29 February 2004


Paul Anderson, Chartist, March-April 2004

The most important thing to remember about the impending enlargement of the European Union is just how unimaginable it would have been only a short time ago.

Anyone who had suggested just 15 years ago – in early 1989 – that the European Community would today be about to take into membership a majority of the states of east-central Europe would have been a political laughing stock. The division of the Europe into two hostile blocs and Soviet domination of the east were givens, taken by just about everyone as unpleasant facts of political life that were likely to last a very long time if not forever.

Yet here we are in 2004, and the European club is about to welcome 10 new members, among them four states that were Soviet satellites in 1989 (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and three that were actually part of the Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).

Of course, they will be second-class members when they join on 1 May. For some time, their citizens’ freedom to work wherever they want in the European Union will be restricted, and their farmers will be denied the level of subsidy enjoyed by their counterparts in existing EU member states under the Common Agricultural Policy. None of the new member states will be part of the eurozone, either.

But none of this should be allowed to obscure the momentous importance of this enlargement of the EU. It marks the definitive end of the cold-war division of the continent and the near-achievement of the pioneering 1930s European federalists’ dream of a united democratic Europe.

Of the countries everyone agrees to be European, only Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, the states of former Yugoslavia – apart from Slovenia – and Switzerland are now outside the EU. And that is no mean achievement (although of course there is a strong case for arguing that any definition of “European” that excludes the Russians, Byelorussians, Ukrainians, Georgians and Turks is far too narrow). Even in the late 1990s, when the enlargement proposed was less far-reaching than the one that is now happening, plenty of informed people thought it impossible before 2010.

Which is not to say that the entry of the 10 new members will be unproblematic. In particular, every government in the pre-enlargement EU is worried, to a greater or lesser extent, about the possibility of a giant influx of workers from the accession countries, chasing better wages and better welfare provision. Even the British government, which expects few accession-country immigrants and would anyway welcome them because the labour market is tight, has changed benefit rules to exclude migrants from the accession countries. Nearly all the others, with Germany and Austria in the vanguard, have imposed strict quotas on immigration from the EU’s new members.

Immigration is the issue likely to have the biggest impact in the short term on the politics of the EU. To put it bluntly, if the controls over and disincentives to immigration don’t work – or, rather, are seen as not working by voters in the existing member states, there is a possibility of a swell of anti-immigrant sentiment that is successfully exploited by the right in the west.

This is, however, no more than a possibility. For a start, it is by no means certain that very many people from the accession countries will leave their homelands. Up-rooting everything to work abroad is not something people generally do unless they are either unusually adventurous or suffering from extreme poverty or persecution – and extreme poverty and persecution are not the lot of most citizens of the accession states, with the partial exception of the Roma of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The last time the European Community embraced a batch of much poorer countries – Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1980s – there was no mad rush of migration, and there is no reason to expect this time to be different.

What’s more, it is doubtful that migration from the accession countries will in itself lead to a swell of anti-immigrant feeling even if large numbers move west. There are already many people from the accession countries living in the pre-enlargement EU – and although it would be idiotic to claim that they are never victims of discrimination or prejudice, with the exception of the Roma they are pretty much invisible. They are white and indistinguishable from the majority population by way of religion, dress or social habits – and thus rather difficult to turn into scapegoats for the troubles of the majority. “Vote Labour if you want a Latvian for a neighbour” just won’t wash.

The problem with this scenario is the exception to the rule of invisibility, the Roma – in Britain at any rate. Already, the right-wing press here is running scare stories about the imminent arrival of a flood of gypsies, many of them former failed asylum-seekers. So far, only the British National Party has shown any interest in exploiting the scare for electoral gain, but if it turns out to have any basis in reality it is by no means unlikely – despite Michael Howard’s apparent rejection of anti-immigrant rhetoric -- that the Tories will jump on the bandwagon, pushing a cocktail of anti-European, anti-immigrant xenophobia as their core political message at the next general election. We shall see.

But EU enlargement is important politically not only because of the impact of migration on the domestic politics of current member countries. It will also have ramifications for the EU’s political balance, for the economies of the whole union and for the way the EU’s institutions work.

The effects of enlargement on the political balance of the EU will be less marked than they would have been had it happened in the late 1990s, when social democratic parties were in power in the four biggest EU countries, Germany, France, Britain and Italy – not that they acted in concert, to their shame – and most of east-central Europe was governed by the centre-right. The ascendancy of the centre-left in western Europe was fleeting, and today the existing EU is roughly split between centre-left and centre-right governments. In east-central Europe, there was a shift towards the centre-left in 2001-02, though hardly one of seismic proportions, and today the accession countries’ governments are roughly split between centre-right and centre-left, much as current EU governments are.

But there are significant differences between east and west in the new EU, particularly on foreign policy, with the accession countries generally far more favourable to the United States. The governments of “new Europe”, as Donald Rumsfeld called it, were much closer to Tony Blair in their response to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq than those of “old Europe”.

How far this will make any difference in the next couple of years is hard to tell, because no one knows what (if anything) the US will do now in its “war on terror”. As ever, what will matter most in European Union politics are general elections in the member states. With nearly many governments east and west looking vulnerable to election defeat, no one can predict with confidence what the situation will be in a couple of years’ time. This year’s European Parliament elections will be an indication of the state of play, but with turnouts everywhere expected to be low even they will need to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The economic effects of enlargement are even more difficult to judge. It should be an engine of growth throughout Europe as everyone benefits from the opening of markets – but it might simply benefit the accession countries, exacerbating the globalisation-led flight of employment from the high-wage countries of western Europe while the poorest parts of western Europe suffer from the diversion of EU cash to the accession countries. Whatever, it is likely to have rather less influence on Europe’s economic performance than exchange rates (particularly if the US maintains its weak dollar policy) and the onward march of globalisation.

As for the workings of the EU’s institutions, enlargement will certainly mean a far greater emphasis in the short term on intergovernmental wheeling and dealing – and this in a set-up that is already dominated by intergovernmental carve-ups – for the simple reason that there is no alternative. In the medium to long term, however, everything is up for grabs. The proposed EU constitution is essentially intergovernmentalist, with a few sops to federalism. But there is little sense anywhere that it is a final settlement of the union’s institutional arrangements. No one knows whether its provisions will come into being, let alone that they will prove lasting if they do.

It’s true that it does currently seem unlikely that a polity as big and diverse as the enlarged EU could successfully evolve towards federalism. On the other hand, however, there are powerful pressures in the other direction: the euro, which demands a coherent centrally controlled fiscal policy; the likelihood that the smaller countries of the new EU will tire of being dominated by the big ones; and the EU’s much-discussed lack of democratic legitimacy, which can only be addressed by giving the European Parliament a much greater role, including the power to initiate legislation.

In other words, it’s business as usual on the European scene. There is no way the left can guarantee a social democratic Europe after enlargement. But there is also no reason to give up on that goal, which is no less credible than it ever has been.

17 February 2004


I know this is a bit ancient as a controversy, but Michael Lind (click here) has pretty much admitted that he got it wrong — in the Nation (click here) — about where neo-cons come from . . .


I heard a while ago that the Guardian had put a crack investigative team on to the story in the French press a few weeks back of the list of beneficiaries (among them George Galloway) of cash syphoned off from the UN oil-for-food programme for Iraq. The result, published today, is impressively strong given the British libel laws (click here). Galloway says he had no knowledge of the origin of the cash. It is unclear whether this story will have any effect on Galloway's action against the Telegraph. In an unrelated development, Guardian columnist George Monbiot has dropped out of Galloway's Respect Unity Coalition on the grounds that he doesn't want Britain's two Green MEPs to be beaten (click here).


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, February 20 2004

By far the most entertaining read of the year — OK, I know it’s only February — is Francis Wheen’s broadside against contemporary bullshit, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. I read it in one sitting last weekend and laughed a great deal.

Wheen, once of the New Statesman and the Guardian and still of Private Eye, has spent the best part of 25 years as a journalist amassing material on mountebanks of all kinds, and he puts it to devastating use. Religious fundamentalists, free-market economists, management gurus, New Labour strategists, deconstructionist intellectuals, internet visionaries — you name them, they all get richly deserved trashings.

Wheen is of the left: his previous books include sympathetic biographies of Tom Driberg, the Labour left-winger, and Karl Marx. But some of the best bits of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World are his debunkings of left charlatanry — in particular the willful failure of such “anti-imperialist” leftists as John Pilger and Noam Chomsky to recognise that everything the United States does is not by definition evil and that everyone who hates the United States is not by definition good.

Wheen is especially telling on two cases in the recent past when the “anti-imperialist” left lost the plot completely — its shameful opposition to western military intervention to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and its conclusion after 9/11 that America had it coming because of its policies in the Middle East. “While expressing obligatory if perfunctory regret at Osama bin Laden’s methods,” writes Wheen of the latter, “many self-styled ‘progressives’ seemed to find his motives wholly explicable, and even reasonable.”

What’s particularly worrying about this current of leftist delusion is that it is so persistent. As Wheen points out, the belief that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” led large parts of the western left to view the Soviet Union as an ally and to suppress any criticism of it long after it became obvious to anyone open to reason that it was a brutal police state that had nothing in common with democratic socialism: even in the 1980s, you could find Labour MPs, senior trade unionists and left intellectuals who were as pro-Soviet as any 1930s communist.

More importantly for us today, over the past few months the “my enemy’s enemy” crew have found new friends in what they call the “resistance” in Iraq. No matter that the people attacking US forces and police stations and terrorising ordinary Iraqi citizens are either enthusiasts for the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein or reactionary Islamists — they’re against the Yankee imperialists and so deserve our support.

As Pilger put it in an interview with an Australian magazine a few weeks back (click here for full interview): “We cannot afford to be choosy. While we abhor and condemn the continuing loss of innocent life in Iraq, we have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the ‘Bush gang’ will attack another country. If they succeed, a grievous blow will be suffered by the Bush gang.”

I used to have great respect for Pilger, who was a columnist on the New Statesman when I was deputy editor, and I still admire his early work on Cambodia and East Timor. But this line of “thinking” is beneath contempt. Pilger is right that victory for the Iraqi “resistance” would be a blow to the Bush administration. But it would also, more importantly, inevitably mean the imposition of yet another dictatorship, whether secular or theocratic, on the long-suffering Iraqi people — who have every right to be “choosy” — and an end to any hope of a free, decent, prosperous, democratic Iraq.

Sorry, but condemning the Iraqis to barbarism in order to cock a snook at US imperialism is in no sense “progressive”. Iraq needs peace and a sustainable civil society; and to get them the “resistance” must be defeated. The real danger is that the US will pull out of Iraq too soon, abandoning it to a bloody civil war.

I am not arguing that Bush was right to invade Iraq or that the Blair government was right to join in. The war was a massive gamble, and although one part of it came off spectacularly — Saddam was easily toppled and eventually captured — the US and Britain had not thought through what happened next. That was, to say the least, extraordinarily irresponsible.

But there is no way anyone can turn the clock back and stop the war: it happened, and everyone now has to live with the consequences. Having sold the war as necessary to prevent Saddam using weapons of mass destruction that have not yet materialised, Tony Blair has his own cynical reasons for wanting everyone to “move on” from the long-running argument about whether and how the war was justified. But he also happens to be right. The urgent question now is how Iraq can best be helped to emerge from the mess created by the war. And crude “anti-imperialism” is not the answer.

3 February 2004


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, February 6 2004

The media furore that has followed the publication of Lord Hutton’s report on the death of Dr David Kelly is of course understandable.

Hutton’s verdict was at odds with what most of the media expected and, more importantly, at odds with what most of them wanted. His damning criticism of the BBC’s handling of Andrew Gilligan’s notorious Today programme broadcast led not only to the resignation of Gilligan but to the departure of Gavyn Davies, the chairman of the BBC’s board of governors, and Greg Dyke, the corporation’s director-general. The government, by contrast, got off scot-free.

But to say that the uproar is understandable is not to justify it. Given Hutton’s narrow brief, and given what emerged in the course of his inquiry, it was never likely that he would come to any conclusion other than the one he came to. The real question the hoo-hah raises is why on earth the media expected anything different — and the answer has precious little to do with their failure to recognise Hutton's undoubtedly pro-establishment record over the years.

Lest we forget, Hutton was not charged with investigating the reasons Britain went to war with Iraq: his task was to look into the circumstances of Dr Kelly’s death. Quite reasonably, he limited himself to examining the chain of events, beginning with the production of the government dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, that ended with Dr Kelly’s suicide, focusing in particular on his interview with Gilligan, Gilligan’s subsequent broadcast, and the complex process by which Dr Kelly was identified as Gilligan’s source. He did not even attempt to consider whether the intelligence reports on which the dossier was based were accurate.

During the course of the inquiry, it became clear that Gilligan’s journalism was appallingly shoddy. He had based his story on a single source — which was almost incredibly unprofessional given the seriousness of the allegation that even though the government knew that Saddam Hussein had no WMD capable of deployment in 45 minutes, it nevertheless inserted the claim into the dossier. He had no credible contemporaneous record of his interview with Dr Kelly that showed he had at least reported an allegation in good faith. And he had behaved in an extraordinarily devious way once his story came under fire, attempting to pull the wool over his editors’ eyes about the nature of his source and trying to get Dr Kelly’s identity revealed by underhand means. Gilligan would have deserved criticism from Hutton even if had not emerged that the 45 minute claim had been inserted in the dossier late simply because it arrived late.

It also became clear during the inquiry that the BBC’s initial response to the government’s protests at Gilligan’s broadcast, defending him stoutly without bothering to check the provenance or veracity of his story, had been sloppy in the extreme. Again, the real surprise of last week is that anyone expected the corporation not to be deservedly hammered by the Hutton report.

As for the government, it should have become obvious at an early stage that it was on track to be cleared on the charge that it inserted claims it knew were false in the dossier. The mass of official documents made public by the inquiry certainly showed that the government “sexed-up” intelligence material to produce the dossier, at least in the sense of putting the strongest possible interpretation on it. That was revealing, and deeply unattractive. But there was nothing at all to show that the government had knowingly lied.

Nor should this have come as a surprise. Governments in societies with free media are often evasive, duplicitous and economical with the truth. But they don’t usually tell outright lies they know are outright lies — if only for the cynical reason that the costs of being found out are so great. Only the most desperate and reckless government would have attempted knowingly to falsify the WMD dossier.

None of this is to argue that the government’s handling of the WMD issue in the run-up to the war on Iraq was beyond criticism. There is a strong case for believing that the government seized on WMD as a means of justifying its support for an invasion the US had already decided upon for other reasons, and it has become increasingly apparent that there were major flaws in the intelligence on Iraqi WMD on which it relied.

Still less is it to argue that the BBC should somehow be reined in or prevented from doing investigative journalism. The government’s veiled threats to take the Hutton report into consideration when renewal of the coporation’s charter comes up were sinister and shameful.

My point is that too many journalists approached Hutton with the lazy assumption that it’s OK for a journalist to get a story “95 per cent right” (as former Today editor Rod Liddle put it) and with the prejudice that it can be taken as read that the government is lying to us nearly all of the time. Hutton’s report is a salutary reminder that in journalism the facts matter more than anything else.