Wij zijn Angela
“We are Angela” has just been released, at a time when the German Chancellor is at the peak of her popularity and has just confirmed that she will definitely leave office next year after 16 years in power, a record that is very rarely equalled in Europe, with the notable exception of Helmut Kohl. This book, a tribute by women who, each in their own way, recognise themselves in Angela Merkel, steers a course between introspection and self-projection, anecdote and politics, history and literature, (feminist) demands, analysis and humour. It is made up of contributions by eleven Dutch women born between 1952 and 1991, most of them journalists, but also a historian, a novelist, a social activist and a film director.
“You are a source of inspiration or, at the very least, of fascination for many women and men. In the way you navigate the world of politics with humour, tact, modesty and decisiveness, dressed colourfully and with a conscientious approach. In the way you move in and through these troubled waters”, writes novelist Manon Uphoff in a letter to this woman who has successfully tackled a world of machismo in which she has existed and thrived (our translation throughout). The world of politics in Germany, where little girls can now dream of becoming Chancellor one day without fear of ridicule. The world of international politics, where she has had to confront the likes of Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi, who once made her wait for 20 minutes, and the arrogance of Donald Trump. For these women, therefore, Angela is a source of pride. Firstly, because she is the female leader of one of the most powerful countries on the planet, without which nothing gets done in Europe. Then because, without making it a manifesto, she serves the cause of women by promoting equal rights and has succeeded in normalising women’s involvement in politics.
Being a politician means making decisions and opening oneself up to criticism, and Angela Merkel has had her share of this. Her expression “wir schaffen das” (we can do it), for instance, which won her international recognition during the migration crisis of 2015, has been used against her in national politics, with the rising power of the AfD party and a feeling, even among young people, of being dispossessed of their country, according to filmmaker Floor Houwink ten Cate. Others criticise her for having failed to reduce the gap between the poorer East and the wealthy West of Germany, of thinking only in the short term, with no vision of the future, of being an “ideas Hoover” who appropriates her political opponents’ proposals when the time comes to do so (such as on abortion or gay marriage), in order to strip their political manifestoes of all substance. “But when you ask them who’s the alternative (to Merkel: Ed), it’s silence all round. They have no idea and they are all afraid”, says the filmmaker, who has carried out her own survey on Angela, in Berlin and Templin, as part of preparations for a play simply called Merkel and performed for the first time on 28 March 2019 at Utrecht’s Kikker Theatre.
Criticism of her is rife. Some of it is justified, some of it less so. But a recurring theme of all the authors is admiration for a Chancellor who shows what she’s made of in a crisis. In the above-mentioned migration crisis of 2015, for instance, but also when she reassured German savers by providing a state-backed guarantee in the midst of the banking crisis of 2008 or when she decided to abandon nuclear following the Fukushima disaster. Today, no doubt, this list would also include the proposed European economic recovery plan following the pandemic crisis (with the successive Franco-German and European Commission versions) and, to an extent, support to the German car-making industry that targets electric vehicles only.
But who is Angela really? Without leaving out potato soup and plum tart, the authors make full use of all recipes and resources (fashion, style, habits, psychology) and even the personal memories of this clergyman’s daughter, in the case of Els Kloek, in a vain attempt to answer this question. The portrait sketched out over the course of this book lays emphasis on the simple tastes and modesty of a woman who lays no claim to posterity other than as somebody who “has done her best”, but Angela herself remains a mystery.
Marcia Luyten and others. Wij zijn Angela (available in Dutch only). Editions Pluim. ISBN: 978-94-92928-93-1. 176 pages. €19,99
Une monnaie écologique
“All estimates agree that today, it will take a huge amount of money, in the order of several thousand billion euros a year throughout the world, to pay for climate change, some of which could come from the redeployment of existing funding, but another part of it, in the order of at least €300 billion a year for the European Union, will have to be created”, explain the authors of this work, adding: “additionally, we not only need to pay for activities that will not be viable from a financial point of view immediately and make them pay for themselves, but also to pay for off-market activities, such as preserving biodiversity and restoring ecosystems, with the ultimate objective of ensuring the continued livability of our planet” (our translation throughout).
Alain Grandjean is a Polytechnique graduate, member of the French High Council on the Climate and Chairman of the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and Nicolas Dufrêne is the Director of the Institut Rousseau, a left-wing think tank based in Toulouse. They jointly authored this book, which argues that there is such a thing as “monetary wizardry” that would allow the ecological and social transition to be paid for and brought about. “To do this, a new approach to the economic and military mechanisms is needed, and to the operation of monetary policy. To start with, it needs to be recognised that our concepts of currency, debt and interest rates are mostly incorrect or deliberately misleading”, they write, going on to call for budgetary, currency and international trade reforms.
Using the examples of Germany’s economic reconstruction in the 1930s, the American New Deal, the reconstruction of France post-1945 and Chinese monetary policy, the authors stress the importance of money creation for economic recovery and the transformation of industries. Grandjean and Dufrêne nonetheless note that the mass injections of cash since the financial crisis have basically fuelled the financialisation of the economy and speculation on financial and property markets. As for the states, their investment capacity is hindered by the mounting debts that have piled up over the course of the last half-century. According to the IMF, the total amount of debt in the world was more than 225% of global GDP even before the current pandemic. They consider that money creation should now be freed up and channelled into the modernisation of infrastructure, renewable energy, sustainable technologies and production systems that are compatible with preserving the ecosystem.
Accordingly, the authors are extremely critical of the independence of the European Central Bank and the dogma of monetary neutrality. They point out that at her hearing in September 2019 before the monetary committee of the European Parliament, Christine Lagarde acknowledged that the ECB should progressively “green” its balance sheet and shed polluting assets, going on to regret the fact that she did not explicitly question the principle of monetary neutrality. They explain that “one of the greatest difficulties will come from the choice, to be made in the future, of the assets that are deemed eligible or otherwise: beyond the taxonomy currently being developed at the level of the EU, there will be difficult questions to answer, such as whether nuclear should be on the list of eligible assets on the grounds that it helps to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The choice will have to be made and making choices is politics, which the ECB cannot do on its own, with no popular legitimacy. This is why we need a new monetary policy and a new policy mix with a different balance between budgetary policy and monetary policy as well as a system of governance that returns monetary sovereignty to the people and their representatives, as this is a vital dimension of social and economic life”.
As well as moving away from the principle of neutrality as referred to above, the authors propose: - the targeted and fair cancellation of government debt held by the ECB, in return for green investment; - reforming the doctrine of the public investment banks to allow them to get into debt to invest in the ecological transition; - revise articles 123 and 130 of the TFEU to (1) allow the ECB to provide mass support to the EIB and the public investment banks by offering them cash at a zero rate with a long maturity and (2) rethink the independence of the central banks for some or all of their missions. (OJ)
Alain Grandjean, Nicolas Dufrêne. Une monnaie écologique – Pour sauver la planète (available in French only). ISBN: 978-2-7381-5222-0. 285 pages. €22,90
Politique commerciale de l’Union européenne
With this handbook, Philippe Musquar, who works for the legal services of the European Parliament, offers us a complete overview of the trade policy of the European Union, retracing its history and analysing its objectives, legal basis, actors and decision-making processes.
The author points out that as recently as 2018, the EU was the world’s greatest trade power for the trade in goods, with imports and exports totalling 3396.5 billion euros, equating to 15.1% of global trade. It will necessarily lose this position with the departure of the United Kingdom in 2020, although it is still too early to predict the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on this classification.
Musquar also refers to the current existential crisis of the WTO (breakdown of the Doha round, clash between China and America, attitude of the Trump administration and the paralysis of the WTO dispute settlement body), with many potential candidates lining up to replace its Director General. Readers may recall that the Brazilian Roberto Azevedo, who took up office in 2013, intends to step down at the end of August and members of the Association may put in their applications between 8 June and 8 July. As well as the European Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan of Ireland, who wrote the preface to this handbook, rivals include the Spanish Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, the Dutch Trade Minister, Sigrid Kaag, and four Africans: Eloi Laourou of Benin, Nigeria’s Yonov Frederik Agah, the current Deputy Director General, Hamid Mamdouh, a Swiss/Egyptian national, and the Kenyan Amina Mohamed, who also applied for the position in 2012.
The work ends with a list of challenges the European Union was facing before the outbreak of a pandemic that several observers anticipate will generate more protectionism and increasingly called globalisation into question. These challenges, according to the author, include the rise in importance of the fight against climate change and issues such as human rights, fundamental labour standards and food security. Trade policy will also have to adapt to the unprecedented challenges thrown up by technological progress and relating to matters of e-commerce, trade, the storage and processing of data, the application of biotechnologies and the development of artificial intelligence. On top of this comes the particularly unstable geopolitical environment, overshadowed by the rivalry between the United States and China, the aforementioned crisis in the multilateral trade system and public scepticism of free-trade agreements. Finally, Musquar stresses, the European Union still does not have at its disposal all the autonomous instruments that would allow it to enforce compliance with the commitments undertaken by its partners in a multilateral framework or in a bilateral framework and to defend its commercial interests in all circumstances. (OJ)
Philippe Musquar. Politique commerciale de l’Union européenne (available in French only). Manuels Larcier. ISBN: 978-2-8079-1922-8. 180 pages. €45,00
Coopération opérationnelle en droit pénal de l’Union européenne
This collective work contains many contributions and was drawn up under the editorship of Carole Billet and Araceli Turmo, lecturers at the University of Nantes. It takes a close look at the progress made in operational cooperation in criminal law and is a reflection on the creation of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and the swift evolution of the legal framework on the exchange of information.
“The European Union offers a toolbox on operational cooperation which has evolved considerably over time”, observes Anne Weyembergh (of the Institut d’Etudes européennes at ULB), who stresses that there is nonetheless a lot still to be done in terms of training for practitioners in cooperation and mastery of these tools, including language training, which continues to be a “major barrier to the operationalisation of the mechanisms set in place in legislation”(our translation throughout).
“The space of liberty, security and justice is characterised by fragmentation”, stresses Stefan Braum (University of Luxembourg), who adds that “several vertically and horizontally overlapping layers are becoming visible and these give the investigating authorities a flexible instrument to exchange data and information, carry out cross-border investigations and, in particular, to collect and use evidence”. The result is an investigation network: Eurojust interacts with the national judicial authorities; Europol supports police investigations and national proceedings; OLAF works with the financial authorities and national public prosecution services. Common investigation teams could be set up, but would have to comply with the rules of the member state in which they operate. The cross-border interception of telecommunications is possible as long as the member state of execution has agreed to this. “The draft regulation on electronic evidence adds acceleration, privatisation and unilateral discretionary powers to this informalisation as a characteristic of the European criminal procedure”, explains Braum, who interprets this addition of layers of rules and regulations as a “dissolution of the fragmented sovereignty [which] also brings about the dissolution of democratic control over the players in the criminal justice system”.
The absence of a single, coherent procedure, referred to by several authors in this work, means that the system in its current state does not provide the guarantees necessary for the protection of fundamental rights. As Weyembergh stresses, “imbalances need to be corrected between the police level and the judicial level (…), but also between the prosecution and defence”. (OJ)
Carole Billet and Araceli Turmo (editors). Coopération opérationnelle en droit pénal de l’Union européenne (available in French only). Buylant. 232 pages. ISBN: 978-2-8027-6475-5. €65,00