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2017 will almost certainly be worse than 2016.

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2017 by shaneheneghan

The logic that Trump being sworn in will be worse than his election and that the triggering of article 50 will be worse than the impact of the actual brexit vote may be tempered by the fact that we have had time to prepare psychologically but both events may still lead to many surprises and many unknown unknowns we cannot yet anticipate.
Eyes will quickly turn to France. Marine Le Pen’s election was once considered much more plausible than either a brexit or a Trump victory and she remains the woman to beat. Her election would almost certainly lead to a lengthy period of “cohabitation”- that is to say when the French President’s party has no majority in the National Assembly as her Front National currently has just two MPs. This also means that she would find it very difficult to get much of a legislative programme through without making broad alliances and compromises with other parties.
On the surface, the German election looks very boring. Angela Merkel looks almost certain to be re-elected Chancellor one way or another. But we are all far too wary of inevitabilities at this point. She may find herself in a similar to situation to Enda Kenny immediately after the 2016 election-, at the head of the largest party but unable to put together a coalition. The Social Democrats may make loses that would make them think twice about yet another “Gro-Ko” or Grand Coalition, the liberal FDP may return to the Bundestag but not in the numbers that would ensure her a majority and the far right AFD will almost certainly make substantial gains but will remain ideologically toxic for the foreseeable future. The Greens may prove the least bad option for Mutti especially after her decision to wean the country away from nuclear power.
An Irish election can not be ruled out in 2017. The most radical change I would see another election here delivering would be Fine Gael and Fianna Fail trading places. FG will support and FF minority government instead of the other way around. Op-ed writers will have great craic playing spot the difference. The Citizens’ assembly is due to deliver a report on the 8th amendment during the year. Regardless of what it says it will invariably piss off at least a solid 20% of registered voters. Should a referendum happen it will be the most divisive thing the country has seen in decades.
In the US, I would have Trump’s senate confirmation hearings throwing up a few surprise rejections, withdrawals and close results that leave him reeling. The principle question of 2017 surrounding Donald Trump is how much or how little will he reconcile himself to working with the Washington establishment.
A UK election on current figures would only reaffirm Theresa May’s position. It would be interesting to see if Corbyn can hold on. The triggering of article 50 might initially be dramatic but will soon descend in the most banal discussions with more and more people loosing interest. The article in question allows for the negotiations to be extended beyond the initial two year window. This will happen. This is the one thing I would stick my neck out here. The brexit negotiations will be long, arduous, dull, and fruitless for both sides.

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Post Trumpatic therapy

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2016 by shaneheneghan

We all thought it was gonna be fine. We expected the United States to get its first female President. I went to bed early on Wednesday morning thinking all was going to plan. My cautious prediction was that Hillary Clinton would win by a narrower margin than pundits anticipated after a bumpy ride through the rust belt.

And I was right.

At least in terms of the popular vote.

But those mid-western bumps knocked her out of the game in terms of the electoral college.

There were warning signs in the run up to voting. Bill Clinton surfacing unexpectedly in Detroit days before voting suggested something might be up in reliably blue Michigan- there was.

Several polling experts voiced uneasiness about the massive lack of polling interviews being conducted in Spanish suggesting that the Latino vote may potentially not be as strong for the Democrats as we thought – it wasn’t.

Minor issues but It cannot be underestimated how close it was. Had about 1 in 100 Americans switched sides we’d be looking at a Clinton landslide. That said, given the massive weight of expectation on Secretary Clinton’s shoulders as a candidate there is still plenty of blame to go around.

I blame the policy malaise amongst Western Progressives in general. For the second time this year, we found ourselves defending the status quo to those it had let down. We cannot be surprised that it all fell on deaf ears.

The centre and centre left does not trade in big ideas any more. It seems like the standard election campaign from any given mainstream party since the start of the century has consisted of reheating or rebranding existing ideas leaving many orthodoxies unchallenged. When an unknown option comes along such as brexit or Trump, even if it is vaguely menacing, people, the marginalised will want to push the button.

When you give a man with nothing to lose the chance to take a risk, he’ll take it- sure wouldn’t he be a fool not to?

The shame is there are big ideas out there. Climate change, automation and the internet revolution are all threats but they also offer a dizzying array of opportunity. There is an open possibility to move ideas such as universal basic income and large scale investment in green infrastructure from the fringes into concrete costed policy documents.

We hear a lot about not letting “populist” claims go unchallenged and while I agree, we must also be more active in putting big ideas into the ether. This election was all about challenging the populist and ended up as a referendum on Trump. The Democrats seemed  unable or unwilling to get their policies fully on the agenda.

But far more important than this is the need for engagement. By far the most nauseating aspect of this result was the attitude of middle class educated folk on social media who deemed working class people in the “brexit states” as Michael Moore deemed to be “feeling left behind”- the word “feel” here subtly implies that this may be wrong. The people in question are often experiencing mass unemployment on a generational scale.

It might be more than a feeling.

They cannot be won back by leaders making decisions in their favour from on high. Nor can they be won back just by being listened to. They must be actively engaged with. They must be at the heart of any kind of rebuilding of the centre ground with their own input.

It was truly shocking to watch a campaign in large nation still very much in rapid relative economic decline have so little reference to policy. This has long been the case in the US as their system emphasises personality ahead of policy but it is particularly comment worthy after the election of Trump.

Despite endless claims to the contrary, the current US constitution with it’s strong executive and strong legislature is highly unwieldy and prone to deadlock. It’s a model that was exported multiple times to South America in the 19th century and often failed.

A strong recent example of this deadlock was the career of Barrack Obama who came on to the national political stage expressing a desire to move forward in bipartisan unity. He’s about to leave the White House without even being able to get Congress to consider a Supreme court nominee. Trump, the most divisive candidate in history, is similarly unlikely to make progress despite a GOP congressional majority.

Historically, if the Spanish-American war marked the beginning of American hegemony this election may very well mark it’s end. There is a genuine need for those of us in Europe to prepare for this. For starters, and for purely optical reasons, the Irish would do well to ensure the Taoiseach doesn’t insist on humiliating himself in front of the US president every March 17th. More importantly, Europe as a whole needs to organise and streamline it’s defence capabilities. This does not mean a defence union per-se and may almost certainly mean net savings in defence spending if done correctly. We also need to turn our general attention more towards other parts of the world such as the BRICS economies.

Whose interests does it serve if we continue to fawn over the fading American political melodrama?

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Quick on Kiev

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2016 by shaneheneghan

After a somewhat lengthy process of deliberation including interventions from the President and the Prime minister and a vote of cabinet, a decision has been made. Eurovision 2017 will be held in Kiev.

After the dust settles on the Ukrainians’ going with the safe option, it’s worth looking at the what parameters of staging the Eurovision in recent years have been like.

Hosting the contest over the past few years has proven itself to be solidly lucrative. Malmö 2013 proved profitable bringing in a net benefit for the city and it’s surrounding region of about SEK 32 million. The organisers in Vienna last year set themselves the high bar of hosting the greenest contest ever (admittedly aided by Austria’s central location) and still managed to be similarly successful.

All of these figures only show an accounting profit. The long term economic benefits of presenting a country in a positive light on prime time international television over three nights in May is incalculable. This will be of particular benefit in 2017 given the unfortunately bad press that Ukraine has had in recent years.

All of the above doesn’t tally with the prevailing media narrative however. Every May, entertainment news outlets resort to one of their favourite copy and paste pieces of Spring- the cost of hosting Eurovision and the fear the ensuing outlay. This is based on a false premise for several reasons. The winning country in the Eurovision is not obliged, nor have they ever been to obliged to host the event the following year. Winning simply guarantees your country will receive the first offer to host. The fact that this offer has not been turned down since the late 1970s reaffirms how gainful a prospect it is.

What does cost money to host and can often end in the financial ruin of a city is the Olympic Games. Beijing 2008 is the only example of an Olympics held in the past 15 years to have been of any significant benefit for the hosts. Furthermore, the nefarious way the IOC behaves when even just considering would-be hosts for its events is intriguing and surely shows the need for more scrutiny.

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Fear and loathing several time zones away from the campaign trail.

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2016 by shaneheneghan

It’s hard to think how this years election for the US presidency could get any more dramatic. If this were a TV series it would be beginning to feel weird and far fetched.

The unpredictable nature of things allows us to make a few predictions without any fear of being right or wrong. That evaporated a while ago.It’s in that circumstance that I feel empowered to make a few predictions.

Trump and Clinton are easily the two most unpopular candidates either of the two major parties have nominated in living memory. This could lead to many things. Most obviously, a dip in turnout and spike the vote of third party candidates.

The sheer unprecedented nature of the whole thing probably means any dip in turnout could hopefully be kept to a minimum and that the real story here is third party candidates.

The Libertarian ticket has two former Republican governors who are occasionally polling in double digits. Gary Johnson of New Mexico and has considerably more experience at being a Republican than Trump and the more exposure he gets the more of the GOP base he could take away from him.

Jill Stein of the US Green Pary may have a similar effect on the Democratic ticket but given her relative obscurity on the national stage, her failure to get above the margin of error in most polls and the surprisingly strong efforts of Bernie Sanders to row in behind Clinton we can expect this to happen to a much smaller degree.

Another thing worth considering on a purely hypothetical basis for the time being is a candidate winning the electoral college without winning the popular vote. This has happened on four separate occasions already- most recently in 2000 when Al Gore garnered half a million more votes than his Republican rival but was denied victory.

Is it possible that if we don’t see the massive double digit margins in formerly solid blue and red states for either candidate, if we see third party candidates eating into base votes that we may have a scenario where the winner gets to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue despite being three million votes or more behind in the popular vote? If Donald Trump were beaten in this fashion how would he react? More to the point, how would his more rumbustious trigger happy supporters react? It’s a recipe for trouble. If Clinton were beaten in a similar fashion she and the establishment that backs her would feel similarly aggrieved.

In theory, congress should take such a result as a signal to reform the electoral college. What we can be more sure of, however, is that they can use the result and the perceived lack of legitimacy in the short term to ignore the wishes of the President at will. Heck, they do it already to Obama- who is considerably more popular than either of these two.

Another thing that hasn’t been mentioned, and we get way ahead of ourselves when we say this but given the unpopularity of both candidates, it is surely highly unlikely that the winner in 2016 in will win in 2020 or that they will even be reselected to be their party’s candidate. No one has said this out loud that much but you can bet it’s a thought in the back of the heads of some operatives in both parties.

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Two ideas.

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2016 by shaneheneghan

Brexit has not shaken me nearly as much as it should have. The forlorn resignation of Brussels is reassuring. There is little actual panic. I am not saying there should be. But the whole thing has stirred up a few ideas within me on the future direction of the EU and what might be to stop the whole thing very slowly sinking into the abyss.

The European Parliament needs to go on strike

The Parliament is the world’s largest transnational directly elected assembly and has a strong and growing role in about 90% of decisions taken by the EU. Parliament is portrayed as somewhat ineffective in that it cannot directly initiate legislation- never mind that the overwhelming majority of law in all Parliamentary democracies is not initiated by Parliaments, but by executives – as is the case with the EU.

Furthermore, isn’t it somewhat astonishing when reform of the euro is suggested, for example, and calls for a “eurozone parliament” are heard that they are made with no reference what so ever to the possibility of eurozone MEPs carrying out this function within the existing framework? Parliment’s failure to impact this debate amongst others is lamentable.

A more telling sign of Parliament’s impotence is it’s location.

The European Parliament is mentioned in the treaties as the first institution of EU integration and the voice of the European people. Yet despite this, the member states refuse to allow Parliament to have a say over a rather basic bit of housekeeping- it’s location. Despite the Committee, group and other day to day functions of the body being carried out in Brussels, the treaties still obliges MEPs to decamp up to twelve times per year to Strasbourg, France at great stress to them and their staff and great expense to their taxpayers.

To improve their visibility, to increase their impact and to generally shake things up, I suggest all 751 MEPs boycott a least one Strasbourg plenary session and barricade themselves into the plenary chamber in Brussels partly as a protest at not having agency over their location. I’m borrowing somewhat from French and maybe even Irish history here. The circumstances are very different but I am hoping the example of directly elected representatives taking matters into their own hands will resonate.

As in the two historical cases mentioned, this is would be, of course, highly illegal and it is unlikely that any decision taken by this session would be taken as binding. This would free up the members to discuss far broader matters – it could be a proto-convention on the future of Europe. Members should share ideas on dealing with Brexit, the surge in migration and fairer and more transparent governance of the euro. Members should actively engage with their constituents in the run up to and during this convention.

Another suggestion I have concerns the budget.

It’s generally agreed that the money the EU spends particularly in the area of infrastructure is well spent as public spending goes. Spending on roads and rail has been targeted in a way so as to make less completive areas more cohesive with the rest of the continent. The goal has been laudable and significant progress has been made. But another gulf of cohesion has opened up- that of youth unemployment. I would propose slowly ratcheting up EU spending from 1 to 3% of EU GDP with an express aim at generating opportunities for the growing armies of NEETs whom are particularly prevalent in the south. A focus could be placed on a broad area of training ranging from getting people back to university to vocational training to practical preparation for the job market,

The potential for growth in this area is as strong as the potential for failure is lethal. Income inequality and youth unemployment are two of the bigger economic challenges of our time. Research shows education can be effective in tackling both. Here is an open goal for Europe to make itself useful.

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Eurovision 2016 1st Semi-Final Prediction

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2016 by shaneheneghan

It’s a cliché at this stage to say that the 1st semi-final is usually the worst of the two but it’s rarely pointed out that this also makes it harder to predict. If that sounds like an easy cop-out for me when these predictions prove to be disastrously wrong that’s simply because… it is. The songs I have predicted to qualify are in bold. 

Finland

More than a bit old fashioned. Not bad by Finnish standards… but “thems ain’t high standards” and this really doesn’t stand much chance given that it is being performed first.

Greece

I think this will be borderline. Even if it is more than a bit repetitive there will always be a constituency for Greeks singing about Utopias. They have qualified with a lot worse but it’s hard to stand out from the start of the running order.

Moldova

An unremarkable eastern Euro dance number. Word from the rehearsals is that she shall have a robot on stage and sing partly in French. So erm… watch out for that.

Hungary

This is the kind of mid tempo stuff that sneaks into the final easily enough. Them shoulders though.

Croatia

This is not very Balkan for Croatia. It has been touted as a bit of a dark horse to do rather well. I’m not sure why but I do think it will probably go in on buzz alone.

Netherlands

More hype. I just don’t get the appeal of this. It’s apparently the 5th most likely to qualify. Far too unremarkable I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it doesn’t.

Amrenia

This starts like Adele being forced to perform in an operational aircraft hanger and tries to morph into Anastasia- should gather enough neighbour votes to progress.

San Marino

I. Can’t. Even. I didn’t know either pal.

Russia

This is the favourite to win the whole thing and as such, I wouldn’t say it’s qualification is in doubt but I just can’t warm to it. Essentially it’s a middle of the road up tempo East European entry with a helluva a lot of money poured into it’s production and promotion. What really leaves a bad aftertaste is that it has the most predictable key change in a contest that is known for the most predictable key changes.

Czech Republic

I think a strong ballad after Russia will provide a strong contrast and should get in without any trouble.

Cyprus

Think the Killers with a hangover. Apparently, people like this.

Austria

Essentially this a knock off of Vannessa Paradis but I think something like this just about stands out enough to get in

Estonia

Relatively mediocre ballad even if the singer is more than a tad intense.

Azerbaijan

Another Azeri entry written by Swedes. The odds have greatly lengthened on this in the past few weeks. The studio version is very radio friendly and I think a half decent performance will get it through but I’m gonna go way way out on a limb and say the same gimmick doesn’t work for them this time.

Montenegro

I can’t tell the difference between this and Cyprus.

Iceland

I like this. She’s a Nordic Florence Welch. Catchy enough to stay in people’s heads until the phone lines open.

Bosnia – Herzegovina

This is one of the more ethnic things you’ll hear tonight and will probably get through on that basis alone.

Malta

One of the most Eurovisiony songs of the evening and given Ira Losco has finished 2nd in Eurovision already I have a feeling she knows what she’s doing.

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Dear Dave…

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2015 by shaneheneghan

Dear Dave,

As a European citizen, I read your open letter to Donald Tusk with great interest. Here’s some initial reaction to some of your broad points.

1) Economic governance and the euro.

I’m with you here Dave. The governance of the single currency is a mess and needs reform. You mentioned that you would like it acknowledged that the Union has multiple currencies – and I don’t think anyone is seriously disputing that – but it should be acknowledged that the euro, being the currency of 340 out of 500 million Europeans is, at the very least, “primus inter pares” and as you said yourself “it matters to all of us that the eurozone succeeds”. You mention that it’s important that funds from non-euro countries not be handed over for eurozone bailouts. I would argue that bailouts should be avoided as a matter of course and that this should be a good starting point for any negotiations on this first point.

2) Competitiveness

I could not agree more with you and will not contradict a syllable of your argument here. The Juncker Commission as well as the current European Parliament are fully behind programmes such as completion of the digital single market. I’m happy to see you also note that negotiations on trade deals with partners ranging from the United States to China are on going and are dependant on continued British participation. You are pushing an open door here.

3) An opt out from “Ever closer Union”

This again? Do you not remember that your predecessor John Major effectively neutralised this in the Maastricht treaty negotiations? Did you hear Jean-Claude Piris, a former chief legal adviser to the European council, say that the phrase is too vague to have any legal force? You didn’t? Fair enough. We can add a protocol to the treaties emphasising this point and perhaps adding more definition to the principle of subsidiarity that you also mention- that decisions be taken “as closely as possible to the citizen” or as one Dutchman once put it “nations where possible, Europe where necessary”. This has been embedded in the treaty for sometime. But some extra emphasis won’t do any harm, I suppose.

Your mention the role of national Parliaments is very interesting and there is indeed scope to develop this via a beefing up of the Orange/Yellow card system as introduced by the Lisbon treaty that you were so scathing of some years back.

4) Immigration

Now here’s the toughy. Freedom of movement is not up for debate. It just isn’t. And I don’t just say this as just a concerned European citizen but also as a concerned citizen of the Common Travel Area which confirms the free movement in the British isles that has been in effect for centuries.

Freedom of movement, however, does not mean freedom for welfare tourism. There are several examples of EU member states that restrict access to their social systems on the basis of contribution. This is a matter for the UK domestically.

You mention that your country welcomes 300,000 in net migration annually. You fail to acknowledge that the majority of these coming from the EU, be they Irish nurses or Polish plumbers, are highly skilled professionals who contribute greatly to the UK economy and society and this should never be forgotten when discussing free movement in our Union.

You go on to mention sham marriages as a means to EU citizenship. As you are well aware from the passage of equal marriage in the last Parliament, marriage is a domestic issue for the UK government.

My main point here is that this point can be resolved by your government domestically and, given, the fundamental and immutable nature of freedom of movement to the European ideal, it will have to be.

All in all, I have to say I welcome a solid and substantive debate on the future of our continent and our islands’ place in it. I wish you well in your quest for an agreeable settlement and the very best of luck in the forthcoming campaign for that settlement at the ballot box via referendum.

Yours,

Shane