Why is this Man Smiling?

Posted by John Rosenthal

One might have thought that the WTO ministerial meetings in Hong Kong would be a particularly busy time for the head of the organization’s Secretariat. But showing exactly where his priorities lie – namely, in what the European Commission, of which he was lately a member, euphemistically calls “communication” – new WTO Director General Pascal Lamy apparently decided that it was the perfect occasion to launch a blog.

Unless one is interested in the D-G’s eating and exercise habits, Mr. Lamy’s blog does not exactly make for captivating reading. His blogging style is seemingly inspired by the famously platitudinous efforts of current European Commission Vice President Margot Wallström. But whereas the interest of Ms. Wallström’s blog is salvaged by the euro-skeptical hordes that run wild in her comments section, not even the comments section of Mr. Lamy’s blog provides relief. Unless, that is, one finds comments such as this one to be of interest:

Dear Mr. Lamy,

I have been trying to read your articles and lately your daily (diary) messages from the WTO Conference in Hong Kong.

The thing which strikes me very boldly is the sincerety, honesty and frankness in what you say.

Or this one:

Dear Mr Lamy,

I want to thank you for your commitment to bridging the gap in communication between the WTO and the people represented at that forum. Remember, we’re far closer to mutual understanding and cooperation now than we were just 6 years ago….

Or this one:

Dear Mr LAMY,

I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning of the week; it really is something interesting you decided to do to share these moments with us.

Or this one:

Dear Mr. Lamy

It’s a great pleasure to read your devoted diary notes from Hong Kong. I wish  best luck and succes to you in your hard path of work at WTO.

I have not, incidentally, specially selected for banality in assembling the above citations. They are simply the opening lines of the first four “replies” to Mr. Lamy’s blog entry of 15 December. The rest continues on in exactly the same vein. The fact that there are altogether not many replies (this too contrasts to the Wallström blog) further suggests the heavy winnowing effort that must have been undertaken to achieve such a mind-numbing result.

But despite their general vacuousness, Mr. Lamy’s blog entries do at least provide some symptomatic evidence of the disaster that he represents for the organization. Take, for instance, the following passage from his entry for 13 December:

Back to the Conference Centre for the “Big Noise” – a petition signed by almost 18 million citizens in favour of fair trade. I’m certainly impressed by the petition and by Oxfam’s work to get people thinking about trade. Talking of which, while I was doing an interview with a French radio station, José Bové called in to complain he was being retained at Hong Kong airport and was not being allowed in. I told him I would check with the HK authorities. Some hours later he was here ….. that’s what open dialogue is about.

Who knows if the described incident actually occurred. But it is interesting that Mr. Lamy should show so much indulgence – or, more exactly, should make such an effort to be seen showing indulgence – to sworn enemies of free trade like José Bové and Oxfam. (Incidentally, Oxfam – like the kindred anti-trade NGO Friends of the Earth – is a major feeder at the EU funding trough. For some examples of EU “co-financing” of Oxfam projects, see here [€379,000], here [€335,000], and here [€500,000].)

Those who have watched Mr. Lamy’s public appearances at Hong Kong might be wondering why the D-G looks so cheerful while the Doha round of trade negotiations that he is supposed to be facilitating is clearly headed for failure. For some clues, see our “Pascal Lamy File”, which I have reconstructed here from the old Trans-Int.

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