Sunday, May 15, 2016

UK tutorial: What you need to know about the EU referendum

As a knowledgeable EU citizen, with a big love for the city of London and the British culture in general, what is happening now on the other side of the European pond, especially the perspectives that the UK will leave the European institutional framework is of high interest for me. As a journalists that covered often EU affairs, especially EU Councils and bigger than nights discussions on the budget, I reckon that there are many problems within the Union, especially when it comes to coordination of policies and efficiency of the vast bureaucracy. However, the freedom of movement and the working rights as well as the children benefits and food prices are strong incentives for the need of Europe, although a reformed one.
On 23 June this year, British voters are expected to decide if to 'leave' or 'remain' part of the EU, a referendum decided after many intensive discussions for criticism against the Union. Besides the political discourses and rhetorics, it is the right of the voters to know what each of the choices does involve. A Guide for Voters, by David Torrance is aimed to offer exactly this missing milestone from the public debate: a balanced, documented perspective about the EU institutions, the relationship between EU and UK and all the big policy issues at stake, such as sovereignity, education, employment, environment, migration and trade. It also explains what are the EU institutions and how they work, covering even the most 'exotic' institutions for the large public, such as the European Court of Auditors or European Data Protection Supervision.
In a neutral, journalistic style, it approaches one by one, the main points of debate about 'Brexit' - abbreviation for Britain and Exit - such as: 'How much does the EU costs?', the real costs of migration, the advantages of the free trade agreement and the ways in which British citizens rights living abroad will be affected.
It also overviews the points of view among the voters from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the beneficiaries of many structural and regional EU funds.
There are several possible scenarios if the UK will finally decide to 'leave': either a Norway model, or a Swiss solution, becoming part of the European Free Trade Agreement, entering the EU customs union, an increased role in the WTO, or looking forward to being as strong as the BRIC countries.
The 'remaining' solution will mean anyway a renegotiation of some EU agreements, as decided this February in Brussels.
As for now, the opinion polls are unclear about any of the options. Around 20% of the voters are undecided. Three big TV debates are scheduled, the first one on BBC, this Thursday, in Glasgow aimed at the young voters.
I will carefully keep in eye on everything because either decision will have a dramatical influence on the EU future.
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher in exchange of an honest review

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Book review: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Seymour M. Hersh is a careful investigative journalist that, among others, created the debate about Abu Ghraib prisons. His investigations are based on high-level sources and very often he brings out to life truths the establishment want it hidden. This is part of the check-and-balances game, that should be fully functional in order to have a healthy democracy. Even if the journalists may make mistakes and can be biased in their evaluations, or even manipulated by their sources, the democratic institutions should do their work and give an answer to the issues raised by the media. 
A collection of articles covering the killing of Osama bin Laden and some aspects of the US involvement in Syria, this book echoes Hersh disappointment with Obama's incapacity to really offer a different perspective on US politics after Bush administration. Disappointment is a feeling, but sometimes it does not offer the right tool of evaluation of politics. While wathing the promises made by Obama during the first presidential campaign I wondered often how someone can really think - belief is a different side of the story - that one can, just overnight, stop many of the politics started by the Bush administration, the result of planning and involving budgets and various layers of the administration. But it seems that enthusiasm is over too. 
Hersh is particularly unhappy with the maintenance of the politics of relying on special operations, especially in the case of Osama's killing, as well as on the persistence of the Cold War rhetorics regarding Russia and China, especially in the case of the war in Syria. If in the first case, there may be some omissions and confusions  and inaccuracies regarding the public stories delivered - such as the impossible to believe that in fact Pakistan did not have any involvement in the success of the operation - in the second case, the reality may be a bit complex. In the last 8 years, America is lacking a coherent foreign policy - in terms of politics not symbolic gestures - offering willingly the floor to global stakeholders who were waiting for a long time to outline their presence. Woke up from his mediatic beauty sleep, Obama is using the old Cold War language because he does not have any other perpective on his own to use.
If you ignore the very frequent name dropping, Hersh offers a lot of snipets of information about the behind the curtain connections during the Syrian war, to be taken as such or compared with other official and even media reports - an approach strongly recommended in the case of the sarin gas debate, with more than one report contradicting Hersh assumptions. After all, journalists can be also the victims of their own informants, not only presidents. 
Disclaimer: Book offered by the publisher via in exchange of an honest review.