Trump and Trudeau: the consequences of a Republican victory for Canada?

Despite the increasing chaos into which his campaign has descended in the last few days, it remains possible that Donald Trump will be the next occupant of the White House. Very few countries anywhere in the world would be untouched by this outcome, but the United States’ close neighbour Canada would no doubt be particularly affected, and not only because large numbers of Americans have been threatening to emigrate if Trump is elected. Here I will look at the possible impact of a Trump victory on selected areas of relevance to Canada, from CETA to NATO, and consider how as a result the country, and in particular its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, might take a more prominent leadership role on the world stage.


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The republic restored? Horace, Augustus and Theresa May

This weekend I went to Xanten, near Duisburg in Germany, to visit its archaeological park, a large-scale reconstruction of an early Roman imperial settlement on the Rhine (the site is unlike any other I’ve been to and I highly recommend it). One of the recreated buildings juxtaposed politically-themed quotations from Latin authors with a photo of a modern parliament.

Explicit connections between past and present were not made and the visitor was left to draw his or her own conclusions: as I argued a few months ago when writing in the aftermath of Jo Cox’s murder about events in late republican Rome, it is not generally helpful to ask history to provide exact lessons for today. Developments in British politics in the last few days (and weeks, and months…) have been truly alarming, and I was particularly struck by the resemblance of Theresa May’s criticism of those ‘international elites’ who see themselves as ‘citizens of the world’ to passages in a speech made by Adolf Hitler in 1933, but once again the differences are as important as the similarities. The likelihood that the UK will go the same way as Germany in the 1930s is very low, not least as we have that awful warning. Still, at Xanten my attention was particularly drawn to the quotation quid leges sine moribus (see the picture above): what good are laws without morals? It is from the Odes, four books of poetry on a range of themes written by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (known in English as Horace) in the 20s and 10s BC.


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MMD Shipping: state aid investigation as a Brexit battleground?

It is not often that Portsmouth, a former home town of mine, is mentioned in the Brussels bubble, but recently it was reported that MMD Shipping, a cargo handling company owned since 2008 by Portsmouth City Council, is being investigated by the Commission for alleged breaches of EU state aid rules. The company – which handles, amongst other things, vast quantities of bananas – was taken over by the council when it was on the verge of failing and is said to have subsequently received financial assistance that could have given it an unfair advantage over competitors. Unsurprisingly, reporting has focused on the fact that this is the first competition investigation launched by the Commission since the UK referendum in June and may not be concluded before the UK exits the EU.


How has MMD Shipping fared in the eight years since it came into the ownership of the council? Not especially well, it appears. Portsmouth’s local newspaper reported in 2009 that the company was continuing to make losses. Although it seems to have broken even in 2010, employees were the subject of two major criminal investigations in subsequent years and in 2016 it has been dogged by industrial disputes. A local blogger has been highlighting a perceived lack of transparency in the council’s ownership of the company and asking some difficult questions. Portsmouth City Council’s stated intention when it bought MMD, to secure local jobs and infrastructure, was worthy, but it doesn’t seem to have made a great success of this unusual move.

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Book review: Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited

What is the best way to share information about the European Union’s institutions and activities with a diverse, diffuse and often uninterested public? This question, regularly posed over the past few decades, has in recent years come to be asked with ever increasing desperation. Bernd Spanier’s study, Europe, Anyone? The ‘Communication Deficit’ of the European Union Revisited, was published in 2012 and is based on a dissertation submitted in 2010, but many of the observations it makes are still highly relevant, perhaps even more so, in 2016.


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Not that the EU’s problems began this year, of course. The wide-ranging chapter that follows the introduction to this work is a excellent summary of the major setbacks that beset the Union between the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the global financial problems of the late 2000s. The account of the Greek debt crisis can follow events only as far as 2011, but Spanier’s description of how referenda in the Netherlands and France stood in the way of the European Constitution’s ratification in 2005 is very instructive. This section includes some trenchant remarks on the unsuitability of popular votes in individual countries for deciding wider European issues, and his conclusion in passing that such votes ‘can be problematic when member states which usually adhere to a representative model of democracy suddenly resort to direct, plebiscitary models whenever fundamental decisions about Europe are to be taken’ (p. 31) looks all too appropriate today.

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Anglophone = monolingual?

In the aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, there has been much debate about the consequences for how Europeans communicate. Will calls for English to cease to be an official EU language be heeded? If so, would native speakers of other languages feel less disadvantaged?  Does Boris Johnson’s ability to read a speech in French make up for everything else?eu-1473958_1280

However the next few months and years play out, the status of English as a common language in the institutions – and outside them, of course – is likely to endure. The erosion of the once all-powerful position of French, which began as the Union expanded north and east in the 1990s and 2000s, will not be reversed. This could ultimately mean that English, despite often being seen as the de facto working language of the EU (although in practice this varies), will not be the first official language of any of its member states.

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Book review – Tales from the Fast Trains

I liked the idea of Tales from the Fast Trains. It’s an exploration of how far you can get from London in a weekend (or not much longer) by train. It covers a range of interesting western European cities and it’s by an established travel journalist who appears to have quite a lot of experience of writing about rail journeys. That said, by the end of it I was struggling not to conclude that the succession of local tourist offices and their staff that appear in the acknowledgements had been a key factor in shaping this book.


(Photo from

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Thalys, toilets and translations

I try not to spend too much time in train toilets (though I’m less squeamish than in the past, which is fortunate as SNCF still haven’t replied to my letter of July 1996 expressing horror that the ones on their Calais-Avignon Motorail service emptied directly onto the tracks) but, on a recent trip between Belgium and Germany on a Thalys train, my attention was drawn to a map on the back of the toilet door. This less than perfect photo (you try taking one in an ill-lit bathroom at 300km/h) shows a map of the Thalys network, including its seasonal south of France destinations. IMG_20160710_1628488952

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