TCS Daily

Kyoto and the European Right

By Carlo Stagnaro - October 7, 2004 12:00 AM

Cardinal Richelieu, the powerful chief minister of the French King Louis XIII, used to say that politics is the art of the possible. However cynical, he may be right, as Russian president Putin seems to have well understood. The State Duma is likely to ratify the Kyoto Protocol -- which was strongly opposed by Moscow until a few months ago -- as a political trade off. Approving the climate treaty is the bill Russia has to pay in order to get European Union's support for joining the World Trade Organization.

Putin is not a stupid man; he is aware that, in the long run, Kyoto would be a dead weight to the country. So, as the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Chris Horner recently wrote, it is likely that, in case of ratification, Russia "first will sell Europe all of the 'credits' it has toward tons of carbon dioxide." Then, it simply "could provide notice that it will withdraw from the treaty." Putin is walking on the edge, but he's trying to gain as much as possible from the tensions between the EU and the US. This is a risky policy, yet it makes sense.

What makes no sense is the reaction of the European center-right to the news of the possible ratification. The Kyoto protocol is just another way towards central planning: it doesn't explicitly deal with the ownership of the means of production, but the core of the treaty is that governments and international organizations (the latter being more and more influent) would determine the amount and the price of energy which is to be produced. Kyoto has much more to do with economy than with the environment. In fact, it has nothing to do with the environment, since climate dynamics would be unaffected by Kyoto in any measurable way. Thus, pro-liberty parties are supposed to oppose it as the new face of socialism -- which, incidentally, has never been respectful towards ecology.

But Europe is not a normal entity, so "free market" here means that government doesn't do by itself; government just gives orders, and "entrepreneurs" act accordingly. Even Italy -- which is often viewed as a sort of American fifth column in the Old Continent because of president Berlusconi's "stars & stripes" rhetoric -- hasn't been an exception to the rule.

While the Italian left and the environmental organizations have enthusiastically welcomed Putin's words, the "conservatives" did everything in order to appear all but conservative. Here's what environmental minister Altero Matteoli said:

"This is good news. Once ratified by the Duma, the Kyoto Protocol will enter in force, and a global policy against climate change will begin."

Remarkably, Matteoli expresses the common position of all the right-wing forces in Italy. Free market supporters have virtually no voice within the administration; even when they speak out, they are not listened to -- or they are hushed.

Welcoming environmental socialism is not a good strategy on the part of Italian "conservatives." They are playing a game which can't be won. They will just lose the constituency which brought them in power in 2001. They will not "steal" votes from the left, because the greens and the socialists are much more credible than the political right when they pursue green and socialist policies.

All in all, while Putin is driving the game, although from a dangerous position, Berlusconi is just following the silliest among his enemies. The more he tries to purport himself as a passionate defender of environment, the weaker his credibility as a trustworthy political leader gets. Russia is pursuing a strategy towards a goal (namely, entering the WTO), while Italy is just going after the waves of international politics -- which are far better surfed by European socialists.

The Russian president is well aware of Cardinal Richelieu's motto. The risk of his Italian counterpart is to play politics as the art of ridicule.


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