Publications

The Climate Enforcers

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) struggled a long time with how best to present the ´good news´. Global warming has been stagnating for 15 years.
In fact, this is bad news for the IPCC, because in 2007 they hit the alarm button on dramatic global warming. Politicians, civil servants, activists and journalists surfaced to cover the theme.
The former American Vice-President Al Gore crowned himself a climate prophet. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, as did the IPCC. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated: ´We have less than 50 days to save our planet´. The end seemed near. Science was 'solid' as a rock. Those who didn’t believe in the doomsday scenario were depicted as climate-deniers, just as bad as holocaust-deniers.

I also believe that the climate is changing. That’s how it has been for as long as there has been a climate. According to the IPCC report, global sea levels were 5-10 meters higher around 120.000 years ago than they are today. The report also says that ice in Greenland will melt in 1000 years, bringing with it a sea level increase of 7 meters. But why was the IPCC wrong in its predictions about the period of 1998-2013? The reason is that climate science lacks maturity. The German climatologist, Hans von Storch, is a prominent scientist who believes in climate change. He said in Der Spiegel: ´The biggest mistake of climate scientists is that they give the impression that they have a monopoly for the final truth about climate change. Some of them behave like preachers.´ Furthermore: ´If the lull in global warming lasts around 5 years, we need to admit that there is something fundamentally wrong with our climate models.´

Auntie Merkel

Looking ahead at the upcoming German elections on Sunday, one might think that everything is in auntie Merkel's safe hands. She is the auntie of Germany and of Europe. Merkel is now riding the same electoral high as ´Einheitskanzler´ Helmut Kohl at the start of the 90s. Merkel is feeling sure of her position. But is that on the mark?

Merkel is the embodiment of German euro-politics. In 2010 she pointed out that it is possible to expel a country from the Eurozone, following widespread anger in Germany over Greek budget fraud. But Merkel, born and raised in the DDR, performed a U-turn because she was convinced by West-German politicians who still carry war guilt, like Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble. Merkel converted: ´Scheitert der Euro, dann scheitert Europa´. In other words: 'If the Euro fails, Europe fails.' That’s the curse of those who criticize Merkel´s Euro policy: to criticise is equated to wanting war.

But among the German people there is a feeling of euro scepticism. 55 % of Germans think that the Eurozone should be reduced to a smaller group of countries with like-minded policies. 60% thinks that any new bailout should be subject to a referendum in Germany. Only 30% is in favour of a European Banking Union. Such voices are rare within the German Parliament. Some Members of Parliament dared to openly criticize the euro policy, like Christian-Democrat Wolfgang Bosbach and liberal Frank Schäffler.  They were chastised by the party leadership and consequently marginalised. For 2 years I have been visiting Berlin looking for euro-critical voices, but I only found some professors and middle-class entrepreneurs. Scepticism about the Euro lacks political representation in Germany.

The Real Madrid Bale Out

On the first of September 2013 the Spanish football team Real Madrid made public its acquisition of Gareth Bale, for a record price of 100 million Euros. Real Madrid has a debt of close to 600 million, financed in large parts by Caja de Madrid, a regional bank which is now part of Bankia. Bankia, a bank recently saved through the ESM for no less than 18 billion Euros, now backs this purchase by Real Madrid as well. Certainly these European funds cannot be used as a backstop for these unsustainable practices.

Is the Commission aware of this situation and if so, how is it going to respond to European taxpayer's money being used in such deals?

The West abolishes itself

The powerlessness surrounding the Syria situation brought the West its biggest defeat since the political crisis of the Suez Canal in 1956, when British and French troops had to retreat after a failed attempt to remove Egyptian leader Nasser from office. The U.S. took over the role of "organising power", but President Obama has squandered the U.S. position with his policy of "leading from behind ". America resigned as a world power. The ever-wavering Obama is stuck with poor options in home-made dilemmas.

In 2008 Obama, presidential candidate at the time, spoke in Berlin to the "citizens of the world". As the intended successor George Bush he wanted to make America popular again. America avoided power politics and became a glorified spectator. Obama has been overtaken by events. In the Middle East he created a void that was filled by others. His only consolation is that Europe has been piling up mistakes equally. The crises in Egypt and Syria are paragons of a humiliating flop.

Shortly after taking office Obama tried to talk to "moderate Muslims" in Egypt. After the departure of President Mubarak, America demanded elections that subsequently brought to power not moderate Muslims but the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, praised the new president Morsi in the "transition to democracy". However Morsi was working on a transition to theocracy: he decreed proxies, locked up journalists and came up with a radical Islamic constitution. Millions of Egyptians saw an Islamic state looming and demonstrated. Obama saw nothing. Morsi was eventually stopped by the Egyptian army.

Krugman the charlatan

If one is to believe New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, public debt and budget deficit are minor side issues. In his August 9th column, he speaks of the 'false fear factor' for debts. On May 31st, he embraced the notion that it does not matter much for growth whether a country has a debt-to-GDP ratio of 50% or 150%. Krugman reminds me of the former Belgian Budget Minister, the Walloon socialist Guy Mathot, who in the early eighties said that "debt comes naturally and automatically goes away again." Mathot went away, his mountain of debt remained.

Mathot was a charlatan and Krugman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008, is starting to become one. During that period, some Nobel Prizes had a political character: protest against the Bush administration. In 2007, former Vice President Al Gore re-born as an environmentalist received the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2009 it was Barack Obama, who had just assumed office as president. Officially Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize for economic research on trade flows, but his columns against Bush allowed him to gain fame. He became a gunner of progressive America.

Krugman believes that only a big government with its spending can provide for sufficient employment through the Trinity: high deficits, high debt and high taxes. Krugman was obviously pleased with President Obama as world champion debt creator. When Obama took office in early 2009 the U.S. debt was 65% of GDP, now it's 105%. The Republicans in Congress wanted to slow the debt explosion by means of "automatic cuts". Krugman was furious: "That's a lie. We should not cut spending, we need to spend more", he wrote on February 22nd. Republicans were "fools". Krugman predicted a disaster. "Cuts destroy jobs and cause economic contraction." But the disaster did not occur. Meanwhile, the debt explosion slowed, the budget is somewhat under control and employment is increasing. There are limits to make debts.

The Detroit syndrome

Several years ago I was in Detroit. Americans call it a "dying city", but the airport is modern and the headquarters of General Motors dominates the skyline. It too is very modern. The urban area is dying out: abandoned homes, businesses and land. A city of 713 thousand inhabitants (still 1.8 million in 1950) is in the process of being recaptured by nature and is a ghost town at night. She symbolizes the conscious acceptance of decline into collective self-destruction. This 'Detroit syndrome' also threatens Europe, and especially France.

The bankruptcy of Detroit is necessary and even beneficial. The ruling Democrats in Detroit point to the population declining by 60 percent since 1950. Yet in 63 years leaders and government labour unions have done nothing to make Detroit adapt to the changing demographic reality. On the contrary: race riots chased whites out of town and crime did the same to the black middle class. Declining revenues were accompanied by structural over-spending. Detroit piled on huge pension deficits, forced by government labour unions which only supported Democratic candidates for City Council who clung to the 'old order'. This way the city built itself a debt of $ 18 billion (13.6 billion Euros). Detroit degenerated: the city leaders are incompetent and 47 percent of the population is illiterate.

King Philippe and the Flemish

King Philippe and King [of the Netherlands] Willem Alexander's reign are almost mirrored to one another in terms of country, style and political environment. Willem Alexander can, as long as he does not commit blunders, always fall back on the 'Orange sentiment' of a nation-state roaring down on itself. Two coronations: a celebration for the people versus establishment happening. Philippe has to navigate in an 'artificial state' with 3 languages, seven parliaments and bus-loads of ministers. Attempts to form a government in 2010-2011 lasted 541 days, a world record. In 2014 the political big bang will follow: elections at the federal and the state level on the same day. Does Philippe, King of the Belgians, have the gift to keep the country together? To do this he must win the Flemish over.

To the Dutch the southern neighbour has always been a rather chaotic country, a cartel of 589 villages. Brussels consists of 19 villages and Antwerp calls itself a city, but is it? Belgium is also the only country that I know of that has a sort of 'Belgian ambassador to Belgium'. Retired Ambassador Johan Swinnen mediates between the many governments (federal and states) all conducting their own foreign policy. Swinnen has the necessary experience on heavy items such as Congo (colonial past), Rwanda (genocide of 1994) and the Netherlands (Dutch pride).

Yet there is 'method' to the Belgian 'madness', and the king, with his advisors, is at the core of it. The King of the Belgians has to apply the glue that keeps his kingdom together. He glues in place prominent figures by elevating them to nobility; from businessman to sports hero, singer, astronaut or royalist journalist. Eddy Merckx for instance is also 'Baron Merckx'. Politicians can make it to 'minister of state', of which there are around fifty. A sensibility to honorary titles proves to be an effective binder.

The dwindling faith in Obama

Barack Obama, hailed in 2008 as the new Jesus, is now the malefactor in the Middle East and Latin America. Russia and China are laughing at him; Africa is disappointed. Leftist groups in the European Parliament want to summon Obama to Strasbourg. They demand an apology. They also want to invite 'whistle-blower' Edward Snowden, and offer him asylum plus a Freedom Prize. Obama on trial in a kangaroo court of his ex-devotees. Who would have thought?

Until recently, criticizing Obama was a solitary activity. In Belgium, I was allegedly the only politician who would not have voted for Obama last year, and I had to defend myself on television. Since then, it's not just a few individuals who have caught up, but busloads of them. Malte Spitz, a member of the German Bundestag for the Greens, wrote in the International Herald Tribune, in late June: "No American political debate got so much attention in Germany as did the spy scandal. It changed our confidence in Obama. As a green politician, I am not impressed by his focus on global warming. He cannot just change the subject." In 2008, Obama drew a crowd of 200,000 admirers in Berlin. Last month there were 6,500 people, which included protesters. Would he visit Berlin again there would once more be 200,000 people on the streets: to protest against him.

The criticism is so intense that I have to defend Obama somewhat. He lacked any administrative experience for the hardest job in the world. His ex-devotees should therefore take a closer look at themselves. They cannot simply project their own ideals on an American president. Machiavelli has already pointed out that many are cheating, but countless want to be deceived. The Obama myth was self-deception.

The House of Representatives abolishes itself

The House of Representatives sinks its teeth in the Fyra drama. The parliamentary inquiry is the only hard power which the Dutch parliament has left. Too little, too late. Europe has already eroded the power over budget law and parliamentary control in other policy areas is also waning. The only thing that remains to the House is the 'right to information'.

MPs are propelled by a 'fads', reinforced by limited collective experience. In 1990 the average number of years of experience was more than 8 years. Now it is approximately 3.5 years. Some subjects cause excitement, like the weed pass or the smoking ban. Even the senators interfere with the details, as was the case, for example, with the registration of prostitutes. Senator Ester of the Christian Union opposed the 'waterbed effect', the movement of prostitutes to municipalities with the most favourable licensing. Loose morals are attracted by loose regulations.

The commotion surrounding the 'waterbed effect' stands in stark contrast to the adoption of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which requires the Netherlands to support rescue operations of weak brethren in the Eurozone for tens of billions of euros. Dutch parliament approved a treaty that was changed the next day by European leaders. Not only countries, but also weak banks should be saved. Thus, the Netherlands ratified an old text. No one spoke up. The Fyra is small-fry (maximum damage 1 billion) compared with the zombie banks in Spain and Cyprus.

Obama: the new Nixon

U.S. President Barack Obama is trapped in a scandal atmosphere: lies about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the IRS intimidating critics of Obama and spying on journalists. According to foreign affairs commentator Paul Brill, the person making a comparison between Obama and former President Richard Nixon is "ill-informed on history". I'll take that challenge.

Exactly forty years ago, Washington was under the spell of Watergate. The turmoil in which Obama finds himself is obviously not identical. Yet there is a similar erosion of Obama's credibility. The symbol of Hope and Change wants to be remembered as a Kennedy. Now the image of the infamous Nixon pops up.

Like Nixon, Obama is a true campaigner. It's all about election campaigns and everything is legitimate. Like Nixon, Obama is touchy, blames others and sees 'enemies' everywhere. For Obama: Republicans. For Nixon: the 'leftist press'. Each scandal shows a Nixon-facet of Obama.

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