Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pakistan: 5 girls will be given to rivals over karo-kari

Pakistan, a staunch ally of the US, in possession of nuclear armament, has strange ways to deal with women.
In order to continue the unarmed and democratic struggle against oppression of women, everywhere, after this issue was darkened somewhat during our discussions of the Hirsi Ali impostures and manipulations, here an article in the Pakistani daily DAWN - Top Stories; May 28, 2006:
"5 girls will be given to rivals over karo-kari

By Shamim Shamsi

SUKKUR, May 27: A jirga decided on Saturday that five girls belonging to two rival groups would be given in marriage to settle a karo-kari dispute.

The jirga was held in the Haji Kamal Magsi village by Mian Abdul Khaliq of Bharchoondi Sharif, PPP MNA Ijaz Bijarani and Thull taluka nazim Ghulam Akbar Banglani. Warring groups — one led by Hafiz Qamardin Banglani and the other by Yar Ali Banglani and Ahmed Nandwani — were present on the occasion.

The karo-kari dispute started when Miandad Banglani, younger brother of Qamardin, was killed about five years ago.

After listening to both the sides, the jirga announced its verdict. The group led by Yar Ali Banglani and Ahmed Nandwani will hand over four of its girls as well as Rs700,000 to the Qamardin group. Elders of the Qamardin group will choose men from within the group to whom the girls will be married.

Accordingly, the Qamardin group will hand over one girl and Rs135,000 to the rival group."
Googling somewhat on "karo-kari", I discovered that this is an old custom in the region, among muslims as well as others, to settle honour disputes between clans. It is linked to "honour killings" of "adulterous" women, or women who simply contract a love marriage. It is not limited to women: men may be killed for these reasons, too.
But the vast majority of the killings or forced marriages happen to women (386 reported in the year 2000, many more are not reported). Rich families are exempted. Rich women are condemned to "marry the Koran", which means that they have to stay unmarried their whole life.
Background of this barbaric custom are often disputes over land and property. When you kill or force out of marriage an heiress, even if she is your own sister, there will be more property for you, in the end.
What is the connection with Islam, here? Coming to Pakistan, Islam has integrated local customs and beliefs, like the Catholic Church did in its time in other countries. "Marrying the Koran" is not unlike the bannishment of redundant princesses to convents, as was the custom in Europe, not so long ago.
Which doesn't mean, that "karo-kari" should be tolerated in any way. Not in Pakistan, not in Europe.
It is chilling, to note, that the relatively progressive paper Dawn carries no outraged comments. It looks as if the journalists are happy, that a murderous dispute is settled by wise men at such a modest cost!
"Only five virgins more have been caged."
The press release moreover, seems to imply that a representative of the big PPP (Pakistani People's Party, the power-base of the Bhuttos) participated in this "jirga".

I am sure, that Ayaan Hirsi Ali will take up this issue of karo-kari first thing at the American Enterprise Institute. The New York Times is already supporting a campaign to give asylum to Pakistani women who underwent similar treatment (the woman who was raped at the 'order' of a local court by 5 men of the 'offended' family).
Knowing the principled stands of the AEI, it will not hesitate to join -exceptionally- the 'Times' in this honourable campaign, even if it risks to harm the good relations with Muzarraf and the ISI.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More on Hitchens: Christopherhitchenswatch by Sonic

Blogger Sonic lives in Auckland, New Zealand. He runs an excellent "Christopher Hitchens Watch". Recommended!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hitchens has been (too) well served by the Dutch Right

A while before the latest Hirsi Ali hype broke loose, Christopher Hitchens started his wooing of the Caged Virgin in a weekly "Slate" Column. I commented on that on this blog. Comments that had some echo in different places in the Blogosphere.
My point of view was, and is, that Hitchens was preparing a new use for the 'Moor' ('The Moor has done his job, the Moor may dispose!' - Fr. Schiller, famous German author, friend of Goethe), after her uses had been exhausted by the Dutch VVD conservative party.
And I also foresaw a new element in the Hirsi-Ali exploitation, to be expected from the American neoconservatives: putting her forward as a witness for the European softness and dangerous appeasement leanings, concerning the Great Muslim Conspiracy, that is a mortal danger to this world.
Now, in his latest column, 'Holland's latest insult to Ayaan Hirsi Ali', he cashes in his gains like a card player who won too early, to much. The Dutch have served him all he hoped for, on a silver plate. He correctly feels, that, like in 'religious sects', or in prison (or, for that matter the Trotskyist sects, which he knows better), the leadership doesn't accept a voluntary good-bye: the dissenting and onerous member has to be evicted before he or she leaves freely. That is, what former prison warden immigration minister Rita Verdonk, cerberus hound against refugees and immigration, last Monday tried to do.

His only problem is, that he did not win where he intended to, i.e.: at the cost of the Dutch and European left. He won from another card-player, the Dutch (and European) populist and pro-Bush RIGHT. Actually, those whom he (and Hirsi Ali for that matter) nails to the pillory as the willing collaborators of the Islam Conspiracy against the West, were the only ones, who timely and worthy protested against the methods and ways, the Dutch populist Right wanted to dispose of Hirsi Magan.
Look here:
"Opnieuw gedwongen te vluchten" (Forced anew to fly) - manifesto of Dutch personalities*) against the right's handling of Hirsi Ali, NRC-Handelsblad, May 16, 2006. Click on the image to see a less unreadable version.

On May 16, 2006, a group of Dutch LEFT-leaning intellectuals, writers, retired politicians, were the ONLY ones to come forward in an open letter in the most prestigious Dutch daily, NRC-Handelsblad, AGAINST driving out Ajaan Hirsi! This was published, BEFORE Parliament called minister Verdonk to order. At the same time, most of the political right was showing satisfaction at the disappearance of Hirsi Ali from the Dutch scene.

How does Hitchens handle this embarrassing anomaly?

He takes on the famous co-author Ian Buruma (professor in the US, of Dutch origin) of "Occidentalism", who wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times about Holland and Hirsi Ali. Rather timidly, Buruma made some critical observations on the ways in which the Dutch right has manipulated Hirsi Ali during her participation in Dutch politics.
Writing in the New York Times last Friday, Ian Buruma said that Ayaan Hirsi Ali ought to have spoken out more for those who had been denied asylum in the Netherlands. (He is the author of a forthcoming book about the murder of Theo van Gogh, who was Hirsi Ali's partner in the making of a film about the maltreatment of women in the Muslim ghettos of Dutch cities.) This point doesn't seem to me to carry much weight. If she had become the spokeswoman for other refugees, her own story of making a partially false application could (and would) have been used against her even more. Instead, she pointed out that many perfectly legal immigrants to Holland were trying to import dictatorship rather than flee from it, and for this she attracted lethal hatred.
Without daring to do so explicitly, Hitchens categorizes Buruma with the naive lefties, who underestimate the Great Conspiracy and who condone "daily calls by imams in the country to join terrorism". The reason Hitchens gives for Hirsi Ali's systematic refusal to join the protests in the country against the immigration and deportation policies of her own party-representatives in Government, is too ridiculous for words: Hitchens himself mentions, that Hirsi Ali had, long ago, already "confessed" to have lied about her name and birthday, and why she did so. In standing up for people who did the same, there was no risk at all for her. No, Hirsi Ali did not defend the right to immigration for those who fly their countries for a valuable reason, because she is obsessed by the Islamic Conspiracy: a conspiracy of people who, with oil money, send agents to the country, not only in order to kill her, but also to take it over and install the sharia.

It is the Dutch and European RIGHT who abused, then chased, their Moor. The same people, who insist on joining Bush in his ways of dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan (Dutch troops to Helmand Province) are the ones who put the new Joan of Arc at the stake!

Hitchens won too quickly, and from the wrong player.

*) It may be interesting to see, who showed real (Dutch) courage and who refused to give a "Dutch fuck", at a moment it mattered most:
  • Geert Mak, writer of a remarkable book on Europe (translated into many languages), co-author and initiator of the manifesto, is the much loathed and ridiculised author of two pamflets written after the murder of film-maker Van Gogh in 2004, in which he pleaded for a less hysterical and more dignified reaction to what happened. Right-leaning intellectuals, friends of Hirsi Ali, continue to attack him in the worst imaginable ways. They even invented a new verb in Dutch, "geertmakken", to describe the criminal way in which, in their opinion, writers and intellectuals like he, paved willingly the way for an islamic coup d'état. Amsterdam's jewish mayor, Job Cohen, another "geertmakker", who fights to keep the city's civic society together, is often accused of "dhimmy-ism".
  • Ed van Thijn, former Amsterdam Mayor, former Minister of the Interior, prominent social-democratic thinker. Marginalised by the actual party-leadership.
  • Hedy d'Ancona and Maarten Asscher: prominent members of the Amsterdam social-democratic liberal circles.
  • Frits Barend, Martin Bril, Max Pam, Adelheid Roosen, Theodor Holman, Mieke van der Weij, Ciska Dresselhuys: Opinion-makers, columnists in mainstream papers. Holman, friend of Theo van Gogh, was and is utterly shocked by his death, leaned a long time towards the radical populist circles (Ephimenco, c.s.), but feels apparently more at home with these people he despised so much for their "weak" stand on Islam.
  • H.M. van den Brink, Sybolt Noorda: Respected scientists.
  • Connie Palmen: Writer and former judge, partner of former minister and founder of liberal party D66, Hans van Mierlo.
  • Betsy Udink: Journalist and writer on Islamic societies, married to a Dutch diplomat, until recently stationed in Pakistan. Last year she published a very critical book on the Pakistani regime.
  • Adriaan van Dis,Tilly Hermans, Freek en Hella de Jonge, Rudy Kousbroek, Jan Wolkers and Joost Zwagerman: Well-known writers and playwrights.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hitchens' shameful exploitation of an abused girl's obsession

England's (and Burgundy's) shameful treatment of Jeanne d'Arc, the obsessed virgin of Orléans, who was burned alive in Rouen as a witch, still feeds the xenophobia of Jean-Marie Le Pen's antisemitic and fascistoid Front National movement (roughly 15 to 19% of the national vote) in France. .
The shameful treatment that some thirty praying Muslims underwent in the Mosk at the Cave of the Patriarchs at the hands of a trigger-happy Dr. Baruch, born and educated in the extremist Jewish circles that thrive in Brooklyn, will not be forgotten so soon in Palestine.
Not to speak of the shameful treatment that some 6 million Jews underwent by the hands of German and allied Nazis.

In 2006, Christopher Hitchens has discovered another shameful treatment, Holland's shameful treatment of Ajaan Hirsi Ali (Slate, May 8, 2006).
What happened? Ajaan Hirsi, not: Ali, but "Magan", her real name, lives in an apartment on top of a building, where she is guarded by police against attacks 24/7. Neighbours, not happy with this situation, typical "NIMBY's" ("not in my backyarders"), obtained from a judge, that she has to move elsewhere, so that their property may retain its value.
Although one may be sure, that most of those rich neighbours are voting for the (conservative) "Liberal" party "VVD", that she is representing as a deputy in Dutch Parliament, no hospitality, no "Dutch courage" is to be found among them. That is a scandal. A thing like this, would not happen in Brooklyn, or in Washington, in Paris or in London, isn't it? No, the scandal is, that nobody among the many adorers of the 21st century Virgin (Her last book appeared recently in the US: "The Caged Virgin") in Holland, nobody, offered her an asylum, as far as I know.

And she needs a place to hide, so badly! Particularly, since, on May 11, Dutch television revealed that she lied. She lies about
  • her family, who are no islamist fundamentalists, but rather rich, enlightened people,
  • her refugee story: she left Somalia at age 7, before civil wars broke out and lived under relatively easy conditions from age 12-22 as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, where she went to a good school, paid for by the UN refugee organisation,
  • her marriage, which was apparently completely normal and happy,
  • her family, who, although not happy with her decisions, gave in to them and remained in contact with her.
The second instance of shame is the behaviour of the Dutch "Liberal" (= Conservative) Party. Knowing about her lies, they made her (bought her) as a deputy, to win islamophobic votes in 2002, when Fortuyn showed, that there was a market. In reigning her in, the VVD party could keep "clean" hands as to xenophoby, while exploiting this enraged and seemingly unattackable virgin.

But the Americanized Brit, Christopher Hitchens, came up, just before the exposure of "Ali" as a fraud, as the latest shameless exploiter of this pitiful case of imposture. Everybody who uses the "Ali" myth, has his own agenda. The Hitchens agenda is, to ashame the European double standard, as compared to the US one. But that is another story. One should expect an apology from Hitchens to his readers. An apology to the Dutch may be waived.

Dutch daily NRC, on May 12, 2006: "Fokke and Sukke understand completely Hirsi "Ali"" - "You should see it in the framework of a culture ... characterised by a lack of shame and honour"

Vodafone to slash mobile roaming charges

The scandal of mobile phone roaming charges, attacked by the EU Commissioner last year, is apparently coming to an end. But the price cuts are too small, come too late and are, at this moment, limited to one multinational operator, Vodafone.
The FT, May 9:
The threat of EU legislation has spurred Vodafone into slashing the cost of using a mobile phone abroad as the world'’s largest mobile phone operator confirmed on Monday that it planned to reduce roaming charges in Europe by 40 per cent.
Vodafone, the world's largest mobile phone operator, said on Monday that it planned to cut the cost of roaming by at least 40 per cent by April next year, with the average cost falling from €€0.90 to less than €€0.55 a minute.
April 2007 is too late. Why not introduce them immediately? The reduction is only for calls between Vodafone nets and affiliates. It is not always possible for a Vodafone clitravelingling in a foreign country, to join the right network. And the price cut is too small: relative costs for calls between national networks are not 5 to 10 times higher than for calls within those networks.
But, after complaining, let us greet this symbolic breakthrough, congratulate the European Commission, while encouraging it to go forward and impose objective prices, taking into account the problems of inhabitants of smaller European countries, who are among the main victims of this roaming charges robbery. (See my previous post in At Home in Europe: EU roaming charges: Reduction overdue!)

And now: The UMTS roaming charges...
I belong to the growing category of Eurotravelers, who use daily their portable computer (or blackberry) to access the internet via UMTS cableless services. "Hotspots" galore. But the Vodafone emitter-receiver card is only an affordable help ... in your own country. Where normally your ADSL main desktop computers are also located. As soon as you cross the borders, access to these UMTS hotspots becomes very expensive (charges of €20,- an hour!), even if you get a slight rebate as a foreign Vodafone client. Clients of other networksevene ven more charged and have to use code-cards that do not work or charge their creditcards via complicated transactions.
This is absolutely unnecessary! And there is no relation, whatsoever, to the extra costs, UMTS providers have to make for foreign clients. It is true, corporations with an enterprise network (intranet) get big reductions for their internet communication traveling agents. Blackberries are even thoroughly conceived for this kind of use. But the independent small entrepreneur is unable to profit from those arrangements.
If we were, finally, to take seriously the 2000 Lisbon objectives, a liberalisation of these communication systems, is long overdue.

It is spiteful, that the EU, in attributing the licenses to countries and imposing on them to sell them all to private companies, has not reserved a single all-European UMTS network, to weigh upon the private beneficiaries in order to discipline their behaviour on transnational transactions, like it has done for transnational banking charges after the introduction of the euro.

Link: / By industry / Telecoms - Vodafone to slash mobile roaming charges [Open source]

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Two insufficient initiatives on the Baltic pipeline

Helena Spongenberg signals in today's (May 9) EU-Observer two different initiatives in Europe on (or against) the German-Russian pipeline under the Baltic. (

The first one is a letter by EU-Commissioner Neelie Kroes, wanting
"to know whether the guarantee to cover €1 billion of the project's cost is equivalent to state aid and if it is, whether it was granted within the rules of EU state aid subsidies."
This initiative is of course insufficient and largely beside of the mark: the problem is not state aid, and, if ever the Commission would or could make disappear that guarantee, it would not help against the exclusive dependence of EU-countries on eventual Russian pressures. on the contrary: If the pipeline property and -management becomes a more Russian affair, the dependence and the risk of abuse would only grow.
That is, of course, not Mrs. Kroes' fault. She has no other instruments in her portfolio. Her letter should be seen as a signal to the German Government, that Europe feels uneasy about this gas deal.

Warsaw wants a stake in the gas deal

The second initiative is a Polish one:
Meanwhile, Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz will travel to Berlin today (9 May) to propose turning the Baltic Sea gas pipeline into an EU-wide scheme with the participation of several EU countries, including Poland.

"The French, British and the European Commission like our idea at first glance," said Mr Marcinkiewicz's foreign affairs advisor Richard Schnepf, according to the Polish press.

He said the move would give Poland a seat on the board of the pipe consortium, limiting the Kremlin's chances to manipulate Russian gas supply to the EU for political reasons.
This proposal is tendentially much more in line with the ideas discussed in the previous post here. But it is much more limited and would only (partially) solve the immediate problems arisen around the Schröder deal with Putin. It is a classic nationalist diplomatic initiative, that points not in the way of a common EU guarantee, but in that of traditional inter-government compromises.
Such a compromise would not constitute a sufficient warning to Russia and others who might see their interest in dividing the EU among itself. The reaction of the mostly invisible new German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is ominous, in this repect:
" German foreign affairs chief Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday said that the planned centre for German WWII exiles in Berlin, the Baltic Sea pipeline and the closure of the German labour markets are the biggest problems for German-Polish relations today."
This statement points clearly in the direction of an exclusive German-Polish deal, where Germany would try to trade its interests in other bilateral problems against a possible concession to Poland on the pipeline.
Another reason for the EU, to act now, and quickly, and not to hesitate to go into the heart of the matter!

EU needs joint policy against divisive powers, whichever.

The London Financial Times is an invaluable source of timely and well informed analysis and comments on European affairs. Latest proof: Wolfgang Munchau: "EU needs a joint response" [to a newly assertive Russia, playing "divide et impera" among the EU-countries, using its position as an energy provider]. [Link for subscribers only].
The case for a joint response to Russian oil and gas imperialism is overwhelming. Yet Germany and others prefer to deal with Russia on a bilateral basis, often undermining the wider EU interest in the process. If handled badly, Russia’s energy diplomacy has the potential to divide the EU just as much the US-led war against Iraq did three years ago.
A striking parallel. It is no accident, that US vice-president Dick Cheney went all the way to Vilnius, to contribute last week to this new opening for division within Europe, posing as the only rock-solid anti-Russian, eastern European countries may count on. Poland's new ultra-nationalist government did not stay behind, talking about a "new Stalin-Ribbentrop Pact" [1939: German-Soviet treaty that was the basis for conquering and dividing Finland, the Baltic countries and Poland.], meaning the nes direct gas-pipeline contract between Germany and Russia.
Under Schröder, Germany has indeed begun playing into the hands of Putin, enabling him to cut off energy delivery to countries individually. Angela Merkel continues that policy. And that is no wonder, for it is the outcome of two developments that have nothing to do with Poland. First: the gradually abandonment of nuclear power generation in Germany itself, and, second: the factual destruction of NATO, symbolized in the US rejection of European solidarity after September 11.
EU-solidarity is not (yet) an alternative. Main cause: the UK. But also the generally growing nationalist economic policies of other EU countries.
Munchau shows convincingly, that the EU, if sufficiently united, has the power to force Russia to behave as a normal provider.
As Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels points out, the EU should opt for a two-pronged policy response. It should formulate a joint position in the short run and reduce its dependence on Russian gas in the long run. For the time being, the EU should put maximum pressure on Russia to ratify the energy charter, which sets the ground rules for the trade and transport of energy in Europe. It was agreed by 49 European states in 1994 but Russia continues to refuse to ratify the treaty because it objects to the charter’s draft transit protocol. This would oblige Russia to open up spare pipeline capacity to foreign suppliers. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Mr Putin met in March to discuss this issue but without success.

The EU should also agree on a mutual support mechanism. This would be similar to Nato’s mutual defence clause. If Russia ever cut off gas supplies to any single EU member, other EU countries would be obliged to make up the shortfall. Such a mechanism could also go some way to neutralise the political fears caused by the Baltic Sea pipeline project.

The most intelligent long-run response consists of further energy liberalisation, securing alternative supply routes such as the planned pipeline project from the Caspian basin, and investing in liquefied natural gas, which is easier to transport.

Perhaps the single most important long-term measure – currently resisted by many EU states including Germany – would be to rethink their policy to phase out nuclear energy. Nuclear energy would not eliminate the need for gas imports but could play an important part in a strategy to reduce dependency on an increasingly aggressive monopoly supplier in the long run.

Excepting the last point, all this is relatively easy and seems efficient and effective. The central-eastern EU-members, whose fear of "imperialist" forcing under more and more assertive historic "great powers" in the region (Russia, Germany, Austria) is absolutely justified, would be happy with such a guarantee. And it would also help them, to tune in with a prudent European attitude in world policy, thus barring somewhat more the American neocons from creating havock in the European chicken ren (like they did during the Iraq crisis).
Undeniably, it would be a good thing for Germany, too: trading its atlantic and European dependence for an exclusive dependence on Russia in energy matters, is, in the longer run, a dangerous adventure.
Munchau is right, that the actual situation presents a wide window of opportunity for an effective European solidarity. It is much more important than gas alone.
Where are the European states(wo)men to take it up?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

George Irvin: A Different View on the European Social Model

Economics Professor George Irvin (website) [°1940, ISS The Hague Professor (rtd), SOAS London Research Fellow, Postdoc courses at Sussex University, Brighton, UK, Photo: Irvin] presents a radically different view from that of the authors of Beyond the European Social Model, commented here some days ago. He answers "YES" when asked: "Can Europe still afford the welfare state?", the title of his contribution (30.04.06) to the EU-Observer (featured and daily updated in the right column here).
I cannot say it better than he does. Here is the full text of his comment, downloaded from Irvin's site:

Can Europe still afford the welfare state?

30.04.2006| By George Irvin

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - It's amazing how many people seem to think the answer to the above question is ‘no'. Globalisation, one hears repeatedly, makes the world increasingly competitive, driving down prices and killing off manufacturing industry. If Europe is to survive, it must cut costs, particularly the tax burden shouldered by business.

That means shedding our dependence on long paid holidays, lavish unemployment benefit, generous pensions and other such luxuries we can ill afford. This argument is repeated by respectable economists and politicians in London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels. It is particularly popular in America where Europeans are seen as ‘welfare addicts'. Nevertheless, it is nonsense.

There are three main reasons why globalisation doesn't mean abolishing high levels of welfare.
First, it is simply untrue that we can no longer afford welfare. Secondly, the EU is not becoming ‘less competitive' because of globalisation. Finally, decent job protection, social insurance provision and universal health care correlate strongly with high levels of prosperity.

Can we afford it?
The EU is rich: the EU-25 has a combined GDP higher than the United States. Germany is the leading manufacturing exporter in the world, while output per hour worked in the core EU states is as high as in North America. As we become richer, whether to devote more of our extra income to private consumption or to public provision is a political choice. In Britain under Mrs Thatcher, extra income went predominantly to private consumption while the rest of the EU, particularly the Nordic countries, spent more on social and economic infrastructure.

Of course, higher public provision usually means higher taxation, but these extra taxes are what economists call ‘transfer payments', money put away during the good years to cover the years when we are unemployed, ill or retired. Ordinary working people like you and I may not like paying higher taxes, but we know that in the absence of collective provision, we might not save enough privately to cover our needs. Employers, too, cover part of these costs, but what they recoup is an educated, healthier and more productive work force.

Globalisation and Competitiveness
A second fallacy is that globalisation results in Europe becoming less competitive; ie, we must ‘cut costs' to keep up with China and other rapidly industrialising countries in our trade. The American economist, Paul Krugman, rightly dismisses this view as ‘globaloney'.
Anybody who has studied basic international trade theory knows that what a country trades depends not on absolute cost advantage but its comparative advantage. China can produce both textiles and machine tools more cheaply than Germany, but China's comparative advantage at present is in textile production (which is why Germany still exports so many machine tools).
Of course, comparative advantage changes over time as textile producers in Italy are finding.
That is why the Multifibre Agreement was drawn up: to give advanced countries time to adjust.
Thankfully, the Agreement is now history. It would be silly to continue protecting our less competitive industries since such protection prevents richer countries from developing new areas of comparative advantage while denying poorer ones to opportunity of moving up the industrial ladder. A generation ago Sweden and Finland exported mainly timber and raw materials; today they excel at exporting mobile phones and other high-tech goodies.

Not only have leading industries in the rich countries changed, but these countries are becoming increasingly service industry orientated. Despite the growth of call-centres in India, service industries are far less globally mobile than industry. Take the case of Britain, once Europe's industrial powerhouse. Today, a higher proportion of its GDP comes from financial services than manufacturing. Globalisation may affect the sort of jobs we do, and doubtless has social costs. But it does not make us poorer, less competitive and less able to afford welfare.

High prosperity means more welfare
The most telling argument of all is that social provision and prosperity go together---as statisticians say, they are positively rather than negatively correlated. There are a variety of reasons why prosperity implies good social provision (and vice-versa).
For one thing, as societies grow wealthier, the importance of public goods increases. Public goods are those things we consume collectively: education, health and protection from the unforeseen---including, incidentally, environmental catastrophe. Put simply, when people are very poor they devote nearly all their energy to keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads.
As they grow richer, they want not merely more private consumption items like fridges and cars, but more public goods. Because public goods make everybody better off, their provision is part of what we mean by living in a civilised community, one characterised by social solidarity and cohesiveness. Societies which lack such goods---or where their provision is not universal but limited to the wealthy few---are more likely to suffer from anxiety, conflict and individual and social breakdown. This point is a key theme of Richard Layard's book, ‘Happiness: the lessons of a new science'.

The causal relationship runs not just from higher prosperity to higher social provision, but the other way around. A higher level of provision leads to higher prosperity. This is because advanced countries need a healthy, well educated workforce. Once again, the Nordic experience provides an excellent example: sustained levels of high social provision have acted as the glue needed to remain cohesive under conditions of rapid economic transformation. Had it not been for strong social provision, countries like Finland and Sweden might have found it much more difficult to weather the economic shock of the early 1990s resulting from the disintegration of their giant eastern neighbour.

All this does not mean, of course, that European social provision is perfect in every respect. We don't know the ideal trade-off between employment protection and active labour market policies.

We have only just begun to think about how to solve the long term problem of pension provision and retirement. What we do know is that private sector market-based solutions cannot be the answer. So the next time somebody tells you that we can no longer ‘afford' the European social model, don't just nod your head in reluctant acquiescence. The argument is neither logically nor economically well-founded; ie, it's wrong!
What may appear as a "cri de coeur" of an old man who sees his world tumbling down (Irvin is indeed 4 months older than I am, see photo 2, where he looks more his age; Source : Irvin website), is actually a well founded and statistically supported statement from an expert in non-Western economic development. Witness: his November 2005 book ‘Regaining Europe' (, 160 pp.).

'Income Transfer' by taxes, from rich people and excessive-profit-makers to people who need income for consumptive purposes, is, economically seen, not a source of decline at all: It maintains high levels of demand, not only for basic consumption goods, but also for products and services of the kind, that can and are only or mainly produced locally. The Welfare State is not a sqandering machine, in principle, but a generator of economic growth and prosperity! (See Chapter Three of 'Regaining Europe', downloadable at the Sussex course page of Irvin's website).

What this means for urban policy (and a national- ,vz European facilitating of that) in welfare dependent urban neighbourhoods, will be dealt with at my e-urban website.

What matters here most, is, that a careful (re)allocation of income transfers, adapting them to the economic, technological and environmental changes, orienting them to permanent education, facilities for women, immigrants and elder people to be productive, is essential to the success of a progressive transformation of the welfare state. For we should not dig our heels in the ground. A reform is unavoidable and urgent.

Dutch Labour leader Wouter BOS started recently to announce a sketch of the reforms he is going to implement, if and when, in 2007, he will be elected prime minister of the Netherlands. (See my blog "De Lage Landen": 'Bos wil het goede - maar met verkeerde middelen', 27.04.06). His programme features boldly high taxes, massive income transfers as an instrument for national economic prosperity. Which is remarkable and encouraging, but he underscores that programme with populist, blairite arguments, which is disturbing. For there exist not merely grounds of national economy for a welfare-oriented policy, but also social and humanitarian ones.

As there is no more a Labour movement in the strict sense of that word, to weigh upon the Government and the economic heavyweights in order to protect the interests that are disserved by the market, in the Bossian approach there is a real huge risk. The risk of a sharper fragmentation of society, an abandonment of the people who are most difficult to help emancipate. The spectre of a coalition of more enlighted liberal free market economists with middle classes, who will depend more and more on income transfer, could work at the cost of a common, 'morally' motivated, rejection of the latters' direct rivals for the benefits of the income-transfer: the underclasses.

Nevertheless, after a number of years of undisputed favouring of the 'free market', new Spanish and Italian progressive governments, Nordic conservative governments with a welfare programme and upcoming social-democratic dominated governments in France and Holland, a new, more balanced, but also bolder, economic policy for Europe becomes more than a pure imagination.

Beyond the Welfare State - lies a more welfare state?
Related Posts with Thumbnails