Friday, 28 September 2007

More on Turkey

Reading the Economist's Robin Shepherd's entry today about Turkey's accession prospects, I realized I left a major point out in my previous entry. The biggest, and most practical concern about Turkey entering the union is that given it's monumental size, it would come to dominate the entire system if the EU becomes any further integrated than it is today.

Given that Turky's population is expected to reach 85 million or more by 2020, a scenario where the EU had adopted a weighting voting system and accepted Turkey as a member would mean that by that year, Turkey would have the largest voting block in all European decisions, larger even than Germany's! It would become the pre-emnent voting power in Europe, even though less than five percent of its territory is actually in Europe.

As Shepherd points out, the 27 nations in the EU would never accept this scenario. So, it follows, the only scenario in which Turkey could legitimately find itself a member of the EU is if the Eurosceptics are successful in keeping the integration of the union limited, making it more of a common trading block than a real union. This is why the Euroskeptic UK is so gung-ho about Turkey, while the core state of France and Germany are so opposed. The simple fact is, the question of Turkey is not just a question of what is Europe, or one of culture, religion, or race. It is fundamentally a question about what sort of union the EU is going to be.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Coin controversy

There’s been a lot of noise made over these new euro coins over the past couple days, with people advocating for Turkey’s entrance into the EU horrified that EU finance ministers had adopted a design for the new Euro coins that leaves Turkey off the map.

The coins are for the new members states of Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus, and feature a map of Europe that doesn’t feature Turkey. Those who support Turkey’s accession to the EU are furious, saying it reflects a bias against the potential future member state. And the English-language press has picked up the story and portrayed it as a deliberate slight against Turkey.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

UK election next month?

It’s party conference season here in the UK. If you took the word ‘conference’ out of that phrase it would sound a lot more fun. But from what I heard from my friend Francis about the Lib Dem conference down in Brighton, these things are actually a raucous good time.

Party conference season refers to the three weeks in the fall when the three main political parties in the UK each have a big event outlining their platform for the coming year. They’re a bit like the national conventions in the US, except that they happen every year rather than every four years and are not expressly for the purpose of choosing a candidate to run for the country’s leadership (although sometimes such a leadership change is made).

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

EU slaps Microsoft, big energy

It’s been interesting to watch the very different coverage on either side of the Atlantic of the EU anti-trust ruling against Microsoft. While in Europe the ruling has been largely heralded, especially on the continent, in the US the coverage has been akin to something straight out of a World War I warning of the hun menace.

Even the New York Times coverage seems to suggest that the ruling is going to do tremendous damage to competition in the IT sector. The logic seems to be that big companies are the only companies that understand how to innovate or compete, and stifling them is going to cause a slowdown of growth.

On the other hand in Europe, there were huge sighs of relief coming from Brussels Monday. Considering the European Commission’s reputation as a crusader for consumers and competition, it would have been greatly damaged if the court hadn’t upheld their orders. Monday’s ruling is the result of nearly ten years of work by the EC to deal a blow to what they see as Microsoft’s monopoly over the software industry.

Monday, 17 September 2007

ECB on Northern Rock: What Northern Rock?

It’s official. The UK has become the first country to have a bank run caused by the current market turbulence. The run on Northern Rock bank that started on Friday and is continuing today is sending the public here into a panic. British commentators are speculating that there could be another Black Wednesday around the corner, while the Bank of England is trying to reassure the public that there’s nothing to be alarmed about.

Northern Rock is Britain’s fifth largest mortgage lender and is a massive bank here. So when news broke on Friday that the bank is going broke because of the worldwide credit crisis and the Bank of England has bailed it out with a limitless line of credit, the bank’s customers ran to the branches and started queuing to get their money out in cash. It was really insane, I walked by a branch on Friday and it was complete pandemonium, like that bank run scene in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Kosovo showdown looming

The deadline for answering the Kosovo question is looming. Some sort of government needs to be put in place by 10 December, when the UN mandate ends. I’m particularly interested in these developments because I send my rent cheque to Kosovo every month as that’s where my landlord is (weird story). If Kosovo becomes independent, he and his family will probably move back here (since he is Serbian) and I’ll be out of a home!

Essentially the problem is this: a majority of the people living in the Serbian province of Kosovo are ethnic Albanians (Albania being the neighbouring country to the west). As with other areas in the larger Yugoslav civil war, a big part of the conflict was tension between the Muslim Albanians and the Christian Serbs. During the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990’s, Albanians in Kosovo conducted a peaceful secessionist movement. In 1995, after the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian War but did not address Kosovo, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed in 1996 with the goal of attaining an independent Kosovo. They employed guerilla-style tactics against Serbian police forces, paramilitaries and regular civilians. The situation devolved into complete chaos and Serbs began massacring Albanians, triggering a US-led 78-day NATO campaign in 1999. An estimated 10,000 ethnic Albanians and 3,000 Serbs were killed during the fighting, a majority of them civilians and many through a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Dismantle Belgium?


There was an interesting piece in The Economist last week about Belgium and whether or not its existence really makes sense in the 21st century. Ostensibly it was just about the current conditions in this one tiny country, but in effect it cuts to the heart of the future of Europe as a whole.


The magazine asks the question, given that we’re now in month three of Belgium having no new government because the two parties can't agree, is it time to revaluate the Belgian state? After all if the parties, made up along ethnic/linguistic lines of French-speaking Walloons in the south and Dutch-speaking Flemings in the north still have so much tension after nearly 200 years, perhaps the time may be coming to rethink Belgium’s status.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Helsinki

One of the most striking things about Helsinki is the dominance of its skyline by two very different churches. Approaching the city from the sea, you see the blazing white Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral to the west, and the glowing red Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral to the east. Inside the two cathedrals, the differences couldn’t more striking. The Russian Orthodox cathedral is littered with golden Byzantine iconography, while the Lutheran church is a sparse, monotone mass of white walls.

Given their geographic locations, its not hard to see the two as symbols of a country torn in two different directions, between the Lutheran Swedes to the west and the Orthodox Russians to the east. Finland spent 300 years under Swedish rule, followed by a century under Russian rule after Russia wrested the territory from the Kingdom of Sweden in 1809. It was only in 1917 following World War I that Finland declared its independence and became an independent country for the first time in its history.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Stockholm

I'm here in Stockholm, just got back from my first day of interviews for the story I'm working on. Luckily all the appointments were relatively close to one another (it's a very centralized city, nice change of pace from London!) so it was relatively painless. Although they all started to get rather repetitive and by my last interview of the day I was definitly ready to be done.

So I'm back in my hotel room to write a quick blog before I meet my friend for dinner. My hotel is laughably horrible. I was trying to prove a point, or something, by booking the cheapest hotel I could find.