during which Dalli’s agent allegedly solicited the bribe. Bové said company officials told him that that a meeting described by the lawyer never took place.

Where Is the Money Going?

There were concerns that the Dalli imbroglio might undermine OLAF. A House of Lords report accused EU member states, which are responsible for administering 80 per cent of EU funds, of being unenthusiastic about assessing fraud. The report criticised OLAF’s ineffectiveness; budgetary restrictions limited the number of cases investigated; there was little coordination with other EU agencies such as Europol and Eurojust.

Enlargement Fatigue

There is a tendency to blame corruption on the newcomers to the EU gravy train. Older member states felt that Romania and Bulgaria joined in 2007 without resolving organised crime and corruption issues. The downturn eroded the principles of European solidarity, and boosted support for nationalism and immigration control. Some of the former Yugoslav republics attracted investment and began growing strongly in the credit boom before 2008, but they have been slow to emerge from the recession. There is fear that disappointment of their EU hopes could weaken the desire for reform and the region could, not merely sink into financial corruption, but explode into violence again.

Romania’s relations with the EU are at their lowest ebb.  The EC published a scathing report on judicial reform and corruption. Austerity measures designed to please the EU are causing poverty and chaos and creating room for extremism in Romania. The EC published a wounding report on Bulgaria’s efforts to tackle corruption and organised crime.

Hertie School of Governance Report

The Hertie School of Governance report questioned the assumption that EU membership had a positive impact on corruption levels. Spain, Greece and Italy show a clear regression in the corruption index, despite being long-standing EU members.

The study puts EU nations into four groups.

Group A nations display high deterrents and low opportunities. This group includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK. These countries control opportunities for corruption through transparent administration, reduced officialdom and few opportunities for discretionary spending.

 

Group B includes countries that have managed to create significant deterrents but still struggle with important challenges due to high resources available for corruption. This group includes Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary and Cyprus.

 

Group C includes Italy, Spain and Portugal, plus Slovenia and Slovakia. These are countries with relatively low resources, but also low constraints. The crisis itself has acted as a strong anticorruption agent in these countries, because of diminished resources and opportunities. They remain at risk because of insufficient normative and social constraints through civil society and media as well as legal deterrents.

 

Group D includes the five worst EU performers. Greece from the old member states and five newer members: Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. Excessive bureaucracy poorly developed civil society and lack of media freedom is common to all of them. Bulgaria scores lowest on audit capacity and judicial independence. Greece has internet access at the level of an undeveloped country, which leads to poor controls and lack of transparency.

 

Democratic Deficit

 

The Commissioner in charge of the Directorate for Economic and Financial Affairs is Olli Rehn. The Finnish electorate convincingly rejected Rehn – think of Neil Kinnock and Chris Patten in the UK. Imagine Ranil Wickremesinghe as a European Commissioner. After Rehn’s party was defeated in Finland, he went on Brussels where his effortless rise was disproportionate to his competence. His first brief was EU Enlargement; despite evidence of massive political and economic corruption, Romania and Bulgaria became EU members on his watch.

 

Turnout at European Parliamentary elections is consistently low. Why should voters bother when they know that real power lies with un-elected has-beens and faceless bureaucrats? In the light of this democratic deficit, does the EU have the systemic capacity to deal with the corruption eating away at it? The new powers of the European Commission and the Troika mark a further diminution of democratic control. The response of Brussels to the curtailment of democracy has been to propose a “commensurate increase” in the role of the European Parliament, to lend democratic legitimacy to the Commission’s expanded powers. The Parliament is constitutionally incapable of that. The EU electoral process cannot do what voters expect of parliamentary elections – i.e., determine the make-up of the ensuing government. EC president Manuel Barroso simply brushed aside MEPS’ concerns in the Dalli case.

 

Two years after the launch of the European Citizens’ Initiative, aimed at increasing direct democracy in the EU, not one of the 25 proposals has been implemented.

 

Conclusion

Although the nature and scope of corruption may differ from one EU State to another, it harms the EU as a whole by lowering investment levels, hampering the fair operation of the Internal Market and straining public finances. On the global Corruption Perception Index, Sri Lanka ranks 79th out of 176 countries. The nation badly wants foreign investment but investors will be wary of investing in a country widely regarded as corrupt. COPE could learn some lessons from the Hertie report on how to address corruption in Sri Lanka. The report recommends transparent administration and economy, reduced officialdom and limited opportunities for discretionary spending. Other essential assets required are an independent judiciary, free media (including an unfettered internet), and a healthy civil society. The capacity to audit and control is essential. The report indicates that nations with the least risk of corruption have high deterrents and low opportunities. The most at risk combine many opportunities with few deterrents. Which category will Sri Lanka choose to occupy?

 

 

James Joyce and Dublin

This article appeared in the October 2013 edition of Echelon magazine.

 

Dublin-Protests-005

What would James Joyce think of Dublin in 2013? Since Joyce left, Dublin has experienced grinding poverty, revolution, boom and bust.

Can it be reconstructed?

joyce and son

James Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, covers eighteen hours in Dublin on June 16, 1904. Joyce left Dublin in 1907 and only returned three times – once to establish Ireland’s first cinema, another time to import tweed. He boasted to a friend that if the city were to disappear from the earth, his book could be used to reconstruct it.  He designed the novel from information contained in Thom’s Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – Dublin Edition 1904. He plotted his characters’ movements using maps, a compass, a setsquare and a timepiece. He quizzed visitors from Ireland about current life in Dublin.

Joyce chose June 16, 1904, as it was the day of his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. Bloomsday is now a Dublin tourist attraction each year on June 16when people follow the peregrinations of Leopold Bloom around Dublin from and to his home at No 7 Eccles Street. Joyce gives mythic significance to the wanderings of one modest man of Hungarian Jewish origin by using the framework of Homer’s Odyssey.

nora barnacle

Joyce joked that his book would keep the professors busy for a century. How many thousands of academics prosper by analysing and explaining Joyce’s works? Many who have never read a word he wrote make a living off him. Ireland and Dublin shunned the man for decades but now he is a money-spinner. Even Tesco sells Joyce merchandise.

Joyce wrote one play, Exiles, which came after Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and before Ulysses. Richard Rowan in Exiles says: “If Ireland is to become a new Ireland she must first become European”. Europe served Ireland well but now he nation is in thrall to the EU and people are protesting in the streets against austerity. Last year, 89,000 people became exiles.

I witnessed, over many decades, grinding poverty in Ireland. I visited Dublin in the 1980s on business and it had improved since my previous visit in the 1960s, when the city had the dank and depressed air of a Dubliners story. Decent accommodation and good food was available by the 80s. Despite relative prosperity, there was a big problem with heroin addiction among the young and criminal networks were thriving. Two men on a motorcycle shot investigative journalist, Victoria Guerin, six times, when her writing exposed gangster John Gilligan and his IRA associates.

The Nighttown episode in Ulysses is set in Dublin’s red light district – The Monto. The area around Montgomery Street had been a fashionable one until the mid 19th century when the licentious soldiery took over and hordes of women flocked in to service them. At one time more than 2,000 prostitutes, among them Julia Hooligan, May Oblong and Mrs Lawless plied their trade and the Monto became the worst slum in Europe. .Joyce himself lost his virginity when he was 14 to a prostitute against a tree. When the municipality wanted to clear the area of vice it planned to cut down the trees. Senator Oliver St John Gogarty (the model for both Buck Mulligan and Blazes Boylan in Ulysses) argued that the trees were more sinned against than sinning. The church and state closed down organised prostitution in the 1920s, but during Ireland’s economic boom demand increased. By the late 1990s, brothels had returned and made their owners rich. Ruhama, an organization opposed to prostitution, reported to the government in 2006 claiming that over 200 women were trafficked into Ireland. The police launched Operation Quest in 2003, followed by Operation Hotel in 2005, with the aim of tackling the trafficking of females from Eastern Europe.

monto

In the early 90s, prosperity seemed permanent. I stayed in a hotel in Parnell Square (named after Ireland’s Lost Leader who features in Dubliners and Portrait as well as in Ulysses). The hotel was not far from Eccles Street but Bloom’s house no longer stands. By the time I went to live in Ireland in 1998, the bling years had arrived. There was once a rumour that Jack Nicholson was buying a Dublin Georgian house for six million euro. We found Ireland to be a vibrant modern European nation with a high proportion of young people. The influence of the church was waning. It was fashionable to be Irish. Dublin jackeen Paul Hewson (better known as Bono) advised presidents and popes about poverty.

However, corruption Irish-style was in evidence. This involved crony relationships between property developers, planning authorities and local and national politicians up to prime minister level. Why were developers building so many houses when the population was less than four million? Today, there are empty houses all over the country but homelessness is out of control.

Many of Dublin’s sex workers also have drug problems. There are an estimated 20,000 heroin addicts in Ireland, with 10,000 men and women on a methadone programme. Last year, a charity for drug abusers served 76,500 hot meals to homeless people in Dublin. Ireland ranks fourth highest in the EU in terms of death by suicide among young people.

Today, in downturn Dublin, Joyce is a money-making opportunity.  The leisure industry organises walking tours of the pubs in Ulysses. Most of the pubs where the characters in Dubliners and Ulysses drank are still there –O’Neill’s in Suffolk Street, The Oval in Middle Abbey Street, Mulligan’s in Poolbeg Street. The Bailey on Duke Street used to display the front door of Bloom’s home at No. 7 Eccles Street. An establishment called the Bailey Bar and Tavern still operates but Joyce would not recognise it.

Davy Byrne’s pub, also on Duke Street, is the setting for the Lestrygonians episode of Ulysses. The pub is still there and offers a Bloomsday Special of gorgonzola and Burgundy, Bloom’s snack in the book.  Bloom crossed the river to the Ormond Hotel, where the delightful Misses Kennedy and Douce were behind the bar. The Ormond is now closed and owned by 49-year-old Malaysian entrepreneur and QPR boss, Tony Fernandes, who is  GCEO of AirAsia (described as the Michael O’Leary of Asia). Dubliners are objecting to a proposal to replace the Ormond with a six-storey hotel.

The Irish state has finally accepted Joyce as a national treasure. His image appeared on the ten Punt banknote from 1993 to 1999. On April 11 2013, ten thousand ten euro commemorative coins went on sale at the Irish Central Bank for 46 euros each. The coin features Joyce’s face and a quotation. Unfortunately, the quotation is incorrect which increased the value to 160 euro.

Dublin’s tourism industry relies heavily on its built heritage. There are 9000 structures in Dublin listed for protection. There are currently seven Architectural Conservation Areas in Dublin city. The designation of Dublin as a UNESCO City of Literature was formal recognition of its international literary significance, as is the placing of Dublin on the tentative World Heritage Site list in 2010.

A recent comprehensive assessment of traffic in Dublin city centre by the National Transport Authority portrays a shambles of congestion and cluttered footpaths that would have impeded the wanderings of Bloom. The NTA recommends pedestrianised areas. The draft Dublin City Development 2011 – 2017 proposes the development of the city based on a long-term vision that Dublin by 2030 will be one of the most sustainable, dynamic and resourceful city regions in Europe.

bankers protest

BUDGET PROTESTS DUBLIN

The economic crisis may be part of the reason that Dublin now respects Joyce. There is a reaction against the crass consumerism of the Celtic Tiger years. Dubliners are trying to reclaim their city from the fraudsters. Before the boom, the cobblestoned Temple Bar quarter was a derelict maze. The 1991 commissioning of the architects’ co-operative, Group 91, to help refurbish Temple Bar contributed to the city’s previous cultural and economic renaissance. Mammon failed Dublin. Culture is what Dublin now has instead of religion. Optimists believe the city’s stagnation – coupled with its relatively small scale – is opening the door for creativity. Culture is the only thing that can save it.

Joyce can help.

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