Opinion

John Lloyd

The EU’s soft power and the big carrot

John Lloyd
Dec 17, 2013 20:50 UTC

MOSCOW – There’s a joke in Europe, the making of which is credited to Lord Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University who in the 1980s was the EU’s Commissioner for External Relations. Adapting President Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly but carry a big stick,” Patten said that the EU’s attitude to foreign affairs was to “speak softly but carry a big carrot.”

Collectively, Europe must exercise influence through “soft power.” The concept was invented by Joseph Nye, the Harvard political scientist, who, in his 2004 book “Soft Power,” defined it as the power to influence other countries without force or money. Instead, soft power draws people to it who, by “admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness — want to follow it.”

U.S. soft power has suffered in the past decade because the hard kind has been so prevalent. But it has not disappeared. It draws people to it still. The EU has had nothing but soft power. The “big carrot” is its ability to have others “aspire to its level,” economic or otherwise, accompanied by the promise of financial assistance. Yet Patten’s joke carries a rueful recognition that this may be a less-than-realistic approach to a hard world.

It is a testament to soft power that hundreds of thousands of people have come out in Ukraine to express their desire for an agreement that will bring them closer to the EU. Now vast protests are mounted against the Yanukovich regime, calling for (as some of the placards have said) living in a “normal” country with the rule of law. The European “carrot” isn’t just the money it disburses to its poorer members; it is also the promise, to people who increasingly wish to call themselves “European,” of raising standards — from the quality of food to the honesty of politicians. It’s a classic case of “aspiring to a level” that other neighbors have attained.

Ukraine, once the second-largest state in the Soviet Union, was the foundation of what became the Russian and then the Soviet empire. It was also the cradle of the Eastern Orthodox religion. Yet now the rhetoric of the opposition is strongly anti-Russian.

Corruption is everywhere and nowhere

John Lloyd
Dec 9, 2013 21:30 UTC

December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day. Started a decade ago by the U.N.’s General Assembly, which states on its website that “corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries…[it] undermines democratic institutions, slows economic development and contributes to governmental instability…[it] attacks the foundation of democratic institutions.” This all sounds good — except for the first part.

There are two escape tunnels in that first sentence. One is that the issue is “complex” (so don’t blame anyone if it takes time — forever? — to eradicate). The other is that “it affects all countries.” It does, but there is a difference between dangerous corruption and the largely trivial amounts, sometimes illegal, spent by British parliamentarians on their expenses or by Swedish cabinet mister Mona Sahlin, who charged her government credit card for a chocolate bar. Most were punished. Sahlin had to withdraw her bid for her party’s leadership, some British MPs were fired, fined or were given (short) prison terms.

Where countries with a functioning democracy and civil society can keep corruption down (but never out), others must live with it as a major, sometimes overpowering, fact of daily life. Eruptions against corruption tend to be massive, even violent. Acting as real-time demonstrations of the U.N.’s declaration, the mass protests threatening the governments in Ukraine and Thailand have corruption at the core of their complaints. The gatherings in Kiev were spurred by President Viktor Yanukovich’s swerve from an association agreement with the European Union toward a closer relationship with Russia. The protesters believe that Yankovich, his family and favored cronies are robbing the people of their state.

Ukraine staying put

John Lloyd
Dec 3, 2013 21:16 UTC

President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine must have thought he was opting for an easier life when he decided last week to renege on his decision to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Staying connected to the Russian-dominated former Soviet Union had seemed a better choice. Ukraine is the second-largest Slavic-Orthodox state after Russia, and Russians have long looked to Kiev for the eleventh-century origins of their state and religion.

The late American scholar Samuel Huntington called the former Soviet Union, with some other Eastern Slavic states, an “Orthodox civilization.” President Yanukovich must have thought he had avoided a clash with the West, which is, in Huntington’s view, quite a different civilization.

It seemed economically safer too. Ukraine’s creaking industry and infrastructure, its often-opaque banking system and its rudimentary service sector would have been a massive undertaking in moving toward European norms.

Fordism forever

John Lloyd
Nov 25, 2013 21:11 UTC

Canadians are frequently stereotyped as reasonable, free of drama, pleasant, courteous — a mild people. A recent New Yorker cartoon showed a group of animals labeled as “Canadian lemmings,” halted at the edge of a cliff, saying: “No, after you!” The Toronto Star ran a column by Vinay Menon last weekend quoting the MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews saying that Canada always struck him to be “like you’re visiting a really nice mall.”

The Star column is an acute reflection of the embarrassment, and even irritation, that I’ve found many Canadians express when you poke them in the ribs and say — “Well, what about your mayor of Toronto?”

Rob Ford, the top elected official in Canada’s largest city, has from relative obscurity hauled himself to the top of the league of extraordinary political volcanoes with eruptions of obscenity, sexual innuendo, crack cocaine use, heavy drinking, violent temper tantrums and calling the news media “a bunch of maggots” for reporting on his activities. In record time, Ford has streaked past the previous world champion of anti-statesmanship, Silvio Berlusconi.

The inconvenient voters of Europe

John Lloyd
Nov 19, 2013 17:06 UTC

Sixty years ago, pondering the question of an unruly populace, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht mused, “Would it not be easier / In that case, for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”

It was a rare piece of ironic criticism of East Germany’s communist regime for Brecht, since he usually supported it. But after the regime’s suppression of a workers’ revolt in 1953, he spoke out. It’s one of his most famed observations, trotted out whenever a populace is ungrateful enough to vote “against their own good.”

European Union politicians can sympathize. They’ve labored for six decades to fashion a union that was supposed to end wars and greatly expand economic markets, not to mention bring former communist states into freedom.

A tale of two citizenships

John Lloyd
Nov 12, 2013 18:25 UTC

When New York City Mayoral-elect Bill de Blasio strode on stage for his victory speech last week, he said that “the people of this city have chosen a progressive path.” But will they stick with it (and him)?

The international media, at least, are skeptical. The Economist opined that “New Yorkers may yet miss (Michael) Bloomberg.” The Wall Street Journal gave generous space to doubters like the omnipresent Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, who said that de Blasio “could go too far left, because there’s a tolerance for moderation, not necessarily for liberalism.” The Financial Times’ columnist Christopher Caldwell took an opposite, but still skeptical, tack, questioning how far his leftism would really go: “de Blasio would be more like his predecessor than meets the eye.” Only the liberal New York Times was generally welcoming, but covered itself against his possible failure by noting that “he is a politician who has yet to prove himself as a manager, and it will be a steep learning curve.”

To the UK Labor Party’s leader Ed Miliband, however, de Blasio’s victory was particularly sweet. I recently talked to a member of his “shadow cabinet” — the group of opposition parliamentarians that correspond to the government’s cabinet — and was told that Miliband’s pitch of a “one nation Labor party” was based on inculcating an ethic of solidarity among citizens and reversing the rampant individualism that Miliband sees encouraged by Prime Minister David Cameron (and that de Blasio sees as having been fostered by ex-Mayor Bloomberg). So while recognizing that Britain is not New York, the two men share a common sense that a new civic mindset is as important as any specific measures.

Russell Brand’s socialist revolution

John Lloyd
Nov 5, 2013 21:49 UTC

Russell Brand, the British comedian, used a guest editorship of the 100-plus-year-old leftist magazine New Statesman last month to call for a “total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system.” Capitalism, and the ideology that sustains it — “100 percent corrupt” — must be overthrown. He also doesn’t think people should vote, as partaking in democracy would further the illusion that a rotten system could change. It was a call, albeit chaotically phrased, for a socialist revolution.

Born into the middle class, Brand’s childhood was disturbed: his photographer father left when he was six months old, his mother developed cancer when he was eight (but survived), he left home in his mid-teens and took to drugs. He later became a star, delighted in promiscuity, married the singer Katy Perry for a year and a half and grew modestly (by star standards) rich, with an estimated net worth of $15 million and a lovely new Hollywood millionaire bachelor’s pad.

None of this disqualifies him from speaking and writing seriously about politics, nor from calling for a socialist revolution. Marx was born into the upper-middle class, Lenin was a minor aristocrat by birth, Stalin studied to be a priest and Mao was the son of a wealthy farmer. Even Pol Pot came from a peasant family considered relatively wealthy by the standards of the times. All of these people called for, or launched, revolutions. No reason, then, to believe that a demand for a 21st century socialist revolution could not be launched from the Hollywood Hills, or from a BBC studio.

Across the world, universal healthcare is in poor health

John Lloyd
Oct 29, 2013 18:08 UTC

Most Europeans don’t understand the U.S. healthcare debate. They don’t understand it because the opposition to it, and its breadth and depth, runs so counter to the experience of almost every European born since World War Two. It’s an experience so deep, so vigorously underpinned by government action and social teaching, that it has become a moral credo. They think healthcare is and should be a public provision. Most Americans don’t seem to.

The Europeans, who think of their unions as stubborn defenders of public provisions, don’t understand why a bunch of U.S. union leaders have come out against some of Obamacare’s central elements, arguing in a letter that it will “shatter not only our hard-earned health benefits, but destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” (They worry that the thresholds for employers to provide health insurance will mean employers shift full-time employees to part-time work.)

The Europeans also don’t understand the visceral opposition of the right to the proposed system. Harvard economist and Obama advisor David Cutler looked at Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign and said, “Never before in history has a candidate run for president with the idea that too many people have insurance coverage.” Yet Romney got a respectable vote. To oppose universal healthcare in Europe would be to guarantee instant political oblivion.

China’s great firewall grows ever higher

John Lloyd
Oct 22, 2013 14:17 UTC

This week I was scheduled to attend a seminar on new and social media in China with other British journalists, but first I needed a visa. It never came. Consular officials told me that I was denied entrance because I didn’t have an appropriate letter of invitation — but others in my party traveled with the same documentation that I provided.

So why couldn’t I visit? I fell back on an explanation that seemed rational: the authorities hadn’t liked my journalism.

I’ve been working for the last three years with a young Chinese journalist on a book about the state of Chinese investigative journalism. Over a year ago, we published a joint piece in the Financial Times in which we argued that the scope of investigative journalism in China has narrowed, and noted the growing list of reporters who have been fired. One of the most famed, Wang Keqin, had uncovered a series of frauds and failures by the authorities that resulted in his sacking, twice — once in 2011, and again, from another paper, in February of this year.

In Ukraine, a choice of civilizations

John Lloyd
Oct 16, 2013 17:57 UTC

KIEV — In 1993, the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington proposed that “the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations.” His theorythat the world was divided into potentially warring civilizations — and later, his book on the topic — have been denounced by legions of critics, mainly on the liberal side. But it had and has retained one group of unlikely fans: Russian nationalists.

They saw in his definition of “Slavic-Orthodox culture” (including much of the former Soviet Union and reaching deep into East-Central Europe) a confirmation, albeit from a surprising quarter, of their own view of the world. That is, that Russia is and must remain the central and organizing power of a collection of states that history, religion and culture had predisposed to unity, and to a distinctly separate identity from a West that would devour them behind a front of “spreading democracy.”

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is an ardent Huntington-ite. His much quoted view that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century signaled a deeply felt loss of a world in which Russia ruled not so much by force but by cultural and political leadership. In such a view, the nations that comprise that civilization are less important than the civilization itself. For a Slavic-Orthodox state to shift to the West would not be a choice, but a betrayal of the bloc’s essence.

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