Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fishy Propaganda

If you've been watching the France2 evening news over the past few days, you will have seen a lot of fish: first anchovies, then tuna. And you will have seen a lot of angry fishermen denouncing the gnomes of Brussels who are out to steal their livelihood and hand it over to the Bulgarians or the Japanese.

If so, you must be sure to wash off the fishy smell by reading Jean Quatremer's blog this morning. I haven't always appreciated Quatremer's writing in recent weeks (he's among the journalists who've been spreading rumors about the wandering eye and hands of a certain politician, and he "sexed up" a behind-the-scenes report from the Eurogroup meeting), but this piece is first-rate. He explains the scientific basis of the anchovy decision and demonstrates Michel Barnier's hypocrisy. Barnier, so soft-spoken, so distinguished, so diplomatic, is not the sort of politician you'd associate with a brazen disregard of science worthy of the Bush administration: "I think the scientific committee goes too far in its analysis." So he asked that the quota for the fishermen he represents as France's minister of agriculture and fisheries be increased--even to the detriment of other European fishermen and most likely to the ultimate harm of his own constituents.

And alas, this is all too typical of the way Europe is blamed in France for difficult but necessary and rational policy decisions. Europe? Science? The general interest? Why explain any of that, when there are angry constituents to please, a little electoral hay to be made, and a convenient scapegoat to be found in the homeland of the Belgian joke and the mannekin pis?

Now, I ask you, is this because Europe is an apolitical concoction of "disembodied rules," as Henri Guaino suggests, while France is a spotless exemplar of "politics incarnate?" Or is it rather because incarnate politicians are given to the thousand little deceptions that flesh is heir to?


Quico said...

I think it's because the EU was deliberately set up as a way of relieving national politicians of the need to implement those "difficult but necessary and rational policy decisions." Kicking up fisheries policies to the conveniently demonizable (but effectively unaccountable) European Commission allows politicos to get their populist thrills on the cheap: good headlines, no actual danger of affecting policy.

I guess an economist would call it a "commitment mechanism" - the policy equivalent of locking the cookie jar and giving your wife the key.

In that sense, bouts of Euro-bashing are predictable and not at all remarkable. In a way, it's a testament to how clever the EU setup actually is.

Unknown said...

Yes, populist thrills on the cheap until you want, say, to adopt a European Constitution, when the ani-EU resentment your short-sighted policies have created comes back to bite you. In the end I think that the politics of deliberate misinformation is extraordinarily costly in both economic and non-economic senses.

Anonymous said...

On the raison d'etre of the EU, I don't think it gets us very far to say that it represents a solution to the "commitment problem" faced by political elites in mature democracies. After all, that is the explanation mainstream political scientists give to the EU. People like Giandomenico Majone have made this argument at some length in their notion of "regulatory Europe". Majone says explicitly that the EU is a solution to the problem of political property rights in democratic systems: the right to govern (a political property right) has to be regularly contested, making longer-term decision making (commitment) problematic. Solution: delegate power to non-majoritarian institutions, like the EU. This kind of language gets history backwards: it's the ex post rationale we give to the attenuation of political power at the national level. Only be looking more closely at the exact manner, and under what conditions, this retreat of national solutions to political and economic problems took place can we grasp what went on. My feeling is that it has more to do with limiting popular expectations than it does any explicitly instrumental giving up of power in the name of 'commitment' and 'credibility'.

Unknown said...

There is a difference, is there not? between pre-binding of the "Ulysses and the Sirens" variety--"I may in the future be tempted to renege on my vow, so I shall stop myself in advance"--and the pretense of binding--"I have no intention of reneging on my vow, yet it's expedient that I appear as though I'd like to, so I'll say my hands are tied." The former is a ruse of the willing spirit against the weakness of the flesh; the latter is a conspiracy of weak spirit and self-indulgent flesh.

Quico said...

Sounds to me like the perfect slogan for the next EU referendum:

Votez OUI pour la conspiration de l'ésprit faible et de la chair auto-indulgent...

Couldn't lose...

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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