What Xi wants in Europe

On a quiet street in Belgrade, a bronze statue of Confucius stands in front of a perforated white block, the new Chinese Cultural Centre. This is on the former site of the Chinese embassy which in 1999 was bombed by US-led Nato forces during the Kosovo war. Three Chinese nationals were killed. The Americans said the bombing was an accident, but the deaths allowed China and Serbia to share a common anti-Nato grievance. This week, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the bombing, Xi Jinping visited Belgrade and talked about the Sino-Serbian ‘bond forged with the blood of our compatriots’. He had been expected to visit the embassy

Europe has no answer to its immigration problem

Pulling off the rhetorical trick that Brexit would undermine the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, Michel Barnier, the EU negotiator, said in 2018 that the agreement meant removing borders not only from maps, ‘but also in minds’. Even a single CCTV camera on the North-South roads was considered a threat to the peace process. Now it turns out, which is grimly amusing, that the Irish government has not banished the border from its mind. The Republic is upset that asylum seekers are crossing the border that it does not believe in, fleeing the threat of deportation to Rwanda from the United Kingdom. It talks of sending them back, ignoring a

In defence of the EU

Eastern Europe is the graveyard of empires. Rome failed on the Danube, Napoleon on the Dnieper. The epic struggle between the empires of Austria, Russia and Turkey in the first world war ended with the destruction of all three and the fragmentation of eastern Europe, giving rise to the word ‘Balkanisation’. Driving through the Balkans today, I am continually reminded that history has no full stops. Every empire leaves its ghosts to haunt its successors. Vienna, like London, is an imperial city without an empire. The ethnic antagonisms of the Balkans, which provoked the first world war, survived to divide Yugoslavia in the second and then destroy it in the

Judgment call: the case for leaving the ECHR

The debate about the European Convention on Human Rights is in danger of being diverted into irrelevant byways. Hostility to the convention has become a trademark of the right wing of the Conservative party, which invites unnecessary partisanship. This is unfortunate, because the United Kingdom’s adherence to the convention raises a major constitutional issue which ought to concern people all across the political spectrum. It is far more important than Suella Braverman’s battles with boat people and ‘lefty lawyers’. Yet so far, the debate has rarely risen above the level of empty slogans, meaningless mantras and misleading claims. The real purpose of the convention is to make us accept rights

You think British trains are bad? Try German ones

I found Jean-Pierre standing at a half-open window gulping down lungfuls of stale Dutch air as our night train chuntered, unseeing, through an expectoration of towns: Zutphen, Eefde, Gorssell. He was 79 years old, he told me, and returning to Berlin for the first time in 61 years for a meeting with an old friend. Our steward made it absolutely clear he couldn’t give a stuff that there was no buffet car Back in 1962, Jean-Pierre had been a very young Belgian Jesuit employed in smuggling hard currency from West to East Berlin, which he did by stuffing the notes inside a plaster cast which covered his right leg. There

William Nattrass

Is war brewing between Serbia and Kosovo?

Serbia and Kosovo are close to conflict. Of all things, a dispute over car number plates is threatening the fragile peace won 23 years ago, after a Nato bombing campaign against then-Yugoslavia. For that, Serbs have never truly forgiven the West. On Sunday night, roads were blockaded by Serbs in northern Kosovo. Their anger was directed at an edict from the Kosovan government requiring Serbs to re-register their cars with Kosovar number plates. Serbs currently use number plates with acronyms of Kosovar cities, just one example of Serbia’s ongoing refusal to accept Kosovan independence. New documentation requirements were also to be imposed on Serbs entering and leaving Kosovo. Some have

My verdict on Eurovision

I had the sudden suspicion, at about ten o’clock on Saturday night, that I was the only straight male in the United Kingdom watching the Eurovision Song Contest. Or perhaps the only one watching it voluntarily. A little later a Dutch presenter, when reporting her country’s scores, said: ‘Hello girls and gays.’ It wasn’t a slip of the tongue but an accurate summation of the audience – the one in Liverpool and the rest of us, sitting in front of our televisions. There was a merciful absence of all faux-seriousness and any song which got political didn’t do well Eurovision, like Crufts, has been a gay domain for the best

Ross Clark

Europe is turning against net zero

The contrast couldn’t be greater. In Britain a wealthy cabinet minister goes on television to boast of how he is installing a heat pump in his home – something his government is proposing to force on millions of British homeowners over the next few years in spite of them costing many thousands of pounds more than a gas or oil boiler. Meanwhile, in France, the President makes a speech calling for a ‘regulatory pause’ on green issues in order to push for the ‘re-industrialisation’ of his country. So far, Britain and the EU have moved more or less in tandem on climate change – which is not all that surprising

The EU is alienating eastern Europe

For most of its 66 years of existence, a vital part of the EU’s mission has been the inexorable expansion of its power to tell member states what to do. It now has to grasp though that in future it will need to backtrack. Unless Brussels morphs pretty quickly from a centralised technocracy dispatching orders to its vassals, into an organisation based on broad consensus between elected governments, it is likely to find itself side-lined or even facing a continental schism. If you were looking for the most inept way to run an organisation like the EU, this comes close The latest illustration of this arises from a sudden glut

A short history of language in Ukraine

After six months of war in Ukraine, most observers agree that the roots of Russian aggression lie in the country’s deep-rooted attitudes to culture and history. In line with Russia’s nationalist traditions, Putin denies any place for a separate Ukrainian identity. The Ukrainians, in contrast, see themselves as a proud nation with their own history, culture, centuries long struggle for independence, and, of course, language. And while Ukrainian has been dismissed as a dialect of Russian in Moscow, it in fact has a long history – and is very much a language in its own right. That independence can be seen in the genesis of the word ‘Ukraine’ itself. In

Europe’s descent into deindustrialisation

The rapid economic collapse that Britain is facing is simply an accelerated version of what the whole of Europe is about to go through; unsustainable borrowing to fund the gap between high energy prices and what households can actually afford. With the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline, there is now no feasible way back. Europe can no longer physically import Russian gas – prices will remain high until Europe builds more energy capacity, which could take years. What is likely to come of this? High energy prices will render European manufacturing uncompetitive. European manufacturers will be forced to pass through the higher energy costs in the form of higher

The BBC’s Meloni problem

Here is a quote from the BBC Europe Editor, Katya Adler’s, very short piece on the BBC Radio 4 Six O’Clock News this evening, concerning the electoral victory of Giorgia Meloni in Italy: Millions of Italians didn’t vote for her. They say they do not recognise themselves in her nationalist, protectionist proposals, her anti-immigration rhetoric and her conservative family mores. Isn’t that remarkable? Can you imagine the awful Adler, or indeed any correspondent, commenting on the victory of a left-wing candidate:  Millions of people didn’t vote for her. They say they do not recognise themselves in her mentally unbalanced identity politics, ranting support for cripplingly high taxation, foreign policy characterised

Will Meloni be able to govern Italy?

Mario Draghi’s national unity government lost badly in yesterday’s Italian election – worse even than the polls predicted. Fratelli d’Italia, the main opposition party, was the big winner. Five Star, which pulled the plug on Draghi’s government, also gained. What we did not see is a big shift between left and right. The right coalition of Fratelli d’Italia, Lega, and Forza Italia, got 44 per cent. The really big movements occurred within the coalition. Giorgia Meloni’s FdI ended up with 26 per cent – way ahead of the published polls. Lega got only 9 per cent. The coalition is on course to secure a majority in both houses of parliament,

Europe’s new migrant crisis

Earlier this month I spent a week in Sicily, driving south from Palermo to Agrigento and then east to Syracuse and Messina. It was my first visit to Sicily in 17 years and, given the media reports, I had expected to find the island crowded with migrants from Africa. In fact, I saw none, other than those I glimpsed in a fenced-off processing centre at the quayside in Agrigento, the first port of call for many migrants who arrive in Sicily. Last week the local paper in Agrigento drew on official government figures to reveal that so far in 2022, 45,664 migrants have landed on Italian territory, an increase of

Europe’s looming energy wars

This summer marks a truce. But if, as expected, Liz Truss becomes prime minister, it is almost inevitable that tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol will resurface. Britain has been threatened with trade barriers if it tears up the protocol, with implications for import and export industries. But one possible consequence has been largely overlooked, in spite of the gathering energy crisis: the trade in gas and electricity. Imported power via undersea interconnectors is the forgotten but fast-growing element of our electricity system. In 2019, 6.1 per cent of our electricity was imported. Undersea power interconnectors, which have been a feature of the UK electricity system since 1986 when the first one plugged

Ukrainians aren’t surprised by Amnesty’s victim-blaming

Is Amnesty International victim-blaming? The Ukrainian military has been endangering civilians, it said, by establishing military bases and putting weapons systems in residential areas. Agnès Callamard, the organisation’s secretary-general, remarked that ‘being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law’. It was a bizarre statement. Russian forces are attacking villages and large cities with dense populations. The Ukrainian armed forces can’t sit in a field, or put their weapons on a boat and sail away from coastal cities. As well as the morality of shifting the blame on to the aggressor, Amnesty’s statement doesn’t recognise the realities of the war situation. It is

Viktor Orbán’s Texas rodeo

Say what you want about Viktor Orbán, but he gives a good speech. His address on Thursday in Dallas on the opening day of CPAC, the annual jamboree of the American right wing, was wide-ranging, hard-hitting and quite funny. One of his best jokes – paraphrasing Pope Francis – was ‘that Hungary was the official language of heaven because it takes an eternity to learn’. It also happens to be nonsense. Hungarian is recognised as considerably easier to learn than Arabic or Mandarin, but Orbán doesn’t do nuance. In fact, the entirety of his speech was about drawing an unbridgeable distinction between the ‘Judeao-Christian’ values of himself and his audience on one

The next PM must be ready for Putin

Westminster is understandably obsessed with the question of who makes the final two of the Tory leadership race, but today has also brought a reminder of the crises that the new Prime Minister will have to deal with from day one.  The European Commission is calling on all EU member states to cut gas use by 15 per cent to prepare for supply cuts from Russia through Nord Stream 1, which reopens tomorrow. With the pipeline only flowing at limited levels, and the heatwave leading to higher energy use than usual, Germany will not be able to lay in stores for the winter. This means that Vladimir Putin will constantly try

How Justin Trudeau caved to Putin

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the West was certain that its sanctions were worth the pain. But there always was a question as to whether this resolve would last once the domestic difficulties actually started. This week, western countries moved closer to admitting it might be too much to bear. At the time of the invasion in February, a massive Russian turbine was being repaired in Montreal. It was one of many turbines used to send gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline from Russia to Germany. When the Russians moved into Ukraine, it was kept in Canada as punishment. Over the next few weeks and months Russia replied, cutting off

Susanne Mundschenk

The problem with euro-dollar parity

The euro is nearly level with the dollar. It should not matter in theory, because of the relatively low share of the US in EU trade. But it does in practice. Some predict that the euro will fall below parity. There is a straightforward explanation for this: the war in Ukraine and unpredictable Russian gas supplies to Europe make the dollar a safe haven for investors. On top of this, US interest rates offer a higher return on investment. But it is not only the dollar. Looking at the broader picture, the European Central Bank’s measure of the euro’s real effective exchange rate against 42 partner countries confirms this trend