31 January, 2009

EU to rescue Iceland?

The Guardian reports that Iceland is to be fast-tracked for EU membership, and could become a full member of the European Union by 2011. Iceland's economy tanked last year. In the wake of the economic collapse, many people there reached the conclusion that their country was too small to sail alone through the stormy seas of the world economic crisis. EU membership, previously blocked by the country's political and economic elite, suddenly came to the top of the national agenda.

Now, why the EU is so eager to embrace Iceland is not quite so clear. Altruism is, obviously, a lofty motive, but there are many countries in the world (many countries even in Europe, broadly defined) whose struggling economies could be assisted by being allowed to join the EU. Prioritising Iceland's accession (after a long period in which the country was happy to remain outside the Union) could lead to the EU being seen as some kind of sugar daddy that will step in to rescue countries whose attempts to go it alone do not work out. That said, maybe taking in Iceland in like now would be good for the EU, as it shows potentially wayward members the dangers they could face if they go it alone.

That article also suggests that there is more support in Iceland for adopting the Euro than for full membership of the EU. People in the country's fishing industry are fearful of having to share their ever-dwindling country's fish stocks, and there are apparently the usual leftist anti-EU types in Iceland. These might prove strong enough to prevent the country signing up for EU accession. With regards to the Euro, people tend to assume that you have to be in the EU before you can adopt the currency. This is not actually the case. Montenegro adopted the Euro in the 1990s and is still only a candidate for EU membership. I think, though, that the EU does not really approve of non-member states adopting the Euro, and Iceland's adopting the currency now could complicate future accession negotiations.

image source

24 January, 2009

Whatever happened to the world food crisis?

There was a lot of stuff in the media last year about how food prices across the world were rising to unprecedented levels, with the result that many people could no longer afford to eat properly, or could only afford to eat by cutting back on luxuries like educating their children. I have not really heard anything about all this since last summer. So, has the world food crisis gone away? It strikes me as at least possible that rising food prices were driven by rising oil prices; with oil prices having peaked and collapsed, food prices may well have fallen to more affordable levels. Or maybe economic meltdown in the First World has made the media that bit less interested in the economic travails of the Third World poor. What do you think?

Lebanon Media Fail

Charles Malik reports that the Daily Star, Lebanon's English language newspaper (entirely unrelated to the British scandal sheet) has gone bankrupt and ceased publication. This might explain why their website has not been updated in over a week. The Daily Star will be missed by those who take an interest in Lebanese society and politics.

22 January, 2009

What is ETA for?

ETA are this militant group whose declared goal is independence for the Basque Country (a territory straddling the French and Spanish border, at the Western end of the Pyrenees). The Irish Times reported yesterday that they had killed Ignacio Uria Mendizabal, a 71 businessman whose company was involved in constructing a high speed rail-link out of the Basque Country. "We want to send a clear warning to engineers, technicians, managers and leaders of companies which take part in the works or have anything to do with them that they should suspend their work," ETA have apparently said. Transport links out of the Basque Country are apparently against the interests of the Basque people.

It is interesting how mental ETA seem to have become over the last number of years. During the Aznar premiership they seemed to be interested in a peace process of some sort, going on ceasefire for a bit, only for Aznar to laugh in their face. However, when the new Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero tried to engage in a dialogue with ETA, they decided not to play ball. ETA's continuing campaign of violence happens at a time when their power has been severely weakened, so it is easy to see their killing of sort targets like Mr Mendizabal as the mark of a sore loser. The mis-steps of the Spanish state may nevertheless have played a part in pushing ETA into mentalism. Political parties affiliated with ETA have consistently been banned for the thoughtcrime of supporting terrorism; by closing off any political avenue, the Spanish state has left things open for those who like killing people and blowing things up.

ETA have previously killed journalists for little more than disagreeing with them, so I would like to make clear that this post is largely based on an e-mail sent to me by my beloved, and may not reflect my actual opinions.

08 January, 2009

More Gaza meta

Here's an article in Ha'aretz by the outgoing Jerusalem correspondent of the Economist: Israel's PR war. He discusses why Israel is losing the propaganda war, reaching the astonishing conclusion that they are killing enormous numbers of people and not really giving the impression of doing so for any reason other than jockeying for power between Israeli politics and a general tendency to resort to extreme violence when unsure what to do.

Hamas secrets of Barack Obama

The Guardian reports that Barack Obama is going to establish secret backdoor channels of communication with Hamas, in a startling break with previous US leaders' policy of total ostracism of the popular Palestinian Islamist party: Obama camp 'prepared to talk to Hamas'. Obviously, these secret backdoor channels are a bit less secret now that Obama "sources" are reputedly telling the Guardian all about them, but I imagine that any links will be tentative and covert for some time yet - don't expect to see Ismail Haniyeh (the Palestinian Authority's de jure prime minister) or Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshal invited to the White House any time soon.

I'm curious as to whether this means that all the right-wingers in the USA and Israel were right to fear the election of Barack Obama. From their perspective, having any kind of non-violent interaction with Hamas represents a terrifying concession to the most sinister of forces. Aside from being an obviously sensible course of action, even tentative US engagement with Hamas may also prove an annoyance to those who predicted that no change whatsoever would ever result from a change in US leadership.

07 January, 2009

Meta Gaza

Chris Gilmour links to some blogs written from within Gaza: Gazablog Roundup

Peter Preston, writing in the Guardian, talks about the US print media's coverage of Israel's Gaza offensive: Israel barks, the US media wags its tail

Marc Lynch, writing as Abu Aardvark*, talks about how the Arabic language media is covering the crisis (and other stuff): 'Gaza' or 'Hamas' and Israel, Gaza, and Arab regional divisions

*a Cerebus reference, obv.

04 January, 2009

Link action

I have added a few new links. See if you can guess which ones they are.

At some stage I will divide up the links into blogs and non-blogs, and purge the blog ones that have not been updated for ages.

01 January, 2009

Ethiopian Government very serious about democracy

Back in 2005, Ethiopia held elections. Until the polls closed, everyone was very impressed with how free and fair everything was. However, many people smelled a rat when the ruling EPRDF party announced that had won five minutes after the end of voting. Street protests erupted in areas where the opposition was strong, especially in Addis Ababa, the capital. The authorities crushed these in the most uncompromising manner. They also threw the entire opposition into jail, only releasing them when they signed documents accepting the blame for the riots that had followed the election results.

Now the Ethiopian authorities have thrown Birtukan Medeksa, a leading opposition figure, back into jail. Ms Birtukan had apparently given an interview saying that she had been released from jail in 2006 not because she accepted responsibility for the riots but through secret negotiations between the government and opposition. She is now serving a life sentence, for treason.

Image source (and more information on Ms Birtukan's arrest and Ethiopian politics generally)