Monday, 21 October 2002


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 21 October 2002

The Convention on the Future of Europe is not, I have to admit, the sexiest of topics. Set up after last year’s Laeken European summit and chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, it has been deliberating in Brussels for nearly eight months now on the institutional arrangements for the soon-to-be-enlarged European Union — and it’s fair to say that it has yet to set the world alight. The British media have for the most part given it the wide berth they usually give to serious EU politics. But even on the Continent it has been a front-page story only when a senior government politician from one of the EU’s big member states has outlined his “vision” in a set-piece speech.

In a way, this isn’t too surprising. The Convention is a talking shop charged with an almost impossible task: reconciling the views of those who want a federal Europe with those for whom federalism is anathema — and then coming up with a coherent programme for reform. Everyone knows that, so far at least, there has been no sign that the Convention will thrash out a formula acceptable to all — and everyone knows that, in the end, any recommendations it makes can be blocked by any government that dislikes them.

Nevertheless, the issues the Convention is discussing are rather important. The institutional inadequacies of the EU have been clear for years — since long before it became the EU, in fact. But enlargement, now almost certain to happen in 2004, makes it a matter of urgency to deal with them.

The big problem, to put it simply, is that Europe has operated up to now largely by way of intergovernmental horse-trading behind closed doors in the string of meetings known as the Council of Ministers, augmented by initiatives from the European Commission (which is supranational but appointed by member states’ governments).

Although this set-up was never particularly democratic, it worked reasonably well while there were few governments doing the wheeler-dealering and appointing the commissioners. But as the number of member states and the responsibilities of the EU have increased, it has become not only more and more time-consuming and inefficient (despite various piecemeal reforms) but also less and less democratically accountable. With enlargement, there is a real danger that the EU’s decision-making processes will grind to a halt — and that they will do so amid a collapse of popular belief in their legitimacy in every member state.

In these circumstances, there is a prima facie case for a radical recasting of the way the EU operates, with a drastic reduction of the role of the Council of Ministers, a dramatic increase in the democratic accountability of the Commission, and a concomitant massive increase in the role and powers of the only key EU institution that is both supranational and directly answerable to the citizens of Europe, the European Parliament — including, most importantly, the right to initiate legislation. The argument here has been forcibly put by Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister.

Yet what is the British Government, in the person of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, proposing? Well, according to his piece in the Economist last week, just the opposite: maintaining and strengthening the role of the Council of Ministers, with perhaps a nugatory increase in the powers of the Parliament to oversee the Commission. It’s difficult to imagine anything more timid, anything less likely to work in purely instrumental terms or anything more likely to exacerbate the EU’s democratic deficit.


On A different matter entirely, like many other readers of Eric Hobsbawm’s new autobiography I was intrigued by the veteran Marxist historian’s statement that he had been “unable to rediscover” a copy of a 1940 pamphlet on the 1939-40 Russo-Finnish war that he co-wrote with the late Raymond Williams when both were undergraduate communists in Cambridge.

It didn’t take me long to track it down: my old pal Kevin Davey had a copy, which he kindly lent me. Nor did it take long to realise that Hobsbawm might not have gone out of his way to dig it up. War on the USSR?, as it is called, is a shabby specimen of communist defeatism during the Hitler-Stalin pact (“With no chance of starving Germany of food or war materials and no front on which to achieve military victory, Britain and France cannot win this war . . .”) that shamelessly defends Stalin’s invasion of Finland.

OK, I know I’d squirm if anyone dug up stuff I wrote in my early twenties. But it’s not so easy to shrug off Hobsbawm’s diatribe as a youthful indiscretion. For all the sophistication and erudition of his later work, he remained a member of the party that commissioned this mendacious piece of propaganda to the bitter end.

Monday, 14 October 2002


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 14 October 2002

Like most Tribune readers and contributors, I am against the United States waging a war to topple Saddam Hussein. I am, moreover, against it regardless of whether the US gets support from the United Nations Security Council. I am unconvinced that war will easily get rid of Saddam except at an unacceptable cost in casualties. I am not persuaded that the US has a credible strategy for replacing his regime with one that is civilised and democratic. And I am worried by the potentially disastrous knock-on effects of war elsewhere in the Middle East.

So, on the face of it, the big anti-war protest in London last weekend should have filled me with hope – or at least given me a warm feeling of solidarity. But it did nothing of the sort. Not for the first time, I came away from a giant leftie demo glummer than when I turned up.

Part of the reason is undoubtedly that I’ve had enough of demos and everything that goes with them: the hours of being serenaded by Leninist bores selling dire propagandist papers; the slow trudge through streets of unstaffed offices surrounded by morons shouting witless slogans; the interminable dull speeches at the end – and all for what? Well, we meet a few old friends and have a drink, get a bit of fresh air and (of course) make our point. It’s just a pity it’s only to ourselves and the cops . . .

But my sense of ennui after last weekend’s march wasn’t just the feeling of futility I usually get after such events. It also had a lot to do with the politics of the occasion.

To put it bluntly: where was there any acknowledgment that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous, vicious tyrant whose demise should be an urgent priority for every democrat, humanitarian and peace-lover in the world?

All right, I accept that most people in the anti-war movement have no doubt that Saddam runs a vile totalitarian police state. The problem, however, is that, in the cause of peace, they have conveniently forgotten what’s wrong with Iraq and have joined hands with all manner of dubious apologists for Saddam – the 57 varieties of Leninist “anti-imperialist” (both Stalinist and Trot); a significant section of anti-Israeli British Muslim opinion; the pacifists whose ideological forebears cringed before Hitler in the 1930s; a smattering of useful-idiot journalists and politicians who have travelled to Iraq as guests of the regime and haven’t twigged that “ordinary people” under police-state regimes have no choice but to be effusive to any foreigner about the wonders of their predicament. The horrible truth is that no one in the anti-war movement has raised a squeak about Saddam’s hideous crimes or considered what the Iraqi people themselves want.

Pretty much the same goes for the danger posed by Saddam to the rest of the world. OK, so Tony Blair’s dossier on Saddam’s programme for weapons of mass destruction contains little that is new – and there is certainly an argument to be had about how close Saddam is to reacquiring an arsenal that is an immediate threat to his neighbours or his own subjects.

But it is incontrovertible both that rearmament is his goal and that he has been pursuing it relentlessly in recent years. Has anyone in the anti-war movement even acknowledged that this is a legitimate cause for concerted international action against Iraq that falls short of war – such as (dare I say it?) properly policed sanctions and intrusive weapons inspections?

My point is simple. Saddam is the enemy of everything that democrats and humanitarians hold dear. The argument between proponents and opponents of war should not be about whether the world should act to undermine his despicable regime and deny it the means of waging war, but about how it can most effectively and decently hasten its downfall and its replacement with a pacific democratic polity.

Yet many on the left seems mesmerised by asinine arguments for letting Saddam be. He’s not the only evil dictator in the world, they say, nor even the only one who is developing weapons of mass destruction – as if his crimes were exonerated by those of others. The Americans wouldn’t care if Iraq didn’t have oil, they go on – as if that means that there’s no reason to give a toss ourselves, regardless of the nature of Saddam’s regime and regardless of the whole world’s material interest (lusty proletarians not excepted) in the maintenance of stable and secure energy supplies.

I’m not arguing for precipitate military action to bring down Saddam – honest. But the case against it is not strengthened by stupidity. Until the anti-war lobby accepts that Saddam is a problem and that the world would be a much better place without him, it’s a dead-cert loser.