Saturday, February 04, 2006

What's so special about Allah?

Category:  [in English]  [Freedom]  [Islamophobia]  [Satire]

There are Jews in the world, there are Buddhists,
There are Hindus and Mormons and then,
There are those that follow Mohammed,
But I've never been one of them...

(Every sperm is sacred - ©Monty Python -
another great religious parody

Muhammad's life

What's so special about Allah and about Muhammad then? We can parodize Thor, Freya, the Pope, Vishnu, Jews, Yahweh, Michael Jackson, Buddha, gays, George Bush, fat guys, politicians, French military victories. Why for heavens sake should Allah and Muhammad be exempted then from parody? Whether it's tasteful or not, or whether insulting to some is not at stake here. Opinions or parody for that matter will always shock somebody somewhere.

If Muhammad objects, he can always sue me with a copy of the birth certificate of Aisha, stating she was indeed way over 6 when he raped married her.

If depicting Muhammad is a blasphemy, well, nobody asked Muslims to depict him. For the rest of us who don’t believe in the Religion of Submission, it’s our freedom and our privilege to do so, and we do as we wish. If the sight of their Prophet shocks Muslims, - well, nobody asks them to look, did we?

And what’s this fuzz about anyways? Muhammad cartoons have been all over all the time. Better, sharper even, and funnier than the ones by the Jyllands-Posten. Check out the cartoons of Abdullah Aziz on the
There have been videogames featuring Muhammad in Holy War, raunchy cartoons, comic strips, and real hard stuff mocking Muhammad (overview on near the bottom). Also, take the opportunity to have a look at the work of infidel artist D.T.Devareaux.
Let us repeat again and again: there is absolutely no question of stigmatising Islam and Muslims. Religion is not the issue here but intolerance.
Journalists of the French newspaper Libération (that published Muhammad cartoons)

Editorial cartoons exist to challenge political thought and expose hypocrisy. Among religions, Islam should be the least protected from this form of speech, as it insists on involving itself in temporal political matters wherever it is practiced. Indeed, it insists on dictating political and legal matters, usually in the most extreme terms, and it uses the life of Mohammed as its claim on political and legal supremacy. Christianity hasn't taken that position in centuries, focusing on the spiritual and individual rather than group diktat.
(Captain's Quarters, thanks to DOF).

By the way, have a Carlsberg. After the Flemish beers and the Filipino San Miguel, it’s undoubtedly the best beer in the world. Cheers!


We are all Danish
Double standards
D.T.Devareaux blasphemous infidel art
The Muhammad archive (below)

Muhammad's pictures.

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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ask him about the cemeteries Dean!

Category:  [in English]  [Photoblog]  [Freedom]  [Global Politics]

In 1966, upon being told that French president Charles de Gaulle was taking France out of the integrated military command structure of NATO and required NATO and U.S. forces and headquarters to leave French soil, - President Lyndon Johnson told Secretary of State Dean Rusk:
"Ask him about the cemeteries Dean!"

So at end of the meeting Rusk did ask de Gaulle if his order to remove all U.S. troops from French soil also included the 60,000+ soldiers buried in France from World War I and World War II.
De Gaulle never answered.

Forty one years ago, a German counter-offensive, nicknamed as the Battle of the Bulge or the von Rundstedt offensive, took the Allies by surprise near the end of European World War II.

It happened in the Belgian Ardennes from dawn December 16, 1944 till January 30, 1945. It was aimed at splitting the Allies armies in half and recapturing the port of Antwerp, the Allies' most vital supply port.

The Ardennes Offensive was actually a series of battles scattered over several hundred miles and involving more than 1 million combatants, including 500,000 U.S. troops, 500,000 Germans and about 55,000 British.
Americans suffered 76,890 casualties, including 19,000 killed and 23,554 captured.
Germans suffered about 100,000 casualties — killed, wounded or captured.

One of the Allied War Cemeteries is near the small Walloon city of Hotton. A winter February Saturday, almost 3 years ago, I drove by with my first digital cam, and I was impressed by the serenity and the solitude of the place in the fresh snow.

The photo album has been online a couple of years ago but since then it evaporated in stardust of free web hosting. On this quiet winter evening when snow is falling all over, I just felt those pictures should be online again.

For some, soldiers like these might be imperialists, for others, heroes that made a sacrifice. Looking at their gravestones, I can only observe they were just kids. Their life had barely begun and it ended abruptly in the frost and in the snow.

But whatever politics may have to say about Atlanticism, they made a darn convincing case in favor.

Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld quoting General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.
General George S. Patton

As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure
Jacques Chirac, President of France
As far as France is concerned, you're right.
Rush Limbaugh

If the box below is empty, you are using Microsoft Internet Explorer. In that case, or if you want to view the gallery full-screen, click here.


The Ardennes Offensive on
The Battle of the Bulge: the Ardennes Offensive
The Battle of the Bulge in Wikipedia
1944: Germany counter-attacks in Ardennes on the BBC
Veterans site of the Battle of the Bulge
La bataille des Ardennes autour de Rochefort: memories and photos (in French)
The Battle of the Bulge: tactical overview and maps
The Battle of the Bulge on The History Channel
The German Counteroffensive in the Ardennes: a very complete account by the US Army Center of Military History
The Battle of the Bulge on
The Battle of the Bulge on

Photos are copyrighted but offered free of charge as Royalty Free Stock to anybody. This includes all HTML and JavaScript to reproduce this album. The only restriction is that they can't be sold and that they are used in due respect and they can not defamate the U.S., U.K, Australian and New-Zealand military.
Zipped original photos (2MP) can be downloaded here.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dear Muqtedar

Category:  [in English]  [Islamophobia]  [Freedom]  [Global Politics]

Prof. Muqtedar, a Muslim social scientist and an Islam scholar, was in Brussels recently for business, and he was shocked as he saw a scarfed Muslim women begging on the Boulevard Adolphe Max in Brussels downtown.

In his weblog called IJTIHAD (Muqtedar Khan's Column on Islam and Global Affairs) he tells this story and makes some observations on the difference between the Belgian approach to its Muslims, and the one of the US.

As I sat listening to the stories of Muslim life in Belgium, I caught myself repeatedly touching the tiny U.S. flag on my lapel. Uncle Sam sure looked mighty friendly and hospitable from cross the pond. While discrimination against Muslims in America has certainly risen after 9/11 it looked insignificant compared to what Muslims in Belgium faced routinely.
You can read the article in full here and here and here and here.
Since the article sounds awfully prejudiced, especially from an academic, I took the liberty to comment on his weblog.

Dear Muqtedar,

It's an interesting article, for sure. I am a Brussels resident, and to be frank, I never saw Muslim women begging on the streets. Most beggars are organized Eastern-European gangs and locals. My guess is that it was an imposter, using the scarf just to draw attention and get some money.

It is true that the Belgian government does a lot for Muslims. Immans are state-paid, and it's illegal to phrase anti-Muslim remarks in public. You will not be harassed if you phrase anti-Christian remarks, but you will be fined or put on trial when you admit to be anti-Muslim.

It's also true that there is a very generous social security system in Belgium, and we have a guaranteed income for those who don't work. Muslims are over-represented in that system, but only males. Women and girls find work easily, they study longer, and they are under-represented in crime statistics.

But it's also true that most street crime in Brussels and in Antwerp (another large Belgian city) is perpetrated by male Moroccan youth gangs. I myself was beaten once up into hospital at night, once robbed of my cell phone by Moroccans, and one time harassed by Algerians that were vandalizing a public railway rest room.

Those are not isolated incidents at all. Local women that walk lightly dressed in summer are often scorned as "whores" by Moroccan and Maghreb male youth, and male "Muslims" do most violent rape in Northern Europe.

I am also residing in the island of Mindanao, Philippines, 5 months per year. It's interesting to observe the difference between the position of Muslims in Mindanao on one hand, and in Eurabia on the other. We in Eurabia can draw valuable lessons from the Philippine approach.

In the Philippines, Muslims are treated as reverse-dhimmis. They can practice their religion freely, and there is no overt form of discrimination. In fact, many Muslims have well-established businesses there.
But there is no question also about the fact that Muslims in Mindanao can’t claim supremacy based on their religion. The Filipinos took it a little bit further. In Mindanao cities like Davao, Mosks were banned from the inner city and expelled to the outskirts. Catholic churches and one cathedral are now in the center. The cathedral is in front of town hall.

In Belgium and in the rest of Eurabia (like France), the situation is the opposite. By locals, Muslims are perceived as the darlings of the regime, and there is at least one Muslim group (the AEL), which predicts that we, the locals, will live under dhimmi rule in the future.

It has to do with our Christian-Jewish civilization which is driven by guilt, while Muslims (at least in Eurabia) are driven by shame and a conquering spirit.
The demography of Muslim sections of the population is much better than that of the locals.

Personally, having read some parts of the Holy Qu'ran with an infidel eye, I am convinced that "Submission" is not just a simple religion, but most of all a theocratic discriminatory (against gays and women) ideology, that should have its government-provided privileges taken away. I mean in Belgium and in France, which are the worst affected areas by the Eurabia guilt complex.

Of course Muslims can cherish their beliefs but they also should be gently pushed back into a sort of reverse dhimmi-status like in the Philippines. It's not that unusual. In Turkey for instance, Christians have freedom of religion but they can't own churches and can't function as policemen or in a responsible government position. In Malaysia and Indonesia, there are similar laws as to mixed marriages (Muslim-Christian) where the children forcibly have to be educated in an Islam environment. n Saudi Arabia, Christians can be arrested and lashed for practicing their faith in public. No non-Muslims are allowed to become Saudi citizens. (see here)

Europe is indeed a Christian Club as the Turkish leader Erdogan stated so eloquently. That’s why we wonder why Turkey, as a Muslim club, is so keen on joining the EU. We are seculars that don't want religion nor irrational beliefs and sects mingling with state affairs. That doesn’t mean "secularism" is our belief. We just think that religion, any religion, should be kept out of government business.

We claim the right to publish "blasphemous" cartoons of the Prophet (PUB), because we believe in free speech civil liberties.
We fought the Christian theocratic aspirations for centuries, and we succeeded to push them back where they belong, that is in people's private minds and hearts.
We don’t want any other religion, how noble it may be, to take its place, ever again in the government of the state.

Of course Muslims are welcome in Eurabia, that we prefer to call our beloved "Europe". Discrimination based on personal beliefs is utterly wrong. Banning the headscarf in France is just humiliating. Enjoying all our civil liberties, Muslims should be kept in a reverse dhimmi-status in Europe nevertheless, just like Christians are in predominantly Muslim countries.
They should be discreet and not claim more than mere tolerance on the religious level. As to discreetness, we saw how France's predominantly Muslim youth behaved during the torching riots. My bet is that if Christians did a similar thing in any Muslim country, they would have been beheaded. But we (that is our governments) just throw money at them; it must be our guilt complex ;-)

And if some Muslims think they possess the only true religion, well, that belief is kindly granted. But in the case they practice that belief in a way to take away our civil liberties, they don't belong in our Europe. And of course, they are always free to leave. It's our country. With all respect for other countries and how they do it there, that’s how we do it here.

Live in Europe, and behave according to our rules. Maybe this sounds harsh, but that's how it is. And I hope you enjoyed our beloved "Manneken Pis" in Brussels. Look at the photo on your weblog: he had a scarf on! ;-)
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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Free speech fined in Flanders

Category:  [in English]  [Lowlands Soul]  [Freedom]

In a recent decision (#2005/113 (PDF), December 16) of the VCM (Vlaams Commissariaat voor de Media) (Flemish Media Commission) a fine of €12,000 (14,836$) was imposed on member of the Flemish parliament and podcaster, (internet radio on demand) Mr. Jurgen Verstrepen.
The decision is apparently politically inspired and motivated by content, although formal reasons like non-compliancy with Flanders’ media regulation have been put forward in the motivation of the decision to fine.

The issue has raised some serious concerns about free speech on the Internet in Flanders, about the definition of "broadcasting", and about territoriality.

Mr. Verstrepen became quite popular with a Howard Stern-like weekly Sunday morning Talk Show ZwartofWit (in Dutch, Black or White) simultaneously both on Radio and on TV. In the show, he covered a wide range of controversial subject with uncensored audience telephone input.

What bothered leading officials and government parties most is that he didn’t back off raising sensitive issues like Muslim immigration, and inviting leaders of the right-wing Flemish independence and anti-immigration party VB (Vlaams Blok, Flemish Block) as studio guests.

About the VB

All other Belgian political parties consider the VB to be "racist" and have put a cordon sanitaire (sanitary quarantine circle) around it. They refuse any cooperation or coalition with the VB, blocking it from the state-controlled media (like the government-owned Radio and TV-channels VRT), and heavily and successfully pressuring private media to do so too.
As the situation became embarrassing because the VB kept winning every election and even ended up as the largest party in the last 2004 general elections, both on the Belgian and the Flemish level, - they had to resort to other measures. [The VB can only be elected in Flanders, but Flanders is by far the largest member state of the Belgian federation.]

Near the end of 2004, the VB was convicted in court for being a "racist" party, a trial that has raised some eyebrows here and there, as it was perceived by many as a political trial and technically flawed.
Whatever, since the VB was now a criminal organization, it quickly dissolved itself, and as a Phoenix it formed a "new" party with a different name (Vlaams Belang, Flemish Interests), and with some minor changes in its political program, but with still the same leaders and the same elected parliamentarians.

The vaudeville goes on, by the way, since the new VB faces a trial once more, simply because one its leaders said in an interview with an American-Jewish magazine to be "afraid of the Islam in Europe". The Belgian crown prince Philippe also added to the turmoil earlier this year, by declaring that he would fight the VB because they "want to split my country [Belgium]", - thereby violating the neutral political position of the king as required by the Belgian constitution.

About Jurgen Verstrepen

Mr. Verstrepen apparently didn’t want to give in to pressures from the government (and especially from the Socialist parties in the coalition) to observe some auto-censorship in his ZwartofWit show. But his commercial hosts Radio Contact and LibertyTV discontinued the show for "commercial reasons", while no other channel wanted to host the show either.
It was the second time that Verstrepen had to cancel his show. The first time it was hosted on TOPradio and Kanaal 2 but Belgian’s prime minister, Mr. Verhofstadt was not amused. Verstrepen had to stop it in 2001.

In an interview with the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad on November 16, 2002, Verstrepen told that he was under intense pressure from circles around Verhofstadt who should have said (in Dutch, translated):
If Verstrepen doesn’t stop with that fucking garbage in his columns, I will make sure no official will be his studio guest ever again.
(with thanks to for the quote).

In the mean time, the popular and flamboyant media figure and rebel Verstrepen was elected as Flemish parliamentarian in the June 2004 general elections as an "independent" candidate for the VB, on the theme of Free Speech. He subsequently tried to revive his Radio Show as VB6015 on the short waves either analog or in DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), and broadcasting from outside the Belgian territory. But his providers in the UK and in Germany were allegedly pressured not to do so. In his weblog, Verstrepen stated on May 31, 2005:
We've noticed that international and Belgian press described our project VB6015 as an extreme-right political propaganda broadcast. This is absolutely not the case; this information is false. The talk radio show ZwartofWit (Black or White) can be described as "more stimulating talk radio" and best of all compared with the US talk shows like Rush Limbaugh and others.
The name of the network was inspired by the nickname Jurgen Verstrepen had been using for years in the Flemish media: "Vlaams Bakkes" which means "Flemish Bigmouth".

Apart from political pressures, the initiative also faced some technical difficulties, as it went from 6.015 MHz over 13.680 MHz to 15.660 MHz. Moreover, not everybody can listen to DRM yet. The program was also broadcasted on the Internet, as a podcast, both streaming and as a MP3 file. Currently, this is the most popular way to listen to the program, as the ether broadcast seems to be discontinued. But it’s unclear, on the VB-site "ether" is still mentioned, but their MP3 archive doesn’t work either.

About the decision

Flanders’s media regulation stipulates that (political) broadcasts are subject to a license when transmitted through the ether. If through the Internet, the VCM must be notified by registered mail. Some excerpts (translated into English):
Art. 34. § 2. Private radio broadcasts have to offer a variety of programs. [...] Either as to content as in broadcasting schedule, there should be no discrimination whatsoever.
[They mean you shouldn’t be Islamophobic; you can tackle the Church, but not Islam; your can tackle locals but not immigrants.]

§ 3. It is strictly forbidden for private radio stations to broadcast programs that jeopardize the public order, public decency, state security or that are insulting to people’s beliefs or to a foreign state.
[They mean you shouldn’t be Islamophobic; you can tackle the Church, but not Islam; your can tackle locals but not immigrants; how can you show porn on radio? Does it involve moaning?].
A private radio station cannot broadcast electoral propaganda.
[Why not? Elections are essential to democracy. And why is it their business?]

Art. 35. Private radio stations must be independent from any political party.
[Why? Parties are essential to democracy. And why is it their business?]

Art. 36. Content broadcasted has to obey current rules of journalism deontology and the impartiality and journalists’ independency has to be guaranteed.
[Why are all the state-controlled media then manned by lefties?]

Art. 37. Broadcasting equipment of private radios should be located in Flanders or Brussels.
[How can they ever enforce that? It’s clearly incompatible with the freedom to establish a business anywhere in the EU].

Verstrepen apparently didn’t either ask for a license nor register his podcasts with the VCM.
Let’s not focus on the ether-broadcasts, since it is perfectly reasonable that the limited ether bandwidth should be regulated and assigned by the authorities. Let’s focus on the Internet podcast instead.

In a preliminary inquiry by the VCM about his station VB6015, Verstrepen objected that the servers he is "transmitting" from are located abroad, and that the content of his program is targeted to Flemish worldwide. The VCM discarded these arguments in its decision, claiming that the content of the VB6015 program apparently is targeted mostly to Flemish in Flanders itself, and that the programs were actually recorded on Flemish territory by a Media Company called "BCC&V" with its seat on Flanders' territory.
They considered the actual location of the transmitting servers as a mere technicality. Furthermore, Radio Stations owned by political parties are outlawed by the Flemish Media regulation.


Verstrepen claims that his station offers a broad coverage of subjects like political gossip, politics, media events, music and trivia about all flavors in society, - is indeed slightly creative. Most of the politicians interviewed belong to the VB or at least appear to be very sympathetic towards it. Political issues selected mostly represent VB issues. VB1602 is mirrored on the VB-site and apparently the VB supports it.
On the other hand, Verstrepen claims his Station is independent and personal. He has a point, Radio Vatican is likely to be in tune with Christian-Democrat parties too.

And anyways, the friendly link between VB6502 and the VB is really irrelevant as the state-owned and state-sponsored media like the VRT are mostly populated by left-wing journalists and have an official policy of ignoring the VB. VB1602 just fills a gap in the political media spectrum.

Strictly spoken, the VCM might have a point, but one can wonder if the ban on political Radio Stations is fundamentally not against Free Speech, and if so, one can easily claim a station is voicing concerns of a Think Tank, not of a Party as such.
That’s how all the other parties do it by the way, quite hypocritically.

Verstrepen has been negligent and reckless not registering his Station. If the VCM had denied his request, he would have had a much more valid Free Speech case. He also could have registered his Media Company BCC&V abroad. That’s what the Isle of Man postboxes are for. Concerning the Internet podcasts, his reasoning could have been that a mandatory preliminary registration is unconstitutional, since the Belgian constitution guarantees Free Press and forbids preemptive censorship or state control of the Press.

It’s quite clear that the Establishment and the Flemish media Commissars are playing games with technicalities and use a very wide definition of the concept "broadcast". What they actually want to do, of course, is to stifle Verstrepen’s "free radio" and the voice of the "Vlaams Belang", just because its content is against the convictions of the politically correct ruling Socialists and Social(ist)-"Liberals". [Liberals in the Flemish sense are equivalent with Conservatives in the American sense; in fact the Flemish Liberals gradually evolved into a weak species of Collectivists over the years.]

For Flemish bloggers, the decision (which is not a ruling yet), has alarming consequences to be worried about. If a podcast on the Internet is considered to be a broadcast, what about a weblog then? Especially when the weblog carries some sound too? Since blogged podcasts are sprouting all over, they might be considered to be just a sound-version of a weblog.
None of these podcasts/weblogs has been under scrutiny by the VCM yet. Verstrepen was singled out, just because of his popularity and because of his connection with an "outlaw" party.

But where is the guarantee that problematic, incorrect or "Islamophobic" weblogs won’t take the heath soon too, if the Internet is not a form of Press but a form of Broadcast?
Do the Flemish commissars realize they can only succeed then by imposing a Chinese way of controlling the Internet?

Luckily, this very weblog is hosted on an American server, its content is posted from Asia, and the audience targeted are apparently the inhabitants of the outer moons of Uranus. Prove me wrong, commissars of the VCM.


Verstrepen announced 2 days ago on his weblog that he will object the VCM decision, that he will file a complaint against Prime Minister’s Verhofstadt’s personal podcast on his site, the Flemish and Belgian Federal Parliament’s podcasts, - and that he will not pay the fine and will continue podcasting.

As every citizen can report a podcast to the VCM, of which he suspects it might not have been registered,- Verstrepen urges on his weblog today to file complaints against all podcasts of politicians and government institutions to flood the VCM.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bradley's silly question

Category:  [in English]  [(b)Eurocracy]  [Satire]

Hidden in the comment section of Paul Belien's article Blair Debacle. France Again Calls the Tune in the Brussels Journal, there is a little satirical masterpiece that deserves more exposure. It's an answer from Bob Doney to an American reader, Bradley, that wonders why the UK stays in the EU, and what it gets out of it.

Bradley, Bradley! The list of benefits is endless.

We get the opportunity to pay for the French to carry on producing their wonderful food, which we are allowed to sample when we go on our holidays there. There is a slight downside to the subsidy system, because it makes everyone else's food much more expensive than market forces would otherwise dictate. Us middle-class types don't worry too much about this though, as it's mainly the poor who bear the brunt of the suffering caused by overpriced food. Still they can always the sample the delicious French wine and cheeses when they take their mini-breaks to Provence. Oh, they can't afford them! Never mind. Nothing's perfect.

And we get to maintain the Spanish fishing fleet. Unfortunately they are so efficient they've nearly swept our seas bare of all the lovely cod we used to enjoy, but it would be churlish to grumble.

And another thing: Europe's bureaucrats are so productive that they've produced more rules and regulations in the few decades since we joined than our idle, native Whitehall chappies could manage in about 300 years. And we can read them all in twenty different languages. You Americans aren't very good at languages, are you? You miss out on all this.

We can now buy Cheddar Cheese made in Greece, but unfortunately not Feta Cheese made in Yorkshire.

We now have an excellent dumping ground for our failed politicians. We used to have to send them to the House of Lords, which has really comfy seats, but now our crooked, old losers can be sent off to a well-paid sinecure in Brussels to round off their careers. I've been reading in recent days about how much you Americans appreciate the negotiating skills of former Blair babe Peter Mandelson. He had to be sacked from the UK government a couple of times for dishonesty (yes, yes, I know the second time it was all a dreadful misunderstanding), but it's gratifying to know there is a place for him in the heart of Europe.

We have the benefit of Mr. Chirac's regular homilies on our shortcomings as a nation. As you can imagine, we really appreciate this, especially from a man of his truly fine calibre and blameless public life. A bit like being lectured by Bill Clinton on the sanctity of marriage, I would imagine.

But there's more!

As you know, Britain is the "sick man of Europe", but by our EU membership we get to join in the startling rate of economic growth that is the hallmark of the great European nations. Not for us the stagnation of non-members like China, India, Viet-Nam, Australia, USA, Singapore, Norway or Switzerland. We can share in France, Germany and Italy's bonanza. Unfortunately we haven't yet adopted their whizzy new currency, but I expect we'll see the error of our ways on this eventually.

There is one sour note however. Because of the craven way we are unduly influenced by the USA for historical reasons (some old diehards still feel a smidgeon of gratitude to you), we seem unable to fully enter into the European way of conducting foreign policy. Like you we can't seem to shake off this old imperial habit of blood and sacrifice in the cause of building a free world. I know we'll get over it one day, and learn the European way of soft power - and don't give me that crap about soft power just meaning not being prepared to pay for an proper army.

Hope this makes clear why we Brits have come to love Big Brother, err.... the European Union.

© Bob Doney, the Brussels Journal.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The EU can do with half its budget.

The EU can do with half its budget.
Category:  [in English]  [(b)Eurocracy]  [Global politics]

The EU budget talks are in disarray. France wants to abolish the British rebate; the Brits want less farm subsidies that benefit the Frogs. Fritz is finally fed up paying for those Frog farmers. Belgian's prime minister and the EU commission want a larger pork barrel viable minimum to build a ever more bureaucratic "better and stronger" Europe. Net receivers like Greece, Spain and Portugal keep their mouth shut and just hope the manna will continue to materialize out of the Brussels sky. And the Ossies keep a low profile not to waken up the centripetal navel-staring Wessies that didn't digest their electoral defeat on the EU expansion to Turkey draft constitution yet.

But let's have a look at that budget. Is the federal money used to build and maintain a strong and common EU defense, to build trans-European roads, to sponsor a common Justice and Law Enforcement body?

No it isn't. The Emperor has no Chinese T-shirt on. Half of the budget goes to farming subsidies. Ouch!

Houston, we have a problem!

These farming subsidies (in Euro-jargon CAP, Common Agricultural Policy), combined with high import taxes on agricultural products from outside the EU, have 5 negative consequences.

According to the OECD, food prices in the EU are 44% higher because of the CAP than they would be under normal market rules. The EU-consumer is the first victim.

Apart from exorbitant food prices, the EU consumer has to dig out money a second time, as a taxpayer, since he ultimately pays for these subsidies.

Developing countries, which are relatively more axed towards agricultural than to industrial output, face an artificial cost handicap selling their products on EU-markets. They sell less than they would in a free and unsubsidized market.

Dumping. Those same developing countries are flooded with cheap subsidized agricultural surpluses from the industrial countries (the US is also to blame), which destroy local employment and businesses in the agricultural sector.

The EU citizen perceives much less tangible results than he should when the EU budget were used in a proper way to core EU government business. Hence the money-dematerializing machine that constitutes the CAP is partly responsible for the credibility crisis of the European project.

How did we end up with mountains of butter and rivers of milk produced solely for the sake of finagling subsidies out of an inert and bloated bureaucracy and deteriorating relationships with irate trade partners? Why is food so special, and not textile or oil or cameras? Would it be that food has some mythical properties as it is basic? Erst das Fressen, dann die Moral.

I love the taste of croissants in the morning! It tastes like... dioxin!

French Agriculture Minister Gaymard proffers the usual woolly mantras of "farm products are more than marketable goods", "France, and Europe in general, need security of food supply", "food cannot be left to the mercy of market forces". "Farmers, unlike industrialists" - insists the Minister counterfactually – "cannot simply relocate and agrarian pursuits are a pillar of the nation's culture and its attachment to the land". So it's about pagan bucolical myths and about irrational love for the ancestral soil after all?

Of course food safety is an issue. But it's not an issue for foreign food alone. A few years ago, it was discovered by coincidence that Belgian home raised chicken on ancestral soil contained a vast amount of dioxin from industrial and deliberate contamination with waste transformer oil. Now Thai chicken may contain salmonella once in a while, but the risk of industrial contamination is much less in rural areas than in the highly industrialized West.

Homegrown veggies in Flanders contain high levels of nitrates and Atrazin that makes it into the groundwater, when growing substandard subsidized corn used as subsidized pig food. Gaymard's "Terre de la patrie" might be something to love but it sure isn't healthy.
All food should pass the same quality control stations before making it to the consumer. There is no a priori reason to single out foreign food.

Autarky, now what about that? Is there autarky in oil supply? In raw materials? Autarky in the supply of a commodity can be an option when confronted with a foreign cartel, like the OPEC. But food suppliers come from all corners of the world and they are very diverse. A food embargo on the EU would never work.

How Germany lost the War two times.

So where did those farming subsidies come from? French President Charles de Gaulle's main argument for creating the CAP was that French industry could not afford to subsidize its agriculture on its own (see here, p. 253 bottom). There was no question of not subsidizing agriculture; it was merely a matter of spreading the costs. Germany agreed; it had to. In those days, Germany indeed was still the vilified and submissive loser of World War II.

A Subsidy, a Subsidy! My Kingdom for a Subsidy!

Apart from the CAP, the EU subsidies circus in general is riddled by fraud. In the case of Greece, for example, the EU subsidies helped prop up a bloated bureaucracy and keep industries afloat that would otherwise be unable to compete.

Germany ended up being the big loser in this circus. Of the €22 billion that Berlin sends to Brussels, only about €14 billion end up back in Germany, in the form of subsidies for German farmers and for economically disadvantaged regions, such as the states of the former East Germany.

For Germany, the bottom line is clear. Year after year, the Germans send significantly more money to Brussels than they receive back. In 2003, the difference amounted to €7.7 billion, making Germany the biggest net contributor by a long shot. Only the Netherlands and Sweden pay more on a per capita basis. (read here). Aside from Ireland, Luxembourg and the ten new EU members, the winners of the Europe redistribution machine are Greece (with a net gain of €3.4 billion), Portugal (€3.5 billion) and Spain (€8.7 billion).

From the TimesOnline (thanks to Foreign Dispatches):
The European Commission figures show why French farmers are so attached to the EU subsidies. More than 131,000 French farmers took €20,000 (£13,000) or more from Brussels in 2003, far more than the combined total of 104,000 farmers from Britain, Italy and Germany who receive that amount. About 3,200 French farmers secured more than €100,000 in subsidies. The biggest beneficiary in France was a rice farmer in the Camargue , who received €866,290.

Facing tough criticism, the EU redesigned its CAP in 2003. France - and six other EU countries - intended to stick religiously to a deal struck, tête-à-tête, between the French president and the German chancellor in 2002.

The CAP - which consumes close to half of the EU's budget - will not be revamped until 2013 at the earliest, though outlays will be frozen in real terms and, starting in 2006, gradually diverted from subsidizing production to environmental and other good causes ("decoupling" and "modulation" in EU jargon).

Well, as long as farmers are paid by the EU and grow crops, it's still about subsidies, although the money won't show up as agricultural subsidies in the budget tables.

France's SM love affair with its farmers.

Why does France love its farmers so much that it is prepared to destabilize the EU fabric by a fantasist budget, to harm EU consumers and developing countries, and to enrage the WTO? Why farmers, and not plumbers or taxi-drivers for instance? Well it's certainly not for the number of people involved. Only 5% of EU citizens - 10 million people - work in agriculture, and the sector generates just 1.6% of EU GDP. In France, we talk about 3.5% of its population.

The most direct answer to this question is plain money. The CAP has been very profitable for France as a whole. Even after recent cuts, French agriculture still receives €8 billion a year through the CAP. Chirac himself started his political career as an Agriculture Minister, and was elected at first in a poor rural department. Another political factor is the over-representation of the countryside in the French legislative Senate

One of the answer is also plain pressure and violence. The largest French agricultural trade union, the FNSEA has become more aggressive in recent years to avoid being outflanked by a new competitor, Confédération Paysanne, a radical rural organization for which the antiglobalization campaigner José Bové (of McDonald's ransacking fame) was a longtime spokesman. In a country with a conflict-prone social culture (and where politicians are known to cave in the face of the frequent protests and strikes), farmers are among the most determined, and sometimes violent, lobbies.

There finally must be some inexplicable magic in the mythical ancestral French soil.

As the International Herald Tribune (subscribers only) remarks:
For farmers in France have tremendous sympathy from the rest of the population. Traditional, high-quality food remains an important part of the culture, and France's defense of its "gastronomical sovereignty" is itself a tradition. Defenders of French agriculture like Bové argue that globalization of the agricultural market has not only made France susceptible to bad-tasting food but also to unsafe food, mad cow disease, hormone-treated beef, genetically modified organisms and preservatives - arguments that are very convincing to many French.

But it is not just about food. French farmers are also considered the keepers of the countryside. Most French citizens - who often think of themselves as having rural roots even if their families have lived in Paris or Lyon for generations. […] In reality, with half of EU subsidies going to just 10% of farms, it is far from clear that the CAP helps preserve villages rather than large industrial farms, but the argument still carries weight among the French.


Tough times are ahead for the CAP, now that the Brits want to use the attack on their rebate as a casus belli to demand a review of the CAP itself, and of the huge money transfers to France that it causes.
If the CAP is not reformed, the EU will face complete deadlock. Blair will make this perfectly clear, and shift the debate onto the cost of the CAP, and the damage it causes to European consumers, but more importantly the cost it causes to poor farmers and the distortion of world trade.

The time is just right, now that the WTO meeting in Hong Kong is starting the fire on the barbeque that will grill the protectionist and unfair agriculture trade practices of the EU (and the US).

The EU taxpayer-consumer will be the first to win as the EU actually only needs half its budget. The food producing developing countries will be the next, and they will need less grants and gifts. Trade is Aid.

Postscript: subsidized luxury chocolates

A quick look at the table of the top 100 recipients of agricultural subsidies in Belgium offers a sweet surprise. Luxury chocolates and truffles manufacturer Godiva (also Neuhaus) from Brussels received a delicious €193,047 from the EU chocolate pork barrels in 2004. What's next? Subsidize Armani?


used to write this article:
A brand new critical and independent think tank on European farming subsidies:

How French farmers make themselves rich through EU (TimesOnline column)
Q&A: Common Agricultural Policy (BBC News)
CAP mid-term review 2003 (EurActiv article)
Why the French love their farmers (International Herald Tribune column, subscription only)
Germany Is Tired of Footing the European Bill (Der Spiegel article)
Multinationals, not farmers, reap biggest rewards in Britain's share of CAP payouts (The Guardian, article)
French Parasites (Foreign Dispatches blog item)

WTO Agreement on Agriculture: A Decade of Dumping (WTO, PDF, contains XXVI annexes with tables)
Agricultural Subsidies and Rural Poverty (GlobalPolicy articles list)
How EU Sugar Subsidies Devastate Africa (Independent article)
Farm Subsidies That Starve the World (New Statesman article)
Farm Fallacies That Hurt the Poor (Outreach report)
EU farm ministers hail CAP deal, aid workers call it disaster (Daily Mirror Article)

The Belgian Curtain. Europe after Communism. (Sam Vaknin, PDF, 141 pp.)
Winning the European CAP (Sam Vaknin article)
Europe's Agricultural Revolution (Sam Vaknin article)
Creating A common Market for Fraud in the European Union (Carolyn Warner, PDF, 257 pp.)

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