More Europe? yes, but not this one.

Four recent quotes:

Angela Merkel:  “We need  more Europe, a budget union, and we need a political union first and  foremost, we must, step by step, cede responsibilities to  Europe.”

David Cameron:  “If you think you can just establish a European Parliament and a  flag and everyone will be loyal to it, that’s nonsense.”

Esko Aho (former Finnish Prime Minister) :  “Europe is top of the world in designing strategies but is slow in acting

Michael Rake (Chair, BT)  “ There has been too much intellectual discussion … We’ve spent too much time focusing on the Lisbon Treaty rather than the Lisbon Agenda. Europe is facing huge competition from the South and the East in a globalized economy. It is very difficult for politicians to deal with this. It takes huge courage to say the truth clearly and to follow-up on it. It will require huge levels of leadership to bring us together now.”

All four are spot on.  The crisis of the eurocrisis is slowly making leaders realise that we now live in a different world to that when the EU was first started in a small way in 1956.  The processes, the mental attitude of the Euro-elites, are out of date.  Forming an ever closer union by small steps so no-one would notice is no longer valid. “Unity in diversity” is valid only if the emphasis is on “unity”. Those who prioritize “diversity” are those who are  now holding back the European dream in todays’ world.   The most recent example being the squabbles over the European Patent Office.  It brings considerable economic benefit to European companies in the global market place. Delayed and stalled because of languages and location squabbles.

If you want to prioritize diversity then you need to accept a much looser, more fragmented Europe.  That’s what Cameron would want; it’s not what the Europhiles have professed they want.  Now is the time , as Merkel says, to move authority to Brussels and away from national decisions.

But there is a catch and Cameron identifies it perfectly. Well two catches.  The EU institutions in Brussels are not fit for this new purpose. They were designed for a different world and a different purpose (even as recently as the Lisbon treaty).   They are not right in structural terms (and certainly not in efficiency terms) and neither in terms of the internal culture.  A stronger centre cannot work with intra-institutional bickering.

The second reason is demonstrated daily in the streets of Spain and Greece and other member states.  The “democratic deficit” long agonised over but rarely tackled in a serious manner (Mark Leonard points out the German problem) becomes a democratic nightmare if powers are transferred a la Merkel to the existing Brussels structure.   It is noticeable how little the weak European Parliament has been involved in the crisis of the eurocrisis.  The “secret” cabal of wise men (Juncker, van Rompuy, Draghi and Barroso)  asked to come up with a vision excludes the Parliament.

The EU has been built-in the crab-like culture of hidden alleyways.  In many ways it has been successful (again Cameron points out the real impact of low-cost air travel and cheaper roaming charges: pragmatic not intellectual).

A new European Union is called for: a strong Parliament for democratic control: a single President presiding, subject to Parliament over a European civil service (a reformed Commission)  who are accountable to the Parliament in far more detail and authority than “co-decision” can ever achieve.

But it is essential to gain public support.  Not through fear as demonstrated in the recent Irish vote. Not through bullying and threats as we are seeing before the Greek vote; not through symbolism as Cameron warns against; but through a bottom up, citizens led new Europe.

That is what the Year of Active Citizenship should be about rather than extolling the virtues of the current Commission. Let us not repeat the mistake of the Convention. It started with the aim of bringing Europe closer to the people (surely the wrong way round but let’s overlook that) and ended up under the Kerr/Amato insiders smug approach of a constitution of supreme legal and bureaucratic sub-clauses.  A ratings agency would have used its lowest junk score.

More Europe?  Yes. But not more of the same Europe.


More Europe or More European?

“More Europe”;  “Less Europe”:  calls triggered by the eurozone crisis and the inability of the politicians to solve it for more than a few months or even weeks at a time.   Pro-Europeans seek More Europe; euroseptics seek and look forward to the demise of the EU, or at least its fading away to a trading alliance.

The euro crisis highlights a major weakness of the EU, one known for many years. The Euro-elite quite simply ignore the citizens.  The Monnet method, little by little so no-one notices has been exploded.  Everyone notices now (except the euro-elite of course).

Do we have a European Union of citizens?  We take advantage of its many advantages from cheaper  roaming phone calls, ease of low-cost flights, open borders and a common currency for many, no visas and only slightly longer border queues for the rest.  But the crisis has shown the cultural fault lines.   North/South; hardworkers/skivers; tax payers/tax avoiders.  A stereotype blame game.   Perceptions are far ahead of reality.

Unity in diversity, perhaps the weakest euro-jargon phrase ever thought up, hardly papers over the cracks. Indeed it has become the clarion call for less Europe.

The Euro-elite call for more Europe, for a more cultural Europe.   Mega superstars,  Rem Koolhaas and Luc Tuymans, riding on global success and commercial marketing, call for deeper citizenship based on a shared culture.   Throughout history there have been sharing of cultures in architecture, in classical music, in some literary areas.  The Beatles to Lady Gaga to  Adele transcend anything the Eurovision Song Contest throws up.  The Soul for Europe meets in November in Berlin focussing on “civil society” and cultural values.    The Danish EU presidency brings together more eminent culture players in “Team Europe“, including the obligatory conference in Brussels for probably the same audience as all the events in Brussels attract.  The Institute of Ideas brings Euro-sceptics for a debate whether the EU will be the death of democracy.

But is the European Commission starting to wake up?   Tucked away in a corner, hidden from the headlines, it has asked us for our views on being European citizens. And on those areas we care about when we move between countries.    Moving from one country to another, baffling administrative arrangements,  discriminatory tax arrangements, denial of democratic rights. inconsistent health  and social security arrangements.

The Commission produced a very good report in 2010 on the problems of the “free movement of people”. Their scorecard on progress is a masterpiece of hiding just how few changes have taken place.

They are asking for your opinion.     If you move within the EU.. as a tourist, as a student, as a worker, a retiree. If you are in a partnership with someone from another member country, or want to live in another, or vote or fall ill, now is your chance to have your say.

“No taxation without representation” worked in 1776.  About time it worked in the EU; we  should be able to vote in national elections where we live as well as European Parliament and local.  Tax rules explicitly discriminate against fellow EU citizens.

For me it seems absurd that after 60 years European governments have done so little to facilitate free movement of people: surely the most fundamental cultural aspect of a European Union of citizens.  More Europe means just that: More European.

Make your views known.

How #loveculture will backfire on Israel’s public diplomacy propaganda

#Loveculture becomes a twitter clash this week.   The Israeli Embassy in London is planning a twitter campaign  to try to offset negative publicity surrounding the Habima Theatre company at the Globe in London. The company is due to perform ” The Merchant of Venice” within the World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Leading British actors and directors, including Emma Thompson, Caryl Churchill and Mark Rylance have called for a withdrawal of the invitation.   A campaigning group from Israel commented:

 this play includes the role of “Shylock, the most famous and controversial Jewish character in the theatre canon” – which naturally, presents particularly acute problems and dilemmas to an Israeli theatre. 
As told to the Israeli media, the Habima Theatre did not sidestep the problems inherent to this particular element of the Shakespeare canon, but faced them and dealt with them in a socially engaged and committed manner. According to the designated director Ilan Ronen, Habima’s presentation of “The Merchant of Venice” will emphasize the issue of xenophobia – persecution of the Jew in particular but also of hatred of ethnic and religious minorities in general. As such, it would have of direct relevance to audiences in contemporary Britain, as in all times and places.

The problem rests with Habima’s performances last year in the illegal settlements in occupied West Bank:

In the past year, two large settlements – Ariel in the northern part of the West Bank and Kiryat Arba in its south – set up “Halls of Culture” and asked theatres to come and present their plays there. Last year, a large group of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared they would not take part in such performances; among them were such well-known people as Joshua Sobol, Edna Mazia, Shmuel Hasfari and Anat Gov. For several weeks, this was a major issue on the Israeli public agenda, and the aforementioned Israeli theatre professionals have received much support from colleagues abroad, such as Stephen Sondheim, Mary Rodgers, Tony Kushner, Mandy Patinkin, Theodore Bikel, Mira Nair, Julianne Moore, Vanessa Redgrave, Hal Prince, Roseanne Barr and other Broadway and Hollywood stars.
(… )

The dissident Israeli theatre professionals have argued that the West bank settlements had been created in violation of International Law and with the specific aim of blocking any possibility of achieving peace with the  Palestinians; that the expropriation of land in an occupied territory and the creation and maintenance of armed settlement enclaves are the very opposite of what is commonly termed “Culture”; and that therefore, a settlement maintaining a “Hall of Culture” was a blatant contradiction in terms.
It is especially noteworthy that Ariel and Kiryat Arba, like most settlements, are surrounded by walls and fences, closely guarded by soldiers and their own armed security personnel. A theatrical performance in a settlement is by definition a performance to an exclusively Israeli audience, with Palestinians living even in the nearest village being physically excluded from any chance of attending.

Despite all of the above, however, on this issue the management of Habima has taken a position which is remote from any kind of social engagement. Claiming to be “non-political”, the management has reiterated its decision to perform in West Bank settlements, “like everywhere else”. Moreover, the management specifically promised Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture in the Netanyahu Government, to “deal with any problems hindering such performances”, i.e. to pressure recalcitrant actors into taking part in them, even against the dictates of their conscience.  And it must be pointed out that for several months, Habima has indeed sent out its actors to hold theatrical performances in West Bank settlements, on a regular basis.

There are reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is providing £10,000 towards the costs.

The Israeli Embassy emailed on Friday to British groups:

As part of the campaign around Habima’s performance at the Globe this coming week, we are aiming to get something relevant trending on Twitter. After careful consideration, we have decided to use the hashtag #LoveCulture as it is short enough to fit on a substantial tweet and won’t be taken at first glance as a political statement.

The email even includes suggested tweets. (Don’t be fooled when you read;

  • Fantastic seeing the foremost Hebrew speaking theater company perform the Merchant of Venice @the_globe #LoveCulture
  • Was great to hear @edvaizey enjoyed watching @HabimaTheatre…did he understand any of it though? #LoveCulture

Public diplomacy or propaganda?    The only countries which seem to orchestrate explicit social media campaigns seem to be those on the defensive with something to hide; those outside the international norms: China’s famous 50 centers spring to mind.   The #loveculture tweets this week will rebound on Israel.  It will highlight their illegal occupation and settlement of the West Bank. , as will any future social media interventions so obviously supporting the government line.

It’s the same there: China and cultural diplomacy

There is an interesting diplomatic spat between USA and China at the moment.  No not the headline human rights case of Chen Guangcheng, now safely at a New York university (but not his family who are held as hostages in effect: a time-honoured tactic) .

The spat is over teachers at Confucius Institutes in the USA.   According to reports:

A policy directive sent by the U.S. Department of State to universities that sponsor Confucius Institutes suggests that the language and cultural centers that are a key piece of the Chinese government’s diplomatic outreach will have to change how they operate or fall afoul of American visa laws.

The memorandum, dated May 17, states that any academics at university-based institutes who are teaching at the elementary- and secondary-school levels are violating the terms of their visas and must leave at the end of this academic year, in June. And it says that, after a “preliminary review,” the State Department has determined that the institutes must obtain American accreditation in order to continue to accept foreign scholars and professors as teachers

State Department has said that it expects the issue to be resolved: it seems to link to a Chinese adminstrative move against foreign teachers in China.

The Chinese press has had a field day.  What struck me was how the comments to news stories are identical to comments about European cultural diplomacy activity and organisations.    Look at the comments in this report: on the 500,000 tweets on China’s own twitter system, Sina.

I oppose these kinds of Confucius studies organized by the government. It’s quite soured. How about our government spend more money on its own people? Confucius Institutes are really funny

I think it is quite normal. Chinese people haven’t made its domestic education good. How can they go to promote “Confucius Institutes”?!

Different values; same debates.


A bad decision: help overturn the demise of Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium

Walthamstow, my neighbourhood in North East London, has few obvious “visitor” attractions.  A great iconic 1930s cinema which a so-called church wish to turn into a meeting place (see my post about this)  and an early home of William Morris (well worth a vist when it re-opens in the summer) top the bill.  Until 2008 it also had a greyhound racing stadium; its facade became a landmark.  It attracted visitors from across London and the region.  It has an international reputation.   The venue itself became a magnet in the 1990s.  Alas the family owners did not invest in the stadium to maintain and expand their inherited legacy and sold it off in 2008.

A property company now wishes to knock it down and put up what can only be described as an over-crowded, poorly designed housing estate.  The project has more units than recommended in London’s planning guidelines; and in an area of 2 storey houses want to build blocks up to 8 stories.  Disgracefully it has only 20% “affordable” homes.. less that recommended 50-60%. A “slum estate in Waiting” exploited by the buy to let market is a common description.   And that in a borough with over 18,000 people on its waiting list for housing. The famous facade becomes a climbing wall (and how long will that last?)

Four Labour Party councillors on the Planning Committee approved the plan; outvoting the 3 Tory and Lib Dems.  They have not explained why they voted the way they did.  Many rumours are flying; their lack of a coherent logical explanation, in the face of over 1,000 opposing comments, simply fuels the rumour mill.  It is indeed a shame the elections are so far away.   Accountability in this case has to wait too long.

Their vote  and lack of explanation, damages locally any attempt by Ed Milliband to re-build trust in the Labour Party.  Last week he congratulated the local councillors in Birmingham, in Worcester and elsewhere; the local election results help him in his aim to win in 2015.   His councillors in Waltham Forest are doing him and his party no favours.

The local Labour MP, Stella Creasy, opposes the scheme. So does the local Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith. So do the councillors in the wards most affected.

This was a bad decision.  There is a viable alternative which has not been adequately compared to the property companies bid.  Many of course do not like dog racing or the associated gambling; the campaign for more humane management of the activity and gambling control are other campaigns. The same Planning Committee meets again this week, and may well approve another property deal with  again far fewer affordable homes.  Another bad decision in the offing.

Waltham Forest needs  a major  vision: a consistent long term aim and drive for affordable housing, for local jobs, for local prosperity.  In many cities across Europe, and the world, city adminstrations are giving the lead for regeneration. For not accepting, let alone encouraging, decline.  As a member of the selection panel of the European Capitals of Culture, I see cities across Europe using culture, the creative industries to drive their future.

Walthamstow has the foundations of such a drive but not the Council to even think of it.

You can help overturn this decision and give Walthamstow a second chance by writing to Boris Johnson as mayor of London.  A draft letter is on Stella Creasy’s website.  Sign and send,

The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important

“We would see funds redistributed from the Common Agricultural Policy towards other programmes such as Creative Europe, which offers growth potential”

The UK Parliament’s committee looking at the European Commission’s proposed budget from 2014-20 has given  resounding support to the Creative Europe proposals. It asks the UK government to reconsider its position.  I’ve written about the committee’s previous meetings here (Ministers view); here (the sectors and EC view) and the preliminary verdict here.

The final report gives a clear overview of the Commissions’  total spending plans, far clearer than anything I can find on the Commissions’ own Europa website: openness, transparency and public accountability are not Commission virtues).

” The cultural and creative sectors contribution to the EU is fundamentally important. We heard compelling evidence that the increased budget proposed by the Commission would stimulate job creation and growth in line with the Europe 2020 strategy. In the context of domestic funding cuts, and the organisations obvious capacity for attracting EU funding, we call for the Government to support a proportionately larger budget allocation to this area, which represents only a very small proportion of the total MFF.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

We also call on the Government to reconsider its position regarding the proposed financial facility. Businesses in the cultural and creative sectors often experience greater difficulty in attracting investment than their counterparts in other sectors. The Commission’s proposed financial facility could offer an important bridging mechanism between these sectors and private-sector investment.

A welcome call.  It is interesting to see that the support for Creative Europe does not match the views of many of its supporters.  No mention of forging a closer European citizenship and no mention of artistic and creative benefit.  Pragmatic and to the point, perhaps a better reflection of the role of EC funding.

The report also supports increased educational spending and improved EC communications to citizens.

Will the UK government make these arguments at the EU Education and Culture meeting on 10-11 May?

Who knows?



The new soft power player: people

Soft power is associated with nation states or groupings of states.  The “West’s ” soft power played a key role in ending the Cold War according to its proponents.  The more adventurous supporters go further: the “Beatles and demin” were more powerful than economic collapse and missiles.

The USA has soft power; the EU is trying to think of its soft power, China is embarking on a major soft power drive.

Nowadays the term soft power is used indiscriminately. Rather like public diplomacy a few years ago. It has become the fashion in thinking circles.

The term itself embodies two very opposite characteristics. Soft.. nice the cuddly.  The arts, schools, universities, academics talking to each other, consumer goodies.  It is extended into the universal values arena:  political groupings which accept defeat and opposition; democracy, religious freedom etc.

Power is overlooked.  Power is hard by definition.  This is not the area of mutual understanding and awareness to use another universal phrase.

Power means convincing others to do what you want them to do.. and which they are not doing now.

“Soft power is no power” is a common riposte from the hard powerists (trade, military, the world of sanctions, boycotts, leading up to invasions and conflict).  There is very little serious evaluation of whether soft power really works.  Lots of theory; lots of anecdotes, lots of belief and an increasing number of indices (see my earlier articles and here).  But where’s the evidence?  I’ll explore this in the next article in this series.

But there is a new soft power on the block:  people,  individual people.  It is likely that the online digital activism of and others will block the relatively secretly organised international agreement on internet control:  ACTA.

Nellie Kroes, the European Commissioner says:

“We have recently seen how many thousands of people are willing to protest against rules which they see as constraining the openness and innovation of the internet. This is a strong new political voice,” Kroes said in a speech at the Re:publica conference in Berlin. “And as a force for openness, I welcome it, even if I do not always agree with everything it says on every subject.”

“We are now likely to be in a world without [the stalled US act] SOPA and without ACTA. Now we need to find solutions to make the internet a place of freedom, openness, and innovation fit for all citizens, not just for the techno avant-garde,” Kroes continued.

It was not many thousands. It was millions.  from many countries.   Several governments are going to be seriously angry at the ending of ACTA.   Soft power in the hands of people.  Do I hear democracy by citizens rather than democracy by vested interests?


We’re all getting old together…

The EU never ceases to amaze me.  I am an ardent pro-European, a very strange beast for a Brit. My first departure from the Labour Party came in the  1975 referendum on the UK’s membership: not done for a student politician to be in favour of the YES vote to stay in.   (Iraq before you ask).

But at times it is demoralising to be so easily deflated by another Euro-idea.  I picked up a leaflet in Brussels today extolling  the ” European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations”.  It’s worth looking at that phrase again…go back and slowly digest every word and add your own interpretation. 

Older people are a large and growing part of the EU’s population. This rapidly ageing population is changing our societies in important and fundamental ways. Unfortunately, ageing is often seen as a problem, presenting challenges to the age structure of the workplace, the sustainability of social protection schemes and the organisation and financing of health and long-term care services

Well they got that right.  In Spain the government ends free prescriptions for pensioners; in many countries pensions are frozen or cut as part of the “we are all in this together” austerity measures required by the neo-cons and Germans (for different reasons but same effect). The UK changes a tax benefit,, the granny tax.  The pension age is increased so we need to work longer, normally for lower benefits whilst the younger generation campaign for the older workers to leave the workforce in order for jobs to become available to the NEET  and 800 euro generations.  Discussions centre on how benefits, paid  in advance by workers over their working careers, should now be withdrawn.   Plans and schemes to attract older people to cultural activities are withdrawn (free transport  schemes, educational programmes); care centres closed or privatised.

Governments must have signed up to the idea of the year.  Shame no-one told them they were meant to actually do something positive.  My best wishes to the hundreds of networks and organisations working in the field, many of them facing budget cuts as part of the “there is no alternative to pain” policies.

Me?  I’ll age actively, but slowly.

Hollande’s cultural challenge

If Francois Hollande wins the French presidency then a major cultural challenge has been set for him.  With nearly one in five French voters expressing a preference for a racist party, and the (hopefully) outgoing president making statements which are not out of place at a le Pen rally,  France really has to get to grips with its attitude to racism.

Something is clearly wrong.  It will mean changes to current practices, in employment, in all sectors.  Current policies have clearly failed.      A President Hollande will need to mobilise a changed cultural sector to help in the anti-racism programme.  Changed?  Yes.    How open is the cultural sector, from museums, theatres, orchestras, to independent arts organisations and groups to a multi-cultural programme.   Audience extension and development.  An interesting take on the Musee de Quai Branly for example is here.  Personally I loved the architecture but really disliked the approach taken in the exhibits, as did the author.

The report in Germany on the future of museums makes an interesting point.  Ignore the headline grabbing comment about closing half the museums and focus on the comment about the need to engage closer with the tax paying public.

In addition, he argues, cultural institutions should be organised differently and [be given] more detailed targets, not only in regard to visitor numbers, but also guidelines about where visitors should come from and what age groups in particular should be attracted to the museums.

This is not only a domestic issue.  France’s soft power and cultural attraction is weakened with such a growing vote for the extreme right.   And if the right win in the second round?



More Europe? More Europeans

With austerity and unemployment rising across most of Europe now is certainly the time for more Europe.  Comments by candidate Sarkozy, seeking the racist vote were quite frankly appalling for a President or any politician seeking high office.   (“They must know which side of the Mediterraean they live in”).

I make no concessions to this view.  The closer, and to adopt a Chinese buzz word in its most progressive meaning, harmonious Europe we have the better for everyone.  It is not just a case for eurozone countries to work together or closing down out-of-date tax loopholes between countries. We need to move to a more positive approach to Europeanness at the personal level. For far too long the EU has focused on the corporate and national.  In the next period.. and starting now not waiting for the 2014-20  “Europe 2020” agenda the priority must be to bring Europeans together.

“Unity in Diversity” is being abused to mean “my diversity is paramount” as nationalism and regionalism take precedence. It is no use arguing for More Europe if the target audience, the participants are the already cosmopolitan members of European society.   At the same time I think it is useless to promote some ideal “European Culture”: a favoured viewpoint of an intellectual elite.

As a starting point I recommend this publication from the Council of Europe:  “A Handbook on Tolerance and Cultural Diversity in Europe”.   The European Year of Citizens in 2013 has a fundamental political task in taking head on politicians at local, regional and national level, the commission and civil society.