Friday, May 27, 2005

The EU: A Little Crisis Can be a Good Thing

Panic has set in at the EU as both France and the Netherlands seem poised to vote no on the new EU "Constitution." (Which must be approved by all 25 members to take effect.)

In our view, the "Constitution" tries to do too much. Portions cited by the "yes" and "no" campaigns (e.g., enshrinement of social and economic policy) have no place in a constitution. A constitution exists to establish the basic structure of government - the powers granted and restricted.
It would strengthen social policy in the bloc by setting out goals such as full employment and equality between men and women.
That's nice, but what does it have to do with the structure and powers of government? Maybe it should include the long-term goals of the European Space Agency too? (They seem, for the most part, to have limited themselves to the meaningless content of Article III-155: "The Union shall establish any appropriate relations with the European Space Agency.")

As far as we can tell from this side of the pond, the "yes" campaign has centered around two basic messages: (1) vote yes because we want you to and (2) everybody else is doing it, so if you vote no we'll keep asking until you say yes.

Odd, but interesting, from a BBC reporter in Paris:

The 'Yes' campaign hasn't been well handled. Sending a copy of the constitution to every householder may have been a worthy democratic move, but it wasn't very popular.

In the building where my flat is, the letter-boxes were jammed with 'Yes' literature. The vast text was too finely printed, making it seem like a dodgy insurance prospectus, and I thought the explanation that came with it, treated me like an idiot.

We downloaded the 325 page-document from the BBC and skimmed it. Here's an example of a provision of Constitutional importance:
Without prejudice to Article 5 of the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, measures for the production of statistics shall be laid down by a European law or framework law where necessary for the performance of the Union's activities. (Article III-335)
One of the "Constitution's" main authors notes the many problems of the final draft:

The European Constitution should still be praised for setting out Europe’s common values, and defining the powers of the institutions that run it.

But key sections “got out of control” in two years of drafting. Its authors took on too much, and tried to solve problems they were not equipped to tackle. They were too ambitious, and they started two years too late.

That is the verdict of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, one of the main authors of the tome which polls suggest will be rejected by French voters on Sunday, very likely followed by the Dutch on Wednesday. “Why did it get so big? We tried to do it all,” he said yesterday.


He thinks that “the parts that got out of control were defence and foreign policy”, as well as some of the legal framework. The 181-page “part III” is particularly at fault, he now feels.

“It is an extension of part I into actual policies with not enough excisions. We didn’t want to knock out bits.”

Part III contains almost every existing treaty, including the Growth and Stability Pact, the hugely controversial financial rules for countries which have adopted the euro currency.

“We were the wrong body [to tackle that]”, he offers, because of the financial complexity and political sensitivity. “We couldn’t have amended it.”


Looking back over the whole exercise, he concludes: “I don’t think we did it incompetently. But it would have been easier to sell to the public as a short, 60-article, institutional treaty.”

Europeans (as well as interested persons worldwide) would be well served by a constitution that can actually be read and understood without extensive study. Internationally, how much influence would the U.S. Constitution have had if it included every federal statute?

Update, May 29: French Voters Reject EU Charter

Update, May 30: Der Spiegel: Chirac Gets French Fried

Stem Cell Research: Have a Good Old-Fashioned Fundraiser

With politicians still chattering about throwing federal money at fanciful hopes for embryonic stem cell research, we thought we would ask why federal money is so important. Why can't this money be raised privately from willing donors rather than through confiscatory taxation?

First, we'll remind everyone that President Bush never made the research illegal, it simply is not being subsidized by the federal government. Whatever you think of stem cell research, whether adult or embryonic, the federal government does not prohibit it. Now it turns out that federal funding might not even be necessary:

(MSN) [A]dditional government funding might have a limited impact because work is still in large part at the relatively inexpensive basic research stage, and so much private funding is available. Harvard has raised $30m towards stem cell research as part of an ambitious plan to hand out over $100m. Three New York medical institutions - Rockefeller University, Weill Medical College of Cornell and Memorial Sloan-Kettering - this month announced a $50m stem cell initiative. The state of Massachusetts is contemplating a $100m programme to fund stem cell research. And California is poised to hand out $3bn. "It's a lot of money, no matter how you look at it," says Charles Jennings, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
By comparison, South Korea spend $27 million on stem cell research that has produced "results" recently.

So if you want your pet project funded so bad, why don't you ask the people and organizations that actually have their own money? It's working so far, it just doesn't make the 15-second evening news report.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

To Euro or Not to Euro

From the BBC:

One of the Czech National Bank's top policymakers has questioned the merits of eurozone membership, arguing that it may damage growth.

The comments by Czech National Bank board member Robert Holman are more explicit than previous comments and may signal a policy change, analysts said.


What has caught many observers by surprise is that Mr Holman has not only voiced this scepticism but also shifted the emphasis of what should determine euro membership for the Czech Republic.

Previous comments had focused on internal reform and fiscal discipline, but now the focus has been shifted to the economic performance of the countries that share the euro.

"The eurozone economy has been growing very slowly in the past five years, and among other factors, it could have been caused by having the common currency," Mr Holman said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

When I traveled about Europe, I certainly appreciated the Euro. It wasn't until visiting Prague that any difficult currency conversions were necessary. However, I would not have spent any more money if shops set prices in Euros. I just would have made purchases faster and returned to wandering. A little convenience for tourists is hardly worth sacrificing control of your monetary policy - especially with the EU's looming demographic and economic problems.

Democrats Against Democracy

From CNN:
During floor debate Wednesday, Minority Leader Harry Reid accused the Republican majority of "moving toward breaking the rules to change the rules."

"Right now, the only check on President Bush is the Democrats' ability to voice our concern in this body," said the Nevada Democrat. "If Republicans roll back our rights in this chamber, there will be no check on this power."

Try winning an election, Harry. If you keep up Daschle's trend, the Republicans will have 60 Senate seats after the next election.

Do the Reid Democrats stand for democracy or merely obstruction? It's one thing to fight legislation or nominations for actual stated reasons and reasoned debate, it's another to abuse procedural rules to deny even an up or down vote for nominees who already enjoy majority support.

For more on the Observant Observations view of filibusters, please visit "Let's Have a Good Old-Fashioned Filibuster".

"Filibusters: A History" may also be of interest.

Update, May 24: A timely quote:

The Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action.

-President Woodrow Wilson, 1917

We are not certain, but would not be surprised if this is still true.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Yet They're Not Blowing Themselves Up in Prague...

From Deutsche Welle:

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder Tuesday condemned critics of the Czech Republic's refusal to abolish wartime decrees forcing the expulsion of the "Sudeten" German minority from Czechoslovakia.


Around 2.5 million people were expelled from Czechoslovakia under the 1945 Benes decrees on the basis that they had supported Hitler's annexation. Their property was confiscated. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people died during the expulsion.

The postwar transfer of the strong German minority from Czechoslovakia's border areas, the Sudeten territories, continues to stir up emotions in both the Czech Republic and Germany, although not at a government level.

Millions more Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II. A few years later, less than a million Palestinian Arabs fled the new state of Israel in exchange for a similar number of Jews from Arab nations. So why aren't the Sudeten Germans blowing themselves up in downtown Prague? Maybe because the Federal Republic of Germany integrated them instead of keeping them in refugee "camps" as political pawns.