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Madrid view: A British Europe

Returning from London I am still stunned by the growing intensity of the Europhobe-Europhile debate. The EU is a corrupt, undemocratic entity that is robbing us, say some in the heat of the budget debate. If we leave the EU, say others, we'll become a kind of Singapore. Indeed, in the cold light of day there can be little reason for surprise at the raw nature of this battle. The British are now headed for two referendums that will clarify questions of particular importance: is Scotland to remain in the UK, and the UK in the EU? If a country's national identity hinges on questions about who we are, what we want, and with whom we are to achieve it, then two principal anchorages of any state are being called into question here.

We often hear that this debate shows the low degree of Europeanization in the UK, which entered the EU reluctantly, as the result of a chain of internal and

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The faces of a post-Putin future?

“Russia has no future.” Last autumn you heard this repeated like a mantra in Moscow. “We have no future.” Putin’s capital talked this way because everyone interested in politics had done the same thing on September 24th 2011. The day of the United Russia party congress that the “national leader” announced he would return to the Kremlin. Everyone interested in politics had calculated how old they would be in 2024. The year that constitutionally Putin would have to leave the President’s post. That moment etched itself into the memory of a generation. It seemed only to mean one thing – Putin had a monopoly on the future.

Then the unexpected occurred. The Moscow protest movement suddenly flared and even if it did not break, or really dent, Putin’s grip over the Duma, the bureaucracy, the oil, the gas or the FSB, it cost him that monopoly on tomorrow. It exposed that he was not in

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Madrid View: I want my money

 

How can it be that amid the crisis, with cutbacks and austerity in every state, the European Commission has proposed a budget for 2014-2020, which increases EU spending by no less than five percent? In this context, shouldn't the EU also tighten its belt, especially given that its resources come from the budgets of the member states, by direct contributions, and from the citizens, by way of VAT. Would it not make more sense to freeze or even reduce the EU budget, now amounting to 942 billion euros, instead of raising it to 1.09 trillion, as the Commission is proposing?
 
One would be tempted to agree with this, were it not exactly the line taken by the government of David Cameron, who has demanded a freeze on the budget in real terms. According to the British Treasury, this means lowering the spending ceiling to 886 billion euros. Once again, London’s diplomatic spirit shines

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Madrid view: After the battle

The re-election of Barack Obama is one more battle in the long war that the left and the right have been waging for three decades, over the role of the state. In duration and geography, and intensity, it calls to mind the Thirty Years’War, which lasted from 1618 to 1648. Then the conflict was about territory, religion and dynastic succession. Nowadays the battle is about rather more post-modern issues: the limits of the state and the market, the tension between freedom and equality, and the setting of frontiers not between territories, but between social classes.

This 30-year pseudo-war, in the analogy drawn by Bill Clinton to dramatize the virulence it is attaining in the US, began with the victories of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in 1979 and 1980, a turning point in the view of the state. While, until then, both American conservatives and European social democrats not too

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Madrid view: the power of identity

 

Muslims on the warpath against the Americans and the French over pictures of Mohammed; China and Japan strutting and rumbling about some tiny islands. Identities are back on the scene, yelling and shattering delicate balances that have cost time and effort to build. In the US, Obama’s Arab-friendly policy is deemed an Islamist version of Chamberlain and Daladier’s appeasement of the Nazis. In Muslim countries there are calls for firmness against what is seen as the West’s systematic aggression against their religion. Some in China think that the time has come to act like the great power she is. Meanwhile, in Japan the government is attacked for looking the other way and letting the Chinese puff themselves up. These people are not majorities, but they yell louder, and their message is always the same: sacrosanct principles, threatened identities, historic grievances, intolerable

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