The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label European Union. Show all posts
Showing posts with label European Union. Show all posts

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The European Non-Union after the Qatargate: Was it Designed to Fail?


The European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France. I don't know if they consciously designed it to look like the Babel Tower, but it may follow the same destiny: collapse. It is a typical "non-place" inhabited by tribes of people who don't care about each other, don't talk to each other, and don't even understand each other. In these conditions, it is not surprising that crime and corruption prosper, as we learned in the case of the "Qatargate." Was the Union designed from the beginning so that it would fail? 

You probably know the concept of "non-places." The hall of a hotel is a good example. It looks like the living room of a home, but it is not the same thing. It is a place where people stay for brief periods of time, but do not interact with each other. They don't know each other, they don't even understand each other's language. The Babel Tower was a good example of a non-place, but nowadays non-places are common. In addition to hotels, you have airports, train stations, shopping malls, waiting rooms, and many more examples. 

Non-places are the ideal kind of places to engage in illegal or hidden operations. For instance, hotels are the typical place where you can meet your secret sexual partner, discuss illegal deals, or give or receive a bribe in cash. That doesn't mean, of course, that all the customers of a hotel are criminals. It just means that non-places provide the anonymity you need for certain kinds of transactions. Anonymity makes you also vulnerable to attacks that can take the form of "character assassination," as it happened to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011.   

The European Parliament provides a special kind of anonymity owing to its multinational organization. Each national delegation is jealous of its national language and its members would feel offended if they were asked to speak in English (*), and many of them would be unable to do that, anyway. That's why the Union has 24 official languages and, consequently, the "Alcide De Gasperi" room in the palace of the European Parliament in Brussels has 24 translation boots, each one with at least two official interpreters. (theoretically, each boot should have 23 translators, but they would not fit inside, and I suppose that the translations are made first into English and then translated into the other languages). 

Given this organization, you understand the fragmentation of the European Parliament. A few years ago, I was there, and I noted how it looks mostly like the hall of a large hotel, a typical non-place. Throngs of people moving up and down, but very little interaction among those who don't speak the same language. Even outside the parliament building, I found that the Italian delegation had a coffee shop that served Italian coffee, where everyone spoke Italian, and where you would feel like being in Italy. I had the impression, and some Spanish friends confirmed it, that the whole central area of Brussels is a non-place: each national delegation had its coffee shops, restaurants, etcetera. Maybe the whole European Union is a non-place. A Non-Union.

It is not difficult to understand how easy it must be for lobbyists to engage in shady deals with national representatives in the European Parliament. Imagine an Italian company that wants to obtain a favorable contract from the EU. It will lobby an Italian MP who will probably feel that it is his/her duty to support an Italian company. If that involves a little personal gain, well, it may be deserved. In other words, in the best mafia style, each delegation jealously controls its own turf. Then, no surprise that the European Parliament has become a business network, losing all interest in promoting the interests of Europe as a whole -- for instance in terms of defense. It shows: Europe is the only example of a large state organization that doesn't have an independent military force.  

So, it is not surprising that lobbying (that some call simply "corruption") is rampant in Brussels. That doesn't mean we should take the current "Qatargate" scandal as an excuse to criminalize any or all the European MPs. I can tell you that I personally know some of them who refused to be corrupted and always acted for the good of the community. And we should not exclude the possibility that the Qatargate is a case of psyop-based character assassination (**).  Nor we should think that national parliaments are much better -- even there, representatives have their turf to defend. Yet, it is clear that there is a corruption problem in Brussels. A serious one, at all levels. 

Of course, there are ways to fight corruption by tighter controls, more severe regulations, and the like. But the problem is that no organization can function if it uses 24 different languages and gives equal status to all of them. Even worse, no organization can exist for long if its members have the only purpose of getting a larger slice of the pie for themselves. That's the business of diplomacy, but politics is a different story. 

You surely heard that the art of diplomacy consists in convincing everyone that they got the largest share of the pie. Instead, the art of politics consists of an equitable distribution of the pie. Without such a purpose, without an understanding that the organization exists to promote the common good, we don't have politics, we only have the law of the jungle. And everyone acts according to the fundamental principle of plundering mobs that states, "grab what you can, when you can." The European Union never was one. 

From "The Secret of Nimh" (1982)

So, the question is, was the European Union designed from the beginning with the idea that it should fail? The founders were surely people with lofty ideals of peace and collaboration, but as the organization grow, it soon became a modern version of the Babel tower. Maybe it was unavoidable, or maybe some external forces pushed it to become what it has become. It doesn't matter. Like the Babel tower, at this point, the EU has no other destiny in sight than to crumble. Perhaps we'll be able to build something better on the ruins, but it will not be soon. 

The collapse of the Tower of Babel" by Cornelisz Anthonisz, Etching, 1547

(*) One Union, One Language

The multilingual structure of the European Union raises the question of whether it would have been possible to design it differently. We may wonder what could have happened if the founding fathers Adenauer, Monnet, De Gasperi, and others, had stamped their feet on the ground and insisted on the principle of "one union, one language.

One possibility could have been English -- why not? It is the most diffuse international language in the world, and it is the common language used in India, even though the Indians have reasons to be unhappy about having been invaded and dominated for a long time by the British. Of course, different countries speak (and mangle) Ingliss in various ways, but the important thing is that these versions are mutually understandable. More or less. 

It would also have been perhaps the last chance to select and diffuse one of the "synthetic" languages, like Esperanto, that could be defined as modern Creoles. It would have had the advantage that Esperanto is a language close to several modern European languages. Esperanto never reached a wide diffusion but, who knows? Estus ankaŭ eble la lasta ŝanco elekti kaj disvastigi unu el la" sintezaj " lingvoj, kiel Esperanto,

Another possibility was to resurrect an extinct language and make it the official European Language. Latin could have been a good choice since it is still used in some scientific fields, and it had been "the" language of European intellectuals up to the 19th century. Greek could have been another interesting choice, without the "Fascist" ring that Latin had gained with the Italian Fascist regime. It was the solution chosen by the founders of the modern state of Israel when they decided they would resurrect ancient Hebrew and make it their national language (before, Jews would speak at least six mutually not understandable languages). Alia possibilitas fuit linguam exstinctam resuscitare et facere officialem Linguae Europaeae. Latine bene electio fieri potuit quia adhuc in quibusdam campis scientificis usus est et "lingua" intellectualium Europaearum usque ad XIX saeculum fuerat. 

Unfortunately, what was not done then, can't be done now. It was a lost chance, possibly lost forever. Maybe "Googlish" will come to the rescue or, maybe, we'll all speak in a new hieroglyph-based language that uses emoticons (Yandex offers translation of any text into "Emoji"). Or, maybe, we'll follow the majority rule and decide to speak Mandarin Chinese. Who knows? 🔣 🤔 👫 👫 👤 🚫 🤔 🔠 🎏

(**) The "Qatargate" scandal may have a political meaning that escapes those who are not insiders to the complicated power balance of the European Commission. Was it a character assassination? It may be related, as usual, to the energy supply to Europe as argued in a recent article by Michele Marsiglia, president of the Italian Federpetroli.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

What is the Next Thing that Will hit us? Brace for it, Because it may be Huge


Despite having ancient seers (the "haruspices") as ancestors, I don't claim to be able to predict the future. But I think I can propose scenarios for the future. So, what could be the next big thing that will hit us? I suggest it will be the disruption of the oil market caused by the recent measure of a price cap on  Russian oil.

Do you remember how many things changed during the past 2-3 years, and changed so unbelievably fast? There was a pattern in these changes: one element was that we were told they were just temporary, another was that they were done for our sake. We were told that we needed "Two weeks to flatten the curve," and that "the sanctions will cause the Russian economy to collapse in two weeks," and many more things. Then, our problems will be solved and the world will return to normal. But that didn't happen. Instead, the result was a "new normal," not at all like the old one. 

Now, the obvious question is "what next?" More exactly, "what are they going to hit us with, next time?" There is this idea that there may be a new pandemic, a new virus, or the old one returning. But, no. They are smarter than that -- so far they have always been one step, maybe two, ahead of us. They are masters of propaganda, they know that propaganda is all based on memes and that memes have a finite lifetime. Old memes are like old newspapers, they are not interesting anymore. A particular bugaboo can't scare people for too long, and the idea of scaring us with a pandemic virus is past its usefulness stage. They may have probed us with the "monkeypox" pandemic, and they saw that it didn't work. It was obvious anyway. So, now what?

Let me suggest one possible new way to hit us. You may have heard of it but, so far, it was supposed to be something marginal, not designed to create another "new normal." But it may. It is huge, it is gigantic, it is arriving. It is the price cap on Russian oil. The idea is that a cartel of countries, mainly Western ones, will agree on prohibiting the import of Russian oil unless it is priced at less than $60 per barrel. It will also make it more difficult for Russia to export oil abroad, even to countries that do not subscribe to the agreement. 

This idea is, as usual, promoted as a way to help us. Not only it will harm the evil Putin, but it will reduce oil prices, so everyone in the West should be happy. But will it actually work? Unlikely, to say the least, and it is probable that the promoters know that very well. 

Think about that: it never happened during the past hundred years that a cartel of countries had intervened to force a certain oil price worldwide. Even during the "Oil Crisis" of the 1970s, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) never did what it is often accused of having done, fixing a high oil price. OPEC can only set production quotas or sanction certain countries, but it has no power, and never had power, on prices, which are set by the international market. 

When governments meddle with prices, the results are always bad. Typically, prices of goods are set too low, and that has two effects: the rising of a black market and the disappearance of the goods from the official market. It was a typical feature of the Soviet economy, where prices were often set at low levels to give the impression that certain goods were affordable to everyone. But it wasn't so: theoretically, most Soviet citizens could afford caviar sold at government-established prices. In practice, this caviar almost never existed in shops. But, of course, it was possible to find it in the black market if one could pay exorbitant prices for it.

Today, intervening to set a price for Russian oil is equivalent to throwing a wrench into the gears of a huge machine. Nobody knows exactly how the global oil market is going to react. The only sure thing is that the Russians are refusing to sell their oil to countries subscribing to the agreement. The overall result of having removed a major producer from the market can only be one: increasing oil prices. Exactly the opposite of what the price cap is supposed to do. But this is the very minimum that can happen: the effects of the cap are unpredictable on a market that's already unstable and subject to wild price oscillations. Europe might lose access to oil completely, and go dark. Famines have been a staple event in European history, they could come again. Things like that -- not small changes, huge changes. 

Why did the Western countries engage in this apparently counterproductive idea? Well, there may be some method in this madness. I can think of a few possible explanations: 

1. Western Governments are in the hands of idiots who act according to the principle known as "I ran naked into a cactus. Why? Because it looked like a good idea." They put into practice ideas that look good ("harming Putin"), without worrying about the consequences (destroying the European economy). 

2. The price cap has the specific purpose of raising oil prices. It will force consumer countries to switch from the relatively cheap Russian oil to the more expensive American oil, which will become even more expensive in a near-monopoly regime. This will bring huge profits to American producers. Don't forget that the American elites are convinced that the US oil resources are infinite, or nearly so. 

3. The price cap is thought of as a way to save the US tight oil industry. So far, tight oil has been almost a miracle, bringing back the US to a position of dominance among oil producers. But it is now facing difficulties with oil prices declining in the world market. With higher oil prices, Europe will finance a new round of tight oil extraction in the US, while the profits will remain in the US. It sounds diabolical, and maybe it is. Let me add that there may be a reason why the tight oil industry was recently declared "dead" in the mainstream media. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but this article on "" may have had the purpose of scaring the US producers and making them accept the risky measure of forbidding Russian oil from entering the Western market. 

4. There may exist a "hidden force," somewhere, that's acting with a plan at the global level. The plan involves a forced reduction of fossil fuel production and consumption to mitigate the damage generated by global warming or, perhaps more likely, to leave energy for the elites while taking it away from commoners. The recent events, the Covid crisis, and the Russian crisis, both have the effect of impoverishing some of the major consumers of fossil fuels, Western middle-class citizens, and so reducing overall consumption. The price cap on Russian oil may be just the first step of a new plan that will force Westerners to abandon for good their addiction to fossil fuels, whether they like it or not. This may not be a bad idea for several reason, but it is a kind of global medicine equivalent to lobotomy or radical mastectomy for single humans. Let's say, a bit heavy-handed. 

It may be that all four of these factors are at work. In any case, it is a powerful convergence of interests that is materializing, likely to be successful in pushing the cap on Russian oil to worldwide acceptance. Considering how easily European citizens have been led to believe the most absurd things during the past two years, it is unlikely that they will understand what's being done to them (and let me not use the appropriate words for the concept). Not that the American citizens will fare much better: the huge transfer of wealth from Europe to the US will go all into the pockets of the American oligarchs. As for the European governments, they are the structures that should oppose this giant wealth transfer, but they are staffed by traitors, idiots, or both; so they will enthusiastically adhere to the idea. 

Is this what the crystal ball shows? Not necessarily. Let's just say that there are reasons to think that what I just described is a likely scenario. Then, the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley. There is a limit to how hard you can push something before it goes to pieces or bites you back. Will European citizens continue forever to be happy to be economically raped by the US? The future is always full of surprises, but the crystal ball always shows the same thing: the world goes where the money is.