Tagged: Europe

President Trump in Europe

As I have previously mentioned, I hold no brief for any American president, and have not liked a single one I have seen during my lifetime. Kennedy was an unfaithful womaniser, and a liar. Johnson was also a liar, and Nixon topped them both by taking blatant lying to a new level. Ford was unimpressive, Reagan seemed mad, (and lied) both of the Bush family are best forgotten, and Bill Clinton was a womaniser and a liar. (That again) Obama knew how to play the game, but kept few promises, and didn’t achieve much for people of colour, the poor, or women, all of which was expected from him.

So, that covers my life from the age of 9, until the year 2016. But one thing about all those former presidents is worth mentioning. They all knew how to behave in public. They understood the ‘game’, and how to play it on the international stage. Some may have been caught out with their sexual indiscretions, or behind the scenes deals and interference in other countries. But they spoke well, and (most of the time) appeared to be dignified, and statesman-like. They represented their country as we had come to expect them to, with concern for their allies, and suitable expression of the power behind their office, at least on the surface.

The along comes Donald Trump. He throws away the rule book. He has no class or style, treating his job as if he is the CEO of The World. He is a womaniser, and he lies, so no change there, but he doesn’t really hide either fact, preferring to boast about his conquests and bad behaviour like men drinking in a bar. He doesn’t know how to speak in public, let alone how to behave. By appealing to the lowest common denominator, he attracts a lot of support in his own country, whilst alienating almost every other country on Earth. Using his daughter as The First Lady is just too creepy for words. She always looks under control, never happy to be doing what she is doing. He goes to NATO and talks to other leaders as if they work for him, and are not being productive enough. Then he comes to Britain and upsets just about everyone you can think of, even those who want to be his friend.

In 2016, I thought he might learn. He was inexperienced as a politician, but obviously no fool, nor the buffoon he was painted in the press. He made clever use of social media, and could have used his business skills to learn from those around him, perhaps really making ‘America Great Again’. But he got rid of everyone who knew what they were doing, and replaced them with a succession of yes men and women who follow his lead. I have rarely seen such displays of arrogance from the leader of a powerful western nation, at least not since newsreels of Mussolini, or the overwhelming self-confidence and condescension displayed by Margaret Thatcher, when she was Prime Minister in the UK. He lives in a world he reinvents day by day, in his own head.

A note to America. You really should try to stop him leaving your country on these visits.

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New Year, new politics

This is usually a quiet time on the world political scene. The lull between Christmas and New Year also seems to operate in international affairs. But look closely, and there is a lot going on.

Street protests and rioting in Iran. Not something we have seen much of since the days of the Ayatollahs, but strangely coincidental to recent murmurings regarding North Korea, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. One minute the US is condemning Iran for aiding North Korea, and the anti-Saudi forces in Yemen, the next they have a ‘popular uprising’ on the streets. Come on, pull the other one. Rarely have I seen such a blatantly obvious CIA/Mossad inspired operation. If they can’t get them by going through the front door, they go round the back. Treating Iran as if it is some kind of hopeless principality in the middle of nowhere is sure to backfire on those involved. That country has a population of more than 80 million, and a well-equipped military too. And it is 640,000 square miles in size, so not Grenada.

North Korea is having talks with the South Korean government for the first time in a long while. Mr Trump has claimed the credit for this happening. That’s worth a belly laugh. Anyone with the tiniest understanding of those countries will be aware that each side views the other as neighbours and relatives, and not as enemies. They have always wanted to talk, but outside pressures have constantly interfered.

If you believe the news, Europe is all about the Brexit issue, and the UK leaving. But behind the headlines, parts of Europe are very worried about elections of anti-EU politicians in their countries. The Czech Republic has elections this year, and in Italy, some right-wing parties are forecast to do very well too. The Hungarian leader, Viktor Orban, is set to gain a second term in 2018, and that country also has its share of far-right, anti EU politicians. Even in peaceful Sweden, the right-wing Sweden Democrats look set to increase their influence in the coming year.The Polish government has been defying EU laws, and will no doubt continue to clash with them throughout 2018. The real truth is that the EU is on the verge of collapse, at least in its current form, as the stranglehold of France and Germany is resisted by more and more of the member nations. They have a lot more than Brexit to worry about, that’s for sure.

And let’s not forget Russia. Most of it may not be in Europe, but its influence is widespread, and Vladimir Putin looks like he will get another overwhelming majority in the elections this March.

So when the news reports ‘not much happening’, you can be sure that there is.

Decision day tomorrow

The debate about the EU referendum here has hotted up considerably over the last week. Last night, I watched a debate on BBC News 24, attended by over six thousand people. Each side had three speakers to plead their case, and to answer questions from the audience. In amongst all the mud-slinging, the counter allegations and accusations, real facts were few and far between. But there can be no real facts, simply because nobody really knows what will happen if this country votes to leave the EU. They can only presume, surmise, or scare-monger. The speakers wanting us to leave also quoted huge sums of money that would be saved, and how borders will be secured, as well as jobs suddenly becoming available for the millions of unemployed here. But they are also making presumptions that cannot be backed up with facts.

The young people were unduly preoccupied with freedom of travel, and the right to work abroad. But of those speaking, I doubt any genuinely had a deep desire to start their careers in France, Germany, or Greece. I cannot realistically see some young people from Lancashire going to work on the land in Slovenia, or a group of friends from London heading over to the Czech Republic, to work on a building site in Prague. Would a graduate from one of our red-brick universities want to travel to Lithuania to work in a Starbuck’s in Vilnius? I think not. Freedom to work and travel is not about enjoying a gap year in Tuscany, or picking grapes in the Loire Valley before starting at college. No more than it is about a stag weekend in Bucharest, or a hen party trip to Dublin.

The Europeans who come here to work mostly do the least popular jobs, for the lowest pay. Even though they might be well-educated in their own country, speak a foreign language well, and have an academic background, you will find them washing old people in care homes, picking crops for a pittance, or waiting at tables in a themed restaurant. They do it because they have to, not necessarily because they want to. How many young British people can be found in the other twenty-seven countries, doing menial jobs? I don’t have the answer, but will make an educated guess that it is close to zero. They might work in Banking or Insurance in Zurich, or Geneva. They could be posted to one of their company’s foreign branches on a training programme, or to be a trainer themselves. But they are unlikely to be serving the coffee during the morning break, I assure you.

There are some young Britons who go to places like Ibiza, or the Greek islands. They work in bars, in discos, sell ice creams, tickets, time-shares, and hire out everything from scooters to pedalos. But they are not economic migrants. They are sun-seekers, paying for long holidays with whatever jobs they can find. The truth is that British people, young or old, have rarely sought work in foreign countries since the end of the days of Empire, adventure, and fortunes to be made. They do not usually bother to learn a foreign language either, trusting that someone nearby will speak English. The smattering of German or French that they are taught at school is almost never developed past ordering a meal, or buying a train ticket. Freedom to work and travel? I really don’t know what they are on about.

There was a lot of talk about racism being the only motivation for those wanting to vote ‘Leave.’ This is an easy stone to throw, given that the Far Right groups obviously want us to quit the EU. But if 45% of the British public are currently in favour of leaving, does that mean they are all racists? Of course not. Many of the pro-leave speakers were black or Asian, so that scuppered that argument too.

The issue of the referendum has divided this country like nothing else I can recall in my sixty-four years. That has to be a good thing, whatever the outcome. Apathy no longer rules. Most people have an opinion, and a fiercely-held and argued one at that. Whether we vote to leave the EU tomorrow, which I still think is highly unlikely, or stay in for what is likely to be forever, we have all won. Because we argued, we debated, we got off of our bums and voted, and something finally meant enough for us to do it.

At last.

The Paris attacks, and the refugees

I have spent a long time over the last few days, watching the rolling news coverage of the tragic events in Paris. As more details emerge about the victims, and those responsible, the news media here has latched on to one thing in particular.

One of the attackers had only recently arrived in France. He travelled through Greece and Serbia during October as part of the large number of people fleeing from the war in Syria, seeking refuge in Europe. News reporters and respected political commentators are now seizing on this, and asking the obvious question. How many others are claiming to be refugees, when their intentions are to carry out attacks in Europe?

The British Home Secretary was asked this very question on the BBC this morning. She was quick to calm any fears about those arriving in the UK, as she was sure that they had been vetted sufficiently by the UNHCR. That is hardly the point though. It was always a possibility that some militants would arrive under the cover of being refugees, and this is virtually impossible to stop. Once in Europe, they could team up with those born here, or already living here, and carry out their plans. For that matter, they could arrive posing as affluent tourists or businessmen, on scheduled airlines, or by train. Anyone determined and fanatical enough to want to do these things is always going to find a way to get into Europe.

The damage they have done to their victims is now a matter of record, and will forever be reviled. But what of the damage done to the innocent refugees, people mostly of the same religion, seeking shelter in a far-off European capital? They will now have to live under suspicion, suffering the backlash from nationals of those countries who will no longer trust them, and may even attack them in some idea of revenge. Right-wing parties and political extremists will enjoy renewed support; and the closing of borders, as well as the removal of previous travel agreements and concessions does not bode well for those refugees still hoping to find peace, and a new life.

Euro Boredom

Here in the UK, we are soon to have the chance to elect our members of the European Parliament. This is one of the elections that gets the least attention from the Great British Public, and the only one where proportional representation is used to determine the winners nationally. Like many voters, I am not a fan of proportional representation. We don’t really understand it, and we don’t like the idea that our vote might be transferred to someone completely different, in a second round ballot. There is a lot of coverage of the forthcoming elections on TV news, both nationally, and locally. If you didn’t know better, you could be forgiven for thinking that the average person is remotely interested.

The constituencies for members of the European Parliament from the UK are very large. It is impossible to see how the elected person could possibly hope to represent the diverse interests of the electorate from such a wide area. The costs of paying salaries and providing expenses for these members is well-known to be ridiculously high, and the fact that many of them just sign in and then go home again, is also well-reported. It is little short of a scandal that it exists at all, and the constant increases in running this European farce are unjustified, and unnecessary. We should all be very angry about it. We should be behind barricades, burning tyres in protest, We are not though, because we are just bored with it all. We cannot get out of it, and nobody in a position of power seems to genuinely want to escape the clutches of the Euro-monster that has us in a death-lock. If you are told enough times that there is nothing that you can do about it, then boredom sets in, along with its usual bedfellow, apathy.

The various parties are parading their platforms on TV news. Labour want to stay in, at all costs. Lib-Dem want to stay in at all costs. The Conservatives want to stay in at all costs, but add that they will promise a referendum on continued membership. But not until 2017, and only if they are the sole party in power. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) have gained ground, with an anti-European stance, and a pledge to keep the pound, and to oppose further immigration. Pundits predict that they will do well in these elections. So will this fervently anti-European party get us out of the EU? They can’t. It takes the government in power to do this, not the members of the European Parliament. Will they refuse to take their seats in protest, decline the salaries and expenses, to protest and to highlight the problem? Not a bit of it. They will take the wads of cash, turn up in Europe, and moan about being there. They can rest easy, knowing that they are unlikely to ever be in power in the UK, leaving them with the luxury of blaming the traditional parties for keeping us in. Hypocrites all. More members for the club of greed, opportunism, and hypocrisy that is the European Union.

Those other smaller parties, what of them? The Extreme Left is virtually non-existent now. The Greens want to stay in Europe, and the Extreme Right want out of it, but will never be in a powerful enough position to make that wish come true. So, after the election, we will see a list of those elected, with parties claiming victory, or conceding defeat. We will forget the name of our MEP as soon as we hear it, and the whole circus will continue, with this under-elected crowd getting rich from the system. Nothing will change, except for a few faces, and the sound of some speeches.

Is it any wonder we’re bored?