I've just returned to London after a fascinating GMF study tour to Israel (and Ramallah). Here are a few impressions:
Things are going well in Israel. The economy is prospering (and major off-shore gas fields will start producing in two years). Bars and restaurants are relaxed and crowded. There is a striking absence of visible security presence, even in, say, the old city of Jerusalem. The Netanyahu/Lieberman coalition is quarrelsome, but securely in the saddle.
Of course, Israelis – or at any rate the politicians, officials and analysts we mostly met - worry. The Arab Spring is generally foreseen to end badly, with hostile Islamists in power. The nuclear threat from Iran looms large. The Palestinians’ push for UN recognition of their statehood in September is seen as part of a dangerous international campaign to ‘delegitimise’ Israel.
None of these worries add up
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Yesterday’s eurozone summit decision confirms what we have observed all along: today’s collective of EU national leaders agrees to the necessary minimum to consolidate the achievements of European integration when all other options have been exhausted; but at least they do it. Yesterday’s decisions, while still not giving the eurozone the solid and flexible crisis management framework it will ultimately need, do represent an important step towards this ultimate goal. The new package for Greece, including the first-time involvement of the financial industry, may not offer a lasting solution to Greece’s debt problem, but it is far more substantial than pessimists might have expected. The commitment to help Greece find a way to improve its competitiveness and growth prospects, including through the provision of new European monies, is particularly welcome.
The most important decision
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As opposed to dictatorships, where the government censors the press, democracies are assumed to be systems where the press censures the government. Jefferson’s phrase “I prefer newspapers without democracy to democracy without newspapers” has been twisted around somewhat. In fact he never spoke of “democracy” (a term studiously unmentioned in the US Constitution). But the phrase has taken a place in the collective imagination, because it puts in a nutshell the relationship between power and press that must prevail in a democratic system. For this reason, while in a democracy government controls on the press are exceptional and sanctions for press misconduct come after the fact, the press can censure the government every day with no curbs other than a few simple rules that ensure the veracity of information.
Thanks to this practical arrangement, democracies can function effectively,
I've just read a very important blog piece that follows on from a very important interview. Thanks to two of the best journalists out there - David Rennie of the Economist and George Parker of the FT - we have a crystalisation of the newly evolved British position on the (increasingly embattled) European Union. It's also something that tells us a lot about the various competing forces within the EU itself.
From the FT we have an interview with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne:
“I think we have to accept that greater eurozone integration is necessary to make the single currency work and that is very much in our national interest,” he says. “We should be prepared to let that happen.”
Mr Osborne admits this flies in the face of traditional British policy, which has always suspected such a union as being the precursor of an elite group of EU members, which
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Recently, with Libya looking more and more like a quagmire and the stirring images of Tahrir Square fading from the memory, there has been much lamenting the Arab Spring’s lost momentum. That short burst of dramatic change that saw Ben Ali flee, Mubarak toppled and Libyan rebels take Benghazi seems like a long time ago. The message this morning from Parag Khanna, ECFR’s new non-resident senior fellow, was not to despair. The Arab Spring is, he said, a “marathon not a sprint,” and we are only on mile two.
Parag was looking at the recent upheavals in the Middle East and North Africa through a broad lens, speaking at an ECFR London ‘Black Coffee Morning’ on “the geopolitical implications of the Arab Spring”. One of his first points was to flag up a trap that is very tempting when talking about the region at present: that of attributing everything that is going on there to Arab Spring
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