Friday, 5 January 2007

It's too late for Blair to worry about his legacy.


The Guardian reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has cut short his Christmas break in Florida in order to deal with the latest political crisis in Northern Ireland. Typically, Blair's latest holiday seems somewhat lengthier than those enjoyed by his ministerial colleagues, not to mention the British public.

Media reports suggest that Blair, who is known to be extremely concerned with his 'legacy' to the world and to history, would prefer to leave office later rather than sooner. A speech by Home Secretary John Reid has re-fueled speculation and interest in the issue of Blair's successor, who is expected to form a government at some unspecified point later this year.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration, confronted by a potentially hostile new Congress, seems increasingly concerned with extricating itself from the chaos of its Iraq adventure. Somehow, I doubt that even the most ardent neo-con/Blairite seriously imagines that the ramifications of Bush and Blair's foreign policy will be tidily resolved within the next six months. Blair has already created a legacy that will probably haunt the Middle East and the world for decades to come.

On the domestic front, the schedule for Blair's departure, which admittedly seems to change with alarming frequency, will not allow him sufficient time to properly oversee his latest pet project: the privatisation of Britain's National Health Service. He certainly does not seem entirely convinced of Gordon Brown's commitment to this project.

More importantly, Blair has long since sacrificed his credibility with the British electorate. It is doubtful that he would ever be able to persuade a wary British Parliament to support a military offensive ever again. His silence over the manner of Saddam Hussein's execution is perhaps reflective of lost confidence or some other malaise.

In short, Blair has become a 'lame-duck' Prime Minister. He has already imposed his legacy on the world and he clearly is uncomfortable with it. However, he no longer has time to make amends. The time has come for him to relinquish his hubristic self-delusions and accept the inevitable consequences of his premiership. He should resign sooner rather than later.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

EU enlargement need not be a neo-liberal project

A few days ago, Romania and Bulgaria became the latest formerly communist East European states to join the European Union (EU). Similarly to their East European neighbours, both Romania and Bulgaria had implemented a range of political and economic reforms in order to fulfil the EU's accession criteria which is oriented towards liberal democratic capitalism. The enlargement project has prompted the EU, as a political organisation, to reconsider and redefine its purpose and objectives. This manifested in the ill-fated 2004 draft constitution

Following the appointment of the current commission, the EU has become increasingly associated across the continent with neoliberalism due to its commitments to market liberalisation. Interestingly, the French left successfully opposed the draft EU constitution, which was subjected to ratification by the French electorate in the 2004 referendum, because of its neoliberal orientation.

However, the EU's historical achievements transcend the creation of free markets. The Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) created new imperatives for member state governments to implement policies that provided legal protection to the rights of the workforce. EU human rights directives influenced the introduction of human rights legislation in the UK, which until the early 1990s was considered by some to have one of the poorest human rights records in Europe.

A number of academics and commentators have argued that the EU provides varying degrees of protection for European economies within the international context of economic globalisation. Some have even suggested that the EU has amounted to a social democratic force in the politics of its member states.

Currently, the future direction of the EU is unclear, especially given the enlargement project and the defeat of the draft constitution. However, historical precedents suggest that EU expansion and integration need not necessarily be predicated entirely on neo-liberalism. EU membership for Bulgaria and Romania might be prove to be a civilising and progressively reforming influence in the political and economic life of these countries rather than simply granting them access to so-called free markets.