As was widely predicted, the centre-left Dilma Rousseff has won the second round of the Brazilian Presidential election with 56% of the vote. She will be sworn in at the Alvarado Palace in Brasilia on January 1st.
The Presidential election result will be profoundly disappointing to the centrist and centre-right “Brazil can do more” coalition led by the Brazilian Social Democrats, Labour Party and liberal Democratas who have also lost significant ground in the House of Representatives and Federal Senate. The result will be also personally devastating for former Jose Serra, previously the Governor of the country’s richest and most populous state Sao Paulo, who watched his twenty point poll lead at the start of the year evaporate after a poor and uninspiring campaign.
With all but a few votes left to be counted, there are a few initial observations one can draw from the outcome of the election.
Tomorrow afternoon (Thursday) MPs will, for the first time, have the opportunity to fully debate the issue of privacy and the internet - an astonishing thought given that more than 60% of the public use the internet every day.
The debate was secured following a successful application by CentreRight.com contributor Robert Halfon MP to the Backbench Business committee and will take place in Westminster Hall from 2:30pm to 5:30pm. The debate is fully open to the public.
A wide range of privacy-related issues will be discussed including the Google Street View service, the targeting of online advertising to internet users based on the websites they have visited in the past and data security concerns surrounding Facebook.
It is crucial, particularly in light of the discovery that Google has recently harvested thousands of personal e-mail addresses and other sensitive personal information from domestic WiFi connections, that CentreRight users play their part in ensuring as many Members of Parliament as possible attend and contribute to the debate.
While Ed Miliband's decision to exclude Tom Harris from his front-bench team has been widely discussed on blogs over the past twenty four hours, everyone’s favourite Labour blogger is from the most surprising omission.
It appears, from a quick glance at the list of shadow ministerial appointments that no place has been found leading Blairite ministers David Lammy, Ben Bradshaw, Pat McFadden and David Cairns. Similarly, there is no return to front bench politics for sturdy attack-dogs like Margaret Beckett, cerebral thinkers such as Andrew Smith or strong media performers such as Harris himself.
While a new leader is always keen to stamp their authority on the party and fashion a ministerial team in their own image is it really wise for Red Ed to have promoted Diane Abbott yet sidelined the cerebral Pat McFadden who has a strong contribution to make to the debate on public service reform? Is it not incongruous that David Lammy, who was spoken of as a prospective candidate for Mayor of London as recently as the start of this year, now finds himself on the backbenches while the ethically-challenged Sadiq Khan has flourished? Has Red Ed forgotten David Cairns’ willingness to go on kamikaze missions in order to express his distaste at the direction of his party?
Harris, who has long blamed his entertaining blog for his departure from ministerial office, has already fired-off the following ill-tempered missive:
SO THAT was my career, was it?
A minister for barely two years – appointed by Blair, sacked by Brown, left on the back benches by Miliband. Not exactly the material for a best-selling political diary, but that’s politics for you.
Nobody ever said life was fair. I entertained the hope, for a while, that I might yet have a contribution to make towards the success of my party. Apparently not.
While one could argue that the score of newly-elected MPs appointed to the front bench are likely to be slavishly loyal to Red Ed, he would be well to remember it was unemployed and underemployed Blairites that almost did for Gordon Brown.
Only time will tell if that old adage about the devil making work for idle hands turns out to be true – but Red Ed is playing a dangerous game...
Nobody could doubt that the past few years have been painful ones for Serbia.
Once the motor of the powerful Yugoslav state, the country now struggles to deal with the realities of its recent history that have reduced it to little more than a minor regional power, scarred by two decades of ultra-nationalist policies imposed by a short-sighted and self-serving political class. Divorced from Montenegro and stripped of Kosovo, a province of profound cultural, religious and historical importance to the Srpski psyche, the Serbian state’s humiliation is absolute.
The International Court of Justice’s ruling on 22nd July that Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia was lawful has once again opened old wounds and promoted a strongly-worded statement from President Boris Tadić insisting that his country will “never” recognise the province’s largely ethnic-Albanian government. Nobody, least of all the Kosovan administration, was surprised by Tadić’s statement.
Given that memories of NATO’s armed intervention in Kosovo still profoundly effects the Serbian political psyche, the news that the country’s Government has decided to fully engage with NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme should be warmly welcomed – and indeed viewed as a clear pro-Western move by an administration whose political outlook was formed in the years of Slobodan Milošević’s pariah state Yugoslavia.
It’s easy to forget that today marks the second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Georgia; a ten day conflict in which hundreds died and the entire infrastructre of a country was shattered.
Some, of course, are comfortable to draw upon Neville Chamberlain’s words and dismiss Georgia's problems as those of as “far away land of which we know nothing”. Those taking such a position fail to recognise that Russia’s ongoing belligerence towards states on its periphery is, in reality, a battle between the cause of freedom in the West and Moscow’s poisonous insistence on clinging its Cold War past.
In his book, A Little War That Shook The World, Ron Asmus summed up the ten day conflict as a “clash between a 21st-century Western world that saw the extension of democratic integration closer to Moscow's borders as a positive step toward greater stability and a Russia that was returning to the habits of 19th-century great power thinking and viewed it as a threat”.
Against a backdrop of bombs raining down on Tbilisi and tanks rolling across the green plains of Tskhinvali, those dark August days two years ago led Georgians not to simply question the future constitutional status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but the very survival off their country as a sovereign state.
While the majority of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed by Russian troops, it is remarkable feat that further devastation and more substantial causalities were not incurred by Georgian forces. In holding their own, the Georgians bought themselves the time they needed to bring international attention to their cause and secure a vital ceasefire.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Georgia secured pledges of $4.55 billion in international aid - $1 billion of which came from the American government. While such aid has undoubtedly been crucial in the success of the country’s rapid reconstruction programmes for homes, schools and roads, Kosovo’s example proves just how foolhardy it is to construct an economic model on the presumption of future international hand-outs. For Georgia’s recovery – and transition from the ranks of former USSR satellite state to a fully-fledged Western democracy – to succeed, it requires more than the chequebooks of foreign governments or their oft-hollow pledges of diplomatic support.
It requires serious action on a policy level; and, in a nutshell, that means trade liberalisation.
Since 2004, Georgia’s exports to the European Union have totalled a meagre €1.3 billion, despite the country possessing significant chemical and mineral deposits that are in short supply and active demand in EU member states.
While Georgia has in the past years benefitted to some extent from EU Eastern Partnership initiatives designed to provide funding and technical assistance to Eastern states keen to deepen their links with European economies, a 2008 report by the Warsaw-based Centre for Social and Economic Research judged the country to not yet be in a position to “negotiate... a far-reaching trade liberalisation [deal or to] to implement and sustain the commitments that it would require”.
Georgia has clearly taken these comments on board – and taken urgent action to modernise and liberalise its economic structure. Such reforms are embodied by the Act on Economic Freedom, an unabashedly Thatcherite document which has implemented arguably the most free-market agenda of any government since the election of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in 2002.
Popularly referred to as the ‘Liberty Act’, the Act on Economic Freedom has instituted regulations demanding budget deficits are kept to less than 3% of GDP and a maximum debt-to-GDP ratio of 60%. Furthermore, tax increases must now be ratified by public referenda, a moratorium on government agencies introducing any new licences or permits has been implemented and levels of personal and business taxation have been slashed.
The results have been startling.
Despite Russia’s ongoing trade embargo, Georgia is expected to at least match Moscow’s 5.4% annual GDP growth rate this year before recording 9% growth in 2011. Despite the country’s economic growth rate having slumped from 12.3% to 2.3% in the twelve months prior to the Russian invasion in 2008, double digit growth rates are now projected to return from 2012 onwards.
Given the country’s clear commitment to free market principles, it is now surely time for the European Union to re-examine it’s trading relations with Georgia and commence negotiations on the implementation of a wide-ranging customs union agreement similar to that currently in place with Turkey. As a starting block, Georgian membership of the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area (EU-MEFTA) and Central European Free Trade Agreements (CEFTA) would allow the country to extend its trading relations with not only the EU but scores of states on its near periphery.
Increasing growth and economic liberalisation aside, Georgia will never fully be able to thrive while large parts of the country remain under the control of criminal gangs of Russian-backed separatists.
Since the election of President Saakashvili in 2004, the Georgian government has made progress in this field, bringing the former separatist region of Adjara back under central government control.
Ruled from 1991 to 2004 by a Russian placeman named Aslan Abashidze, the coastal area was well known as a haven for drug, human and weapons smuggling. Since his ousting in a popular uprising, Abashidze has been living in Moscow so as to avoid the Georgian courts which have sentenced him to fifteen years in prison for his part in the theft of £34 million in public funds.
Corruption aside, the most significant thing about Abashidze’s Adjara is that he enthusiastically welcomed the presence of the Russian Army’s 89th Rifle Division. Without their puppet controlling the region, Russians were forced to leave their military bases in 2007 and thus surrender control of shipping lanes along NATO member Turkey’s north east coastline.
As in the case of the Russian-backed breakaway province of Transnistria in Moldova, Moscow has singularly failed to honour its commitments to international agreements on the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Indeed, when listening to statements from the likes of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, one can be forgiven for raising more than a wry smile at the country’s claims to be continuing their occupation of areas of former USSR satellite states in order to “guarantee minority rights” and “the principle of self-determination”.
As I have discussed elsewhere, the separatist movements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are likely to call upon the International Court of Justice’s recent ruling on the legality of Kosovo’s declaration of independence to bolster their own case for global diplomatic recognition. To draw such a comparison is lazy at best and disingenuous at worst.
While the invasion of Kosovo was justified on the basis of preventing the ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians, the Russian-backed regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia have expelled more than half a million Georgians and other ethnic groups from the provinces since 1991. Far from their military incursions into the territories being designed to protect ethnic Abkhaz and Ossetian residents of the two areas from persecution, the Russian Federation simply aims to expand its territory and sphere of military influence.
The 2008 ceasefire agreement between Georgia and the Russian Federation is clear – and worth quoting in its entirety:
Not to resort to force;
To end hostilities definitively
To provide free access for humanitarian aid;
Georgian military forces will have to withdraw their usual bases;
Russian military forces will have to withdraw to lines held prior to outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international mechanism, Russian peace-keeping forces will implement additional security measures;
Opening of international talks on the security and stability arrangements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Given the stated commitment of Russia to withdrawing its forces “to lines held prior to outbreak of hostilities” and promise to “not resort to force” in respect of disagreements about the constitutional status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is curious to read remarks from the likes of Abkhazia’s “President” Sergei Baghapsh describing recent discussions with President Medvedev as having covered the “development of Abkhaz-Russian cooperation in a number of directions, including... [of a] defensive character”.
Similarly, the Russian government’s own website makes reference to a Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance between Moscow and the South Ossetia which allows for thousands of Russian troops to remain in the province under the auspices of “peacekeeping”.
While the sun might currently be shining in Georgia at the moment but Tbilisi is never far from the frost of Moscow’s icy winds. As Ron Asmus argued in the Washington Post last month, Russia is “determined to break Tbilisi's will to align with the West”.
Without international pressure, Russia has no intention of either fulfilling its obligations made under the ceasefire agreement or working constructively with the Georgian government to find a solution to the ongoing conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Prime Minister David Cameron must join the likes of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in calling for Russia to come to the negotiating table and find a solution to this poisonous conflict before more blood is spilled.
On today of all days, we must stand firm with Georgia.
Yesterday, the International Court of Justice issued its opinion on the legality of the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. The court found in favour of the Kosovan government.
The ruling has been welcomed by Kosovans as “joyous decision” and denounced by Serbia as “attack on its territorial integrity”. Nobody expects either of the two parties to change their views of one another or cede any ground on their positions on Kosovo’s territorial status, although Kosovo can now expect to be recognised by scores of sovereign nations who had been awaiting the ruling.
Kosovo aside, the text of the ruling will have direct significance to separatist movements around the world and has grave implications for the territorial integrity of many nations.
The ruling explicitly states that “international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence”. Furthermore, the court rejected the argument that “that prohibition of unilateral declarations of independence is implicit in the principle of territorial integrity” instead arguing that the “scope of the principle of territorial integrity is confined to the sphere of relations between States”.
At this early stage, the ruling appears to cast aside the need for negotiated independence settlements such as those in Montenegro and the former Czechoslovakia and codify unilateralism as a principle of international law.
It remains to be seen what the substantive reaction will be from the leaders of high-profile separatist movements, although the ruling will provide a boost to dictatorial and undemocratic regimes which have long been condemned by the British government.
The ICJ’s decision to endorse unilateralism directly contradicts UK government policy towards sub-national separatist movements in many states on the European Union’s near periphery:
North Cyprus (Cyprus) – “The UK does not recognise the self-declared 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' ('TRNC') in the northern part of the island” (Foreign Office)
Nagorno Karabakh (Azerbaijan) – “The UK does not recognise Nagorno Karabakh as a state and consequently does not recognise [its] constitutional and legal framework” (Hansard)
Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Georgia) – “The government of Georgia does not recognise the unilateral declarations of independence by either South Ossetia or Abkhazia. The UK government... recognises their right to do so” (Foreign Office)
Transnistria (Moldova) – “The conflict is a concern for Europe, especially given Moldova's position as a future neighbouring country of the enlarged EU... Moldovan territorial integrity [is] undermined” (Foreign Office)
Furthermore, the ruling can be expected to fuel the calls of nationalists in the Republika Srpska area of Bosnia to declare independence - a possible outcome condemend by the Foreign Secretary William Hague on this website last year.
Against the background of this ruling, the British government must stand firm on the principle of pragmatism in international relations. While some independence movements should be welcomed, we must not be afraid to condemn and work against those that should not.
Update: William Hague has issued a statement making it clear that he consider the Kosovo ruling a "unique case [that does] not sent a precedent".
This morning, I had the pleasure of attending a reception at the House of Lords hosted by Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird to celebrate the bicentenary Colombia's independence.
Aside from the poetic tributes from the assembled dignitaries to historic figures such as Simon Bolivar and Francisco de Paula Santander, the celebration had little to do with the country's past and far more to do with its present.
Colombia has a lot to be proud of.
Under President Álvaro Uribe, the country has been turned from a lawless basket-case where political decisions were take on the basis of the whims of crime bosses to a largely-peaceful nation committed to principles of liberal democracy.
During the term of Uribe's Presidency, 51,000 FARC guerrilla paramilitaries have been demobilised leading to a 45% drop in homicides and 75% fall in terrorist attacks. While more work is needed to do to eliminate FARC, large parts of Colombia which had been terrorised by the group's activities for decades are now at peace.
On a regional level, the Uribe administration has pursued a pro-democracy policy which puts to shame the feeble efforts of Western nations. Far from joining the capitulation of the likes of Brazilian President Lula to figures such as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, his government has stood firm in its commitment to human rights and refusal to join the chorus of populist rants against big business and the United States.
Because of this, inward investment to the country has grown threefold since 2003 with average quarterly growth rates of in excess of 4%. According to World Bank figures, Colombia is now in the top 14% of nations globally in terms of purchasing power. Crucially, the country has eschewed the economically protectionist talk of many of its near neighbours; opening its markets to foreign investment by lowering taxes and brushing away the molasses-like bureaucracy which holds back so many South American countries.
Barred from running for a third term, Uribe will hand the keys to the Presidential Palace to former Finance and Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos in just under three weeks. Elected on a clear pledge to continue Uribe's policies, he can be expected to provide something that is so rarely a positive thing in politics: more of the same.
William Hague is of course right to focus Britain's diplomatic efforts on strengthening ties with developing markets in India and China. I do hope, however, that time might also be found to forge meaningful partnerships with the governments of countries like Colombia whose agendas are every part Western-looking - and every bit Conservative.
Today, we Conservatives should all join in saying: "¡Viva Colombia, viva la libertad!
Despite opinion polls showing former Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński trailing Bronisław Komorowski by as much as thirty points in the race for Polish President, the first round held yesterday produced a much closer result.
With nearly all votes cast, the interim President Komorowski leads Kaczynski by a margin of 41% to 36% - a remarkable comeback for a politician whose campaign was mocked by the British media, amidst expectations of a first round Komorowksi victory.
In so significantly underperforming expectations Komorowksi is, despite scoring a narrow victory, the real loser in the first round of voting. It is a mark of Komorowksi's weakness as a candidate that Jarosław Kaczyński, often described by even the most loyal of his own supporters as an awkward man who ill at ease while on the stump, is widely believed to have run the most dynamic campaign.
Crucial to the chances of both Kaczyński and Komorowski will be the votes of third-placed Socialist candidate Grzegorz Napieralski who secured a better than expected 14% of the poll. While Kaczyński is as far removed from being a socialist as it is possible to be, his conservative message sits far more comfortably with the largely elderly and agrarian voters who backed Mr Napieralski.
Kaczyński still faces an uphill challenge as he heads into the second round on July 4th but it should be remembered that his late brother Lech had trailed Donald Tusk by a 36%/33% margin in the first round in 2005, only to later win the second round by an 8% margin.
There can be no doubt that this election is going down to the wire.
Good luck to Jarosław Kaczyński and our excellent Prawo i Sprawiedliwość allies in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group!
It almost eleven years to the day since NATO troops entered Kosovo, amidst a backdrop of bitter fighting between the minority Serb and majority Albanian communities.
Despite some notable advances in the region NATO’s original mission can, for most part, be judged to be a failure with the situation in Kosovo more accurately reflecting one of frozen conflict than a successfully functioning sovereign and multi-ethnic state.
As such, rumours over the past weeks that NATO is considering a phased reduction in its current troop numbers in the province from the present 10,000 down to 2,500 should be viewed with alarm. Indeed, this view has been forcefully expressed in recent days by both Kosovan President Fatmir Sejdiu and Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Šutanovac, two individuals whose vision for the future of the territory are as different as night and day.
The first problem the state of Kosovo faces is the lack of formal governing structures. Despite the considerable support the province is receiving from international organisations such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kosovan civil society institutions are woefully underdeveloped and constantly liable to collapse.
Watching David Cameron's assured performance yesterday in the first Prime Minister's Questions of this parliamentary term, many Conservatives will have been greatly encouraged to hear him speak up in support of the "pupil premium" - a measure designed to boost educational opportunities for children living in deprived areas.
It is widely perceived that, as part of the Coalition deal, David Cameron 'accepted' the Liberal Democrat policy idea of a providing a ‘pupil premium’ worth £2.5 billion in order to improve education standards for one million disadvantaged school children.
This is, however, a rewriting of history.
As early as 2005, Conservative MP Rob Wilson (now a candidate for the Chairmanship of the Education Select Committee) was championing this idea – some years before the Liberal Democrats adopted such a policy. Indeed, he wrote about it in early 2006 while a member of the Education Select Committee and soon after met with David Cameron to lobby him about the concept.
Writing in 2007, Rob took a slightly more radical approach than that advocated by the government today; advocating a 40% uplift in spending on children that qualify for free school meals funded by a reordering of spending priorities within the Education Department in order to place a primary focus upon providing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.
It is good to see that Rob’s ideas for improving the life chances of young people in our schools are being adopted by a Conservative-led Government.
Campaigning during the general election it seemed to me that activists and voters were more enthused by the party's promises on education reform than any other policy area.
We must not allow the Liberal Democrats take the credit for this important reform.
Just under two months ago, I returned from a visit to Kosovo.
I had intended to write about my experiences and impressions of the province but every time I put pen to paper, no words were forthcoming.
As with every conflict zone – especially ethnic conflicts of the type seen in Kosovo – the views you hear from local people are too polarised, the emotions expressed too strong and the very human symbols of destruction illustrated by the burned out homes; and piles of rubble which still line roads in the north of the country are still too evident to draw a fair conclusion as to the “rights” and “wrongs” of any situation.
I won’t touch on the ongoing politick regarding the future of Kosovo as a country, nor will I discuss the ongoing intimidation and wretched living conditions of the province’s minorities. I do, however, want to highlight one significant wrong the international community has a duty to right: the treatment and living conditions of Roma refugees in the country.
This problem stems back to the height of the Kosovo conflict between 1998 and 1999, when the Kosovo Liberation Army expelled 90,000 ethnic Roma citizens from their homes on the basis of Albanian nationalist fears that the community were stooges of Slobodan Milosevic.
With travel chaos spreading across Europe, many Members of the European Parliament have been unable to make their way to the monthly plenary session in Strasbourg today.
As such, there have been calls from MEPs from various far-flung parts of Europe to cancel votes this week.
According to the Treaties, however, the session must proceed with or without stranded MEPs - a decision which has frayed tempers.
Ever the dedicated Europeans, a German MEP chose to respond to the tales of travel chaos which have been shared across the Parliamentary e-mail system by his stranded colleagues with a few "helpful" observations:
"If all those who participated in this MEP chat room thus far invested the same amount of creativity in getting home at the end of last week as getting back to Parliament this week, we would find almost as many colleagues as usual in Strasbourg"
The MEP went on to outline a selection of possible travel routes from various European countries, before asking:
"Would a train ride be considered too much an effort to take in order to assume the function that one is elected for?"
An old hand from Luxembourg added:
"Millions of people all over Europe try and succeed at coping with the present exceptional circumstances. I therefore believe that, what would actually seem "a bit absurd" would be that less than eight hundred MEPs could not"
The Italians took exception:
"No matter how hard you try to be witty, we are not in the mood. From Roma all the trains are already booked until April 23rd. So, before doing travel agent for everybody, update your information!"
The Finns were were furious:
"How do you think that we come from Finland? All the ferries are already fully booked and there are no straight trains or buses from there. You can take a bus but it takes for two to three days (depending if you can get a ferry from Finland to Sweden) from Finland to Strasbourg or to Brussels"
A sarcastic Portuguese Member added:
"It appears that this unfortunate natural event has shown that some of our colleagues may not be aware of the true geography of Europe"
Hardly the entente cordiale is it?
Across the course of the day, calls to cancel the week’s Parliamentary business have grown.
Calling for decisive action to postpone the sitting, a Romanian MEP was at least philosophical and kept the situation in perspective:
"Ca s'apelle force majeur and leadership means to take responsibility for tough decisions in such times".
With the exception of perfidious Liberal Democrat MEP Edward MacMillan-Scott who has declared he "shall not attend", British MEPs of all parties have managed to make their way to Strasbourg.
As predicted, Fidesz - the Hungarian Civic Union - have won the country's parliamentary elections.
Commenting on Fidesz's victory in the early hours of this morning, President Laszlo Solyom rightly noted that it was "unprecedented for a winning party to secure such a clear and broad-based mandate" and that their victory "signals fundamental shift in Hungarian politics". He's right.
While counting is still going on, the party have secured an outright first-round victory in 119 of 176 constituencies and appear to have secured more than half of the 152 proportional representation top-up seats. In power since 2002, the Socialists have been reduced to a rump of only 28 seats - two ahead of the ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party who secured 26 mandates. It was a painful night for the once-powerful Hungary Democratic Union, our party's allies in the European Parliament, who failed to clear the 5% electoral threshold for representation in the Országház.
The challenge for Fidesz in recent months has never been winning the election - but rather about articulating a convincing plan to pull Hungary out of its current malaise. Preferring platitudes and outlining only the vaguest of policies, this is something Prime Minister-elect Orbán and his party have sadly failed to do.
Fidesz inherit a shattered - even bankrupt - country.
As a result of his own electoral strategy, Viktor Orbán is likely to quickly find himself a victim of what can loosely described as an "expectations/delivery deficit".
At present, Hungary is bound by more than €20 billion of loan obligations to the European Union, World Bank and International Monetary Fund - loans conditionalised on the basis of the country committing to a austerity programme which has been implemented by outgoing Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and his predecessor Ferenc Gyurcsany.
Publicly, Orbán has denounced the current loan agreement which limits the country's targeted deficit to 3.8% per annum, pledging to negotiate international agreement to increase this figure to 5.5%. Public spending programmes, Fidesz has promised the Hungarian public, will be ring fenced. Even if - and it is far from likely - Orbán obtains permission for such a deficit increase, economic realities will leave his government with no option other than to renege on their manifesto commitment not to implement savage public spending cuts. Their hands are tied.
Hungary's economic problem are matched only by the scale of social problems manifesting themselves in an increasingly ugly fashion on the streets of Budapest, Debrecen and Szeged.
There can be no better illustration of these social problems than the 17% vote for the Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary yesterday. Jobbik, with their anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, xenophobia rhetoric, fits every possible stereotype of a far-right Eastern European party.
While weak in the liberal urban centres, Jobbik came from nowhere to secure a strong second-place finish in the largely impoverished rural areas along the country's eastern borders with Romania and the Ukraine.
Support for Jobbik, just as with support for all other far-right nationalist movements in Europe, has little to do with racism and far more to do with frustration with the political process and established politics. The party has successfully skewered both the ruling Socialists and Fidesz for perceived corruption, the vagaries of their public spending policies and their failure to offer solid commitments on job creation.
Jobbik are thugs. For starters, their leader Gábor Vona has already vowed to wear the sinister uniform of the outlawed Hungarian Guard to Parliament.
In the Országház Jobbik will care little for the niceties of parliamentary democracy, instead preferring to focus "salty" personal attacks on Orbán and his supporters. If, as expected, Orbán is forced to slash public spending and fails to speedily turn around the economy, we can only expect Jobbik's cancerous influence on the Hungarian political process to continue to grow.
Fidesz have been handed a powerful mandate for change and enter office with a burden of expectation entirely disproportionate to what they are likely or able to achieve. For now, Orbán’s challenge must be to manage those expectations.
Fidesz face an unhappy challenge in the months ahead for which I can only wish them the very best of luck.
Amid the clamour of the start of the British general election campaign, Sunday will see Hungary’s ten million citizens go to the polls to vote in the country’s general election. The incumbent Socialist Party government has trailed in the polls for more than three years – sometimes by margins of more than 30% - and is certain to be defeated by the populist opposition party Fidesz.
Certainty of a Fidesz victory aside, there’s only one party worthy of the support of British Conservatives: the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (Hungarian Democratic Forum).
The MDF’s Prime Ministerial nominee is Central European University economics professor and former Chairman of the Budapest Stock Exchange Lajos Bokros who sits with our party’s MEPs in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.
Bokros' decision to withdraw his party from the EPP in favour of the ECR was a major coup for the group; bringing with him a legendary reputation as the Finance Minister whose mid-1990s ‘Bokros Plan’ “attacked head-on the thankless job of dismantling the socialist welfare state, radically downsized the public sector, cutting expenditures, and increased revenues”.
Founded by Hungary’s first post-communist Prime Minister József Antall, the MDF offer a solid free market programme which stands in sharp contrast to that of the main opposition party Fidesz who are often lazily described as a "centre-right" party by large parts of the European press. The MDF’s manifesto is a compelling one which, among other things:
Focuses on supporting small and medium-sized businesses.
Offers a ten point “clean hands” anti-corruption plan introducing transparency in party funding, public contract bid tendering and judicial decisions.
Advocates deep cuts in public spending in order to increase economic growth by more than 3% per annum.
States a commitment to keep the budget deficit below 3% of GDP during the party’s term in office.
Implements a long term plan to reduce Hungary’s debt to less than 40% of GDP.
During the course of the campaign, Fidesz leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban has struck a sharply protectionist note not dissimilar to that deployed by the theoretically right-leaning Nicolas Sarkozy.
On the issue of Hungary’s ban on the foreign purchase of agricultural land (which will become illegal under EU law from 2011) Obran declared that "foreigners will never buy arable land in Hungary" and that "every Austrian farmer who bought land in Hungary should feel pleased to have got away with it". When it comes to government procurement programmes, Fidesz promise to impose quotas to ensure a ‘closed shop’ for Hungarian companies on 70% of public tenders. The core of the party’s economic policy is based around persuading the IMF to accept an increase in the country’s targeted deficit from 3.8% to 5.5%.
The left-leaning, anti-market policies offered by Fidesz in this election are nothing new. Indeed, at the time of the 2006 general election, one witnessed the bizarre spectacle of then-Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Socialist Party advocating PFI initiatives, Atlanticism and improved conditions for foreign investment while the supposedly centre-right Fidesz advocated price controls on energy and a programme of renationalisation of former state assets.
It's no secret that this is a difficult election for the MDF who have seen their support base eroded by the vapid promises of Viktor Orban and Fidesz - but they are fighting a innovative and eye-catching campaign (see the poster to the right!) designed to maintain their representation in the Hungarian Parliament.
Polls conducted over the past three weeks show Fidesz to be in a commanding lead with more than 50% of the vote while the ruling Socialists and far-right Jobbik are scrapping it out for second place with roughly a fifth of the vote apiece.
At present, the MDF is hovering just below the threshold required for parliamentary representation.
Balint Szlanko, writing in Bloomberg’s Business Weekframed the final days of the campaign well:
“There is little daylight between Fidesz and Jobbik ideologically. They are both inheritors of a right-wing tradition that, lacking the possibility of open debate for decades, has improved precious little since the 1930s. They are both characterized by strong anti-liberal and anti-capitalist impulses, stuck in an old-fashioned, blood-based nationalism that is suspicious of most things foreign, and with a strong ethos of authoritarianism.”
With the growth of populist political rhetoric in the form of Fidesz and the bigoted extremism of Jobbik on the far-right, it’s more important than ever that Lajos Bokros and the MDF have a seat at the table.
Good luck to our friends and colleagues in the MDF on Sunday!
As a Brazilian, I raise a wry smile whenever I read the grandiose predictions of many commentators that the country is somehow on the verge of great diplomatic power and influence This is, as we’d say in Portuguese, a “porcaria”.
The reason is fairly simple: the behaviour and foreign policy of President Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva.
Allow me to share with you some examples of the President's behaviour...
On a recent visit to the Middle East, Lula enraged Israeli government officials by donning a keffiyeh and visting the tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah only hours after refusing to visit the grave of the founder of the Zionist movement Theodore Herzl. He used the same trip as an opportunity to praise the "courage" and "bravery" of the PLO's leaders.
Last year, the former metal-worker took the time to share with Gordon Brown his theory that the global financial crisis was "fostered and boosted by people that are white, blue-eyed" and boasted of his intention to bring about a "spicy" G20 summit.
In the hours following the ousting of corrupt Honduran President Manuel Zeleya, Lula insisted he be given sanctuary in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa; a move which resulted in widespread violence and worst rioting the country has ever seen.
Having hosted red-carpet banquets at the Palácio do Planalto for the likes of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, Lula has now acquired a new best friend in the form of Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Following a state visit last year in which Lula naively praised Ahmadinejad’s efforts to pursue the “enrichment of uranium to produce nuclear energy”, the President of the world’s fourth largest democracy has now unveiled details of a two-day visit to Tehran to take place in May. His announcement has already rightly drawn criticism from the United States and many European Union heads of government.
Lula’s 2002 Presidential challenger and incumbent Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra, commenting on Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil, put it right:
"Is this the President of the same country that tried to provide security and comfort to victims of the Holocaust extends honors those who trivialize the absolute evil? I am uncomfortable that Brazil has received the head of a dictatorial and repressive regime.
"After all, we have a past history of struggle against dictatorship and we enshrined the ideals of democracy and human rights into our 1988 Constitution. It is one thing to have diplomatic relations with dictatorships but another to invite their leaders to stay in your home.
"Democracy and human rights are indivisible and must be secured everywhere in the world. It is inconsistent to act as if these values lose importance depending on how far away from Brzil the country in question is. Lula's actions dishonour the memory of those who gave their lives to fight the dictatorship in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and trivialise the sacrifices made by those tortured and condemned to death in Iran.
"It is 25 years ago this month that we celebrated 25 years since the of the end of dictatorship and the beginning of the new Brazilian Republic.
"Ahmadinejad is known for being a notorious Holocaust denier; an event which brought about the evil extermination of millions of human beings just for being Jewish. Thousands were massacred because they were Gypsies, homosexuals and people with disabilities.
"Brazil is proud to have received many of the survivors of this heinous crime, which cannot be forgotten nor forgiven, much less denied. The values of democracy, human rights and tolerance are embodied in our Constitution and are the authentic expression of will way of the Brazilian people"
Lula’s behaviour has consistently dishonoured and discredited Brazil’s standing in the international community – from his misguided foreign policy to his personal contributions to the endemic culture of corruption which grips Brazil.
The charge sheet against Lula is long and varied; from the Mensalão scandal in which Congressman were paid bribes of more than US$10,000 per month from the advertising budgets of state-owned companies to support government polices to the US$6,000 fine handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday for misuse of the President’s office for party-political purposes.
Having failed to find support amongst the political establishment for the removal of the country's eight-year Presidential term limit, Lula will finally leave office on January 1st 2011.
Jose Serra will face Lula's Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff in the first round of voting on Sunday 3rd October.
In light of the news today that the Argentinean government has responded to British plans to drill for oil off the Falklands Islands coast by introducing new controls on shipping passing through its territorial waters, I thought it might be worth examining the "legal" implications of their actions.
"Ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea. Passage means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of: (a) traversing that sea without entering internal waters or calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters; or (b) proceeding to or from internal waters or a call at such roadstead or port facility. The coastal State shall not hamper the innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea. In particular, in the application of this Convention or of any laws or regulations adopted in conformity with this Convention, the coastal State shall not:(a) impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage; or (b) discriminate in form or in fact against the ships of any State or against ships carrying cargoes to, from or on behalf of any State.No charge may be levied upon foreign ships by reason only of their passage through the territorial sea [other than as] payment for specific services rendered to the ship"
Article 76 of the Treaty defines the scope of any particular landmass' continental shelf:
"The continental shelf of a coastal State comprises the seabed and subsoil of the submarine areas that extend beyond its territorial sea throughout the natural prolongation of its land territory to the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured where the outer edge of the continental margin does not extend up to that distance"
It is worth noting, at this juncture, that the point of the Falkand Islands closest to Argentina lies some 300 miles (480 kilometres) from its coastline.
Article 77, points one and four address the rights of Britain to drill for oil more closely:
"The coastal State exercises over the continental shelf sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring it and exploiting its natural resources... The natural resources referred to in this Part consist of the mineral and other non-living resources of the seabed and subsoil together with living organisms belonging to sedentary species, that is to say, organisms which, at the harvestable stage, either are immobile on or under the seabed or are unable to move except in constant physical contact with the seabed or the subsoil"
Article 81 continues:
"The coastal State shall have the exclusive right to authorize and regulate drilling on the continental shelf for all purposes"
It's an open and shut case: in continuing to deploy bellicose and intimidatory tactics in the pursuit of their irredentist claim on British sovereign territory in the South Atlantic, Argentian is plainly in violation of their obligations under international law. <="shelf:<">
Dr Tim Bale, a Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sussex has just released a new paper entitled ''May Contain Nuts'? The Reality behind the Rhetoric Surrounding the British Conservatives’ New Group in the European Parliament'.
Broadly speaking, Dr Bale's piece is a fair one which does a good job of dismissing many of the radical falsehoods about the party's new partners which have been spread by the British political left in recent months. Similarly, his overall conclusion is a sound one; that the group is comprised of moderate and mainstream parties who share the Conservative Party's commitment to deregulation, Atlanticism and constructive reform of the European Union.
I do, however, take issue with a few of the points contained in the document which I'll address in turn.
I quote from Dr Bale's article:
"Much of the criticism originates from the suspicion that the refusal of other centre-right parties in Europe to countenance leaving the EPP has forced the Conservatives into an alliance with partners with whom they have—or at least should have—little in common"
This is a highly questionable assertion, the validity of which is largely predicated on how you personally view the political positions of the EPP's members. The description of the EPP as being the European Parliament's "centre right" grouping is largely one which has been cultivated by British MEPs favourable to the continuation of the party's membership of the alliance and our opponents on the political left. The EPP describes itself as the “political centre of Europe” and strongly emphasizes the importance of the “social market economy” in policy making.
After months of being pilloried by the media for her perceived intransigence towards life in the European Parliament and lack of basic knowledge as to how the EU works, former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati is back with a (carbon neutral) bang.
Keen to rebuild her diminished political standing in advance of an expected run for Mayor of Paris in 2014, EPP MEP Mlle. Dati has brought forward an proposal in the European Parliament calling for the establishment of d'une taxe carbone aux frontières de l'Union européenne - a new carbon tax on all imports into the EU.
Urging her fellow MEPs to back her amendment, Mlle. Dati had the following to say:
"We should establish this tax not only to protect our companies, but also to deliver a strong message to our trading partners, to say that we consider that virtue [in cutting carbon emissions] has a price.... Our trading partners cannot continue to produce without complying with strict environmental norms, such as they exist in Europe. European companies and European citizens expect us to act responsibly to protect them. Protecting them, in this context, has nothing to do with protectionism".
With the European Union's five hundred million citizens being battered by the worst recession in modern history and unemployment standing at more than 10% in several member states, it's alarming that Mlle. Dati finds such a proposal desirable.
Of course, the only practical repercussion of her proposed tax would be to further drive up the cost of living in EU countries; worsening the present economic crisis and further eroding the ability of European citizens to compete in the global marketplace.
Any claims that her move is "not protectionist" in nature are wilfully disingenuous.
The inability of European companies to compete with goods coming from outside the EU has little to do with a lack of environmental regulations in other nations and rather more to do with the European Union's own regulatory regime.
Non-EU firms are not, for example, subjected to the same burdensome social legislation such as the EU's Working Time Directive (EU Directive 2000/34/EC) which limits the ability of workers to go about their jobs for more than 48 hours a week. The banking, insurance and pensions industries of non-EU states are not regulated by Michel Barnier, a man appointed to his job in order to make "French ideas for regulation triumph in Europe". Non-EU firms do not face prosecution and large fines for failing to package their products in pre-determined shapes or sizes (EU Directive 2007/45/EC). I could go on...
Is it any wonder, therefore, that companies based in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are increasingly more competitive than those based in the EU?
If Mlle. Dati really wants to demonstrate "responsibility" towards the European business sector then reducing - not contributing to - the EU's already-gargantuan regulatory burden might be a good start.
With only six days to go until Massachusetts voters go to the polls, it appears as if the Republicans are in serious contention for the late Ted Kennedy’s United State Senate seat.
Over the past few days, polls have shown Republican Scott Brown within striking distance of the state’s Attorney General Martha Coakley. Coakley’s 30% lead in October fell to 15% at the start of this month and, in the two polls released in the three days, Coakley records a 9% lead in one while the other shows Brown edging the Democrat by 1%.
An eminently likeable State Senator, Brown has performed well in television debates and has managed to put some distance between his message and that of national Republicans who have wisely avoided getting involved in the race. His campaign adverts have directly quoted John F. Kennedy's comments on the importance of tax cuts, featured images of him in National Guard uniform and touted his socially-moderate credentials.
Coakley, on the other hand, is a rather chilly personality whose campaign has been based more around her party label than her notable achievements as both the state's Attorney General and the former District Attorney of the state's largest county. In the dying days of the campaign she appears to be training her fire on Brown's rather tenuous links to the Bush administration and opposition to abortion (this rather effective ad went live yesterday).
Brown has already hit back with a personally-grounded ad critical of Coakley's partisanship. His two daughters, one of them a local celebrity following her semi-final appearance on the US version of Pop Idol, have hit the airwaves directly answering allegations he would block the provision of emergency contraceptives to rape victims ("my Dad would always stand up for the rights and needs of rape victims, and he’s kind, understanding and he’s a very compassionate father and man").
When all's said and done, Coakley's strategy will probably pay off.
Despite Brown's impressive fundraising haul in recent days, she retains a significant financial advantage over the Republican. To add to this, Massachusetts voters gave Barack Obama 62% of the vote last year and last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1978.
Electorally-speaking, however, stranger things have happened than a Brown victory.
In the months leading up to the Presidential election last year, Democratic challengers won “special elections” (by-elections) for open Congressional seats in Louisiana and Mississippi which had backed George W. Bush by equally impressive margins in 2004.
The outcome of US special elections, particularly those taking place in states under a thick blanket of snow and battered by chilly breezes, is largely driven by turnout – which rarely climbs above 25%. Barack Obama remains relatively popular in Massachusetts but the same cannot be said of Democratic Governor Deval Patrick whose approval rating stands at a positively Bushesque 22%.
Even in a state as blue as Massachusetts, a motivated Republican base has the ability to defeat the dominant Democratic machine. Republicans held the Governor's mansion from 1990 to 2006, most recently under Mitt Romney.
For both Democrats and Republicans, the implications of a Brown victory cannot be underestimated.
A Brown victory would instantly deny Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid the 60-vote super-majority he needs in order to prevent the Republican Senators from filibustering key votes on healthcare reform and the President’s judicial nominees. The longest-serving member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation Ed Markey is far from sanguine about a Coakley loss saying that "if we don't win this, 2010 will be hell for Democrats".
Legislatively-speaking, a Brown victory would do little more for the Republicans than strengthen the ability of the “party of no” to say “no” just that little forcefully. It would, however, act as a major shot in the arm for activists and congressional challengers across the country for whom electoral annihilation has become a way of life over the past four years.
With most of the ballots counted in the first round of the Chilean Presidential election, the centre-right National Renewal Party’s Sebastián Piñera leads leftist former President Eduardo Frei by a 45/31 margin.
Piñera, who would become Chile’s first centre-right President in more than twenty years if he triumphs in the 17th January run-off, has put forward an ambitious - and dare I say, Thatcherite – manifesto.
A Harvard-educated billionaire, Piñera has pledged to privatise large parts of the state-owned Codelco mining firm and to pass significant tax cuts to encourage business growth and investment in the country. His tough approach to crime, disorder and corruption is such that his campaign posters read “Delinquents: the party’s over”.
A Piñera victory on January 17th could signal the start of a strong 2010 for the South American centre-right who have been plagued by years of galling losses to leftist candidates in Venezuela (Hugo Chávez), Brazil (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Bolivia (Evo Morales), Ecuador (Rafael Correa) and Argentina (Cristina Fernández de Kirchner).
May 30th will see the almost certain election of Álvaro Uribe in Colombia to a third-term as President of Colombia.
Uribe has been arguably the only bright spot for the continent’s centre-right in the past few years, putting Colombia on a sure path to repaying its loans to the IMF and World Bank through the privatization of state-owned utilities and the extension of micro-credit facilities to small businessmen. Significantly, he has also made significant progress towards defeating the FARC paramilitary rebels who have controlled large parts of the country for decades.
The ultimate prize for the South American centre-right would, however, be victory in the second round of Brazilian Presidential election on October 24th.
After two ideologically-confused and painfully corrupt terms in office, the perplexingly yet perpetually popular President Lula is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office. Centrist former health minister and São Paulo state Governor José Serra, who enjoys cordial relations with the liberal conservative Democratas (formerly the Party of the Liberal Front) will likely face Presidential Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff in a second-round run-off.
Serra currently enjoys 20%+ opinion poll lead over Rousseff - although this will narrow significantly as election day approaches.
Brazil’s recent discovery of “black gold” – an enormous oil field stretching from just outside Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay to Angolan territorial waters – has elevated importance of defeating the President’s hand-picked candidate to a new level.
The Lula Presidency has charted a curious course in international relations, ensuring strong relations with both the Bush and Obama administrations while at the same time extending the diplomatic red carpet to Iran’s fascist dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezeula’s Hugo Chávez. On a trade level, Lula has sought to boost Brazilian manufacturing strength through tax incentives and has spoken up against US and EU protectionist trade measures.
Rousseff, however, is far to the left of her mentor. Her political skills were honed as an organizer for Marxist guerilla organisations during Brazil’s military dictatorship and she was a stalwart of Leonel Brizola's far-left Brazilian Labour Party. Her antipathy towards foreign owned businesses (in particular oil companies) is well known in Brazil, as is her ambition to sit atop of a alliance of South American leftist governments – something Brazil’s newly-found oil wealth would give her the economic and diplomatic power to do.
On the other hand, Serra offers a realistic - if imperfect - solutions to Brazil's many and varied problems.
An economist who was exiled during the military dictatorship, he has taken a centrist position as Governor of Sao Paulo, focussing upon bringing around structural improvements to the state's transportation and education systems to encourage investment and business growth.
He and his party - the Brazilian Social Democratic Party - have, however, closely aligned themselves with the popular President on expanding social welfare entitlements yet have to date espoused none of the forced equity redistribution and land reform advocated by elements of Lula's Workers' Party.
He is committed to the ongoing repayment of Brazil's international debts and has stated a preference for preference for keeping inflation at a minimum. He similarly favours eliminating the endless red tape which paralyses Brazilian businesses, including the particularly pernicious licença de funcionamento which pushes the time it takes to register and open a business to more than four months.
Serra has been vocally critical of Lula's repeated dalliances with foreign dictators and could reliably be expected to pursue a tougher line on human rights violations and corruption in the region. It is one thing, Serra argues, to have diplomatic relations with dictatorships but another "to welcome their leaders in your home".
Battered from years of electoral setbacks, the South American right face an uphill struggle but 2010 appears to offer hope of some green shoots of recovery.
The Party of the European Socialists Annual Congress in Prague has just voted to reinstate Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico’s Direction/Social Democracy (SMER) party to full membership of its trans-national political family.
SMER was suspended from the PES in September 2006 for forming a governing coalition with Ján Slota’s far-right Slovak National Party - a group who make the membership of the BNP look like the audience of a Benjamin Zephaniah poetry recital in an Islington coffee shop.
At the time, SMER were strongly criticised by PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen for failing to adhere to party rules demanding members "refrain from any form of political alliance or co-operation at all levels with any political party which incites or attempts to stir up racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred". The coalition remains in place today.
The Slovak National Party's platform is fairly predictable ultra-nationalist stuff.
Party leader Ján Slota appears to have a particular problem with Hungarians, declaring them a "tumour in the body of the Slovak nation" and "ugly, bow-legged, Mongoloid characters on disgusting horses". He has also charmingly declared that "we [Slovaks] will sit in our tanks and flatten Budapest" if ethnic Hungarians assert their authority in the Slovakia.
Gypsies, Slota claims, should be dealt with in "a small courtyard and with a long whip" and refused to apologise for describing the Roma as "race who steal, rob and pilfer" on the grounds that "at least half of the nation think the same way".
Slota has also praised the country's fascist dictator Jozef Tiso (hanged in 1945) as "one of the greatest sons of the Slovak nation" and dedicated a plaque to him whilst Mayor of the city of Zilina. Homosexuality, he argues, is equivalent to paedophilia.
I could go on - but I think you get the picture.
Is it really appropriate for the Labour Party to be aligned to political parties like SMER who remain in coalition with the likes of the Slovak National Party?
With the Lisbon Treaty having passed into law on December 1st, eighteen new Members of the European Parliament are now entitled to take their seats in the European Parliament.
Using complex population calculations, the Treaty has allocated new seats to Spain (4), Austria (2), France (2), Sweden (2), Bulgaria (1), Italy (1), Latvia (1), Malta (1), the Netherlands (1), Poland (1), Slovenia (1) and the United Kingdom (1).
The new MEPs will be “elected” on the basis of the first-placed unsuccessful candidate at the 2009 European elections and will officially sit as "observers" in the Parliament without the right to vote (but with the ability to speak and attend committee meetings) until a complex legal protocol is ratified by national governments - expected to coincide with Croatia’s accession to the European Union in 2011.
The majority of countries have already confirmed the names of their new MEPs or released the timetable for their appointment. The Government of the United Kingdom is not amongst them.
A press spokesman for the Electoral Commission confirmed to me a few minutes ago that the Ministry of Justice has not yet, as legislation demands, directed the body to calculate a new seat allocation for United Kingdom European Parliament constituencies so as to determine which region will receive the new seat.
According to calculations made in June, the United Kingdom's 73rd seat would be allocated to the West Midlands region, a move which would see the “election” of Conservative Anthea McIntyre. The London and Scotland areas are also rumoured to be pushing hard to have the extra seat allocated to their regions. An extra MEP in the capital city would see Labour's Anne Fairweather “elected” while a seventh seat in Scotland would go to Conservative Belinda Don.
Whatever any of us might think about the European Parliament and its endless tide of damaging legislation, only a fool would deny the importance of ensuring the United Kingdom’s interests are defended vigorously in Brussels.
It's time for Labour to stop dragging its feet and send our new Member of European Parliament to Brussels.
“Most people”, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic’s burlesque propaganda website admits, “don’t know Transnistria exists”. For the sake of the survival of the Transnistrian regime, that’s probably a good thing.
Located on the left-bank of the River Dniester between Moldova to the west and the Ukraine to the east, the Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica is one of the few remaining scars the Soviet Union left on South East Europe – a province suspended in a frozen conflict and stuck in a time warp where grand statues of Stalin and Lenin still dominate the skyline.
The province of Transnistria, much like the rest of the Republic of Moldova, is typical of many countries in South Eastern Europe for its rich ethnic mix, being home to diverse groups of Moldovans, Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz, ethnic Jews, Poles, Bulgarians and Roma. Across sovereign Moldova, Moldovans comprise around three quarters of the country’s 4.3 million citizens with ethnic Ukrainians and Russians making up much of the remainder – the bulk of who live in Transnistria.
Since 1956, Transnistria has been home to Russia’s 14th Army who has capitalized on its convenient strategic geographic position to garrison troops and stockpile munitions. The collapse of Soviet rule in Moldova had inspired hopes that such troops would depart the state’s newly-liberated territory. On August 27th 1991 the Moldovan Parliament – comprised of MPs from across the country’s territory – passed a declaration calling on Russia to "to terminate the illegal state of occupation and annexation and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from its national territory".
Despite a binding agreement between Moldova’s Prime Minister Andrejz Sangheli and Russia’s Viktor Chernomyrdin signed on 21st October 1994 in which the Russian Federation pledged to "relocate troops to other sites" and guarantee "the political settlement of the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova", the 14th Army remains in situ today.