Friday, May 03, 2013

Nazis, Soviets and Chatham House

Generally, you know you’ve lost an argument, especially one with a political dimension,  when you bring in Nazism to bolster your point. What Nazism means is up to the ears of the listener as long as it boils down to “really bad.”

It’s an effective argument killer, but unfortunately, if you bring up Hitler, you lose, because your arguments have gone bankrupt and you’re spewing nonsense.

The use of Nazism in debates is largely an American thing. We didn’t suffer under Nazi rule, so it can be trotted out to mean any abstract thing we want, as long as it’s, well, really bad and we don’t mind losing debates.

But Europeans did experience it directly, so they have had an experience of it and don’t treat it lightly. The difference between two opposing views doesn’t portend murderous racist dictatorship.

Now, “Soviet,” on the other hand:

A prominent clean energy campaigner has been banned from the European Energy Forum after tweeting remarks made by the EU's energy commissioner describing the UK's plan to hand out long-term contracts to nuclear companies as "Soviet".

Why not “French,” I wonder? Not the same evil frisson, one gathers.  “Soviet” is something not even the former Soviets want to be called.

Now, you may be wondering why this fellow got banned for tweeting – accurately – a term someone else used.

'Chatham House rules' are assumed at such meetings, although they are neither advertised nor announced.

The Chatham House rule, which is often used in press briefings, protects the anonymity of speakers, while allowing the information they impart to be reported.

And Chatham House, an international think tank, is around to define the Chatham House rule quite precisely.

When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.

So I guess environmentalist Mark Johnston could say someone called the contracts Soviet, just not who said it – which he did. It was EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger. Oettinger’s comments distressed others just as Nazi comments do and he later tweeted that he was joking.

It was a jokey reference, made in the context of the UK wanting to introduce capacity mechanisms.

I’ve spent some time in Germany and find this believable – what the Germans consider a joke is completely up to them, because you’ll never get it. Germans have impenetrable senses of humor.

Okay, so the deal is, Oettinger may not like what the British are doing, but he realized that “Soviet,” like “Nazi,” loses the argument, so he walked it back. Mark Johnston has to pay 7000 Euro for a membership to the European Energy Forum or he isn’t getting back into their meetings. And the British are doing what the British are doing.

And what is that? Well, it really is kind of arcane.

The French company EDF is currently bidding to run two nuclear plants in Hinkley, Somerset, under a 'Contract for Difference' (CfD) which guarantees a long-term fixed price for low-carbon electricity generators.

At just under £100 per megawatt hour, the minimum price reportedly being discussed with the French energy giant would be nearly double the current market rate, and 19% higher than onshore wind turbines.

But the deal has been held up by an ongoing review of European Commission state aid rules, which limit the amount of public subsidies offered by governments to energy utilities.

See? This’ll get sorted out one way or another and if it hampers British nuclear energy, we’ll talk about that then. (Short sneak preview: the British are after energy diversity/security and are willing to pay for it.) Until then, it’s a British-EU haggle and who wants to get too deeply into that?

For now the lessons are: using “Soviet” to trump an argument is the European equivalent of using “Nazi” here. You use it, you lose. And don’t mess with the Chatham House rule. It will only cause tears and cost money.

1 comment:

SteveK9 said...

The British would be better off going completely Soviet (or French) and just have the government build and operate their power stations. They can probably get mostly local content, paid for in pounds, of which the UK government has not shortage. With the present government any excuse for some government spending is a good one, they can use the employment.