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Madrid view: The politics of solidarity

Spanish development aid is to be cut by 1.580 billion euros, which is a 70-percent reduction. This is in sharp contrast with the cutbacks in other areas of state expenditure, which average 17 percent. International cooperation, which represented 0.4 percent of GDP, will now fall to 0.26 percent, levels last seen in 2002. Needless to say, the development community has been horrified by this move, which will set back our compliance with the UN objective of devoting 0.7 percent of GDP to development by a decade.

The government is cutting back cooperation expenditure for the simple reason that it can. In a democracy, votes are the bottom line. Politics is, after all, a marketplace where the politicians seek to maximize their profits, or minimize the adverse costs of their decisions. In the case of aid, apart from a small minority of professionals, who are lifers in the development

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Madrid view: Obama’s three wars

Barack Obama received a poisoned legacy from his predecessor. Though distinguishing between Iraq as a war “of choice” and Afghanistan as a “necessary” conflict, in both cases he promised a pull-out. The first withdrawal has already taken place, and was certainly more honourable than Obama could have imagined. The withdrawal from Iraq does not make up for the disaster of the invasion in the first place, validate the subsequent loss of life or even leave a stable democracy behind; but it does allow for a turn of the page, a budget reduction in time of crisis, and a concentration on the real objective: Pacific Asia.

The second withdrawal is also underway, with a military deadline (2014) and a political schedule that seems to be just about working out. To negotiate with the Taliban, who shielded Bin Laden, might not seem to be the best way of closing the September 11 case, but seen

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Madrid view: Arab League Awakenings

The scandalous complacency with the Syrian regime shown by the Arab League’s observation mission has an upside: it points to the awakening of a culture of human rights protection in an international organization that has always stood for contempt for democracy and human rights, and in parallel for rejection of any foreign interference.

The profile of the mission chief could hardly be more unfortunate. He is Mustafa al-Dabi, ex head of military intelligence for the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir — who, remember, has an International Criminal Court arrest warrant against him for his role in the Darfur genocide. If there is anyone, the human rights organizations say, who has shown that using the army to repress the civilian population is legitimate, then General Dabi is certainly that person.

Bashar al-Assad’s blindness is such that he has not even profited from the

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Madrid view: wobbly BRICs

One consequence of the crisis in Europe is a return to the tendency for introspection. The past decade was wasted on institutional debates such as picking up the pieces of the failed European Constitution after the debacle of the referendums in France and the Netherlands, and rebuilding the consensus necessary to get the unity plans going again, consuming a lot of time and energy along the way. This is why, when the Treaty of Lisbon came into effect two years ago, a firm resolution was made to leave institutional debate behind, renouncing new reforms of the treaties. Lisbon, it was said, would be the last treaty for a long time. In future the Europeans would practice politics, not institutional engineering. But now, two years later, that Europe capable of united action in defence of its interests and values has yet to gel, and there is talk of yet another treaty. 

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Madrid view: Is the EU better off without the UK?

That the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron has made a serious mistake is evident. The mistake is a basic error considering that the objective of a veto is to prevent someone from doing something, not to let the rest do it without one. Unanimity (the elegant way of calling the right to veto) serves exactly that. So, if what Cameron wanted were safeguards for the British financial industry in return for joining the new Treaty (the so-called "fiscal compact"), the result says it all: the Treaty continues (although with some doubts and legal uncertainties which entangle even more the whole process) while these safeguards are now more unlikely than before.

Formally, Cameron is right to say that his "no" does not imply the withdrawal of the UK in the EU. London remains a full member of the Lisbon Treaty (although with some voluntary opt-outs). And as for the rest, the withdrawal from the

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