Hutton report

A friend who works in the BBC has sent two angry emails. In the first he says:

The key point is that Andrew Gilligan made a mistake in the live 6:07 interview. He said the information about the 45 minute claim was inserted into the dossier, “even though the government knew it was probably wrong”. If he’d said, as he said in all his other reports, “even though the government knew it was less reliable than other information in the dossier”, then he would have been speaking the truth.

The BBC should have owned up to this mistake earlier to allow everyone to concentrate on the real allegations which are that the case against Iraq was massaged, over-egged or sexed-up. The emails between Tony Blair’s political staff and John Scarlett (available on the Hutton inquiry website) make this clear.

Hutton took the testimony of officials at face value, a ridiculous position. The idea that Scarlett was only ‘subconsciously’ influenced will not stand the test of history.

The issue remains: the government said things which weren’t true and ten thousand Iraqi civilians died.

My friend then adds:

In short, the [September] dossier claimed that “Iraq can deliver chemical and biological agents using ballistic missiles and the Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so”.

It is clear that this is false and not only is it false, it is clear that the government knew this was false at the time. Hutton himself heard testimony from Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and MI6 boss Richard Dearlove in which they said this. And yet Hutton failed to criticise them in his report!

Is it any wonder that most balanced and objective viewers of this process think the report is a travesty?

Well, I fear my friend is not especially balanced or objective, not only given his BBC position but also considering his private political views (which is why I will give no further clues to his identity). I imagine feelings are running pretty strong at the BBC, and understandably so. But the fact is, Gilligan got the story wrong, and distortions of the facts by the BBC’s sympathisers don’t help; the evidence to Hutton from Hoon and Dearlove offers practically no basis for saying that the government knew the “45-minute claim” was wrong at the time it was published.

My own take on the whole affair, before Hutton was published, was that Kelly had obviously told the BBC one thing and his masters at the FCO and MOD another; that he was worried about being caught out in a lie and in betrayal of his employers to the media; and that his suicide was his way out. Basically I believed the BBC’s side of the story, because, like Gilligan, I wanted the government to have been caught out lying to bring the war about.

And for that reason I have little sympathy for the BBC now. Hutton shows convincingly that Gilligan changed his story too many times; that he entrapped Kelly into saying more than he had wanted to, in an interview where Kelly, who was naive about dealing with journalists, had not established the ground rules in advance; that Kelly had rather innocently breached civil service guidelines by giving this interview; and that the pressure of public exposure of something where he was slightly in the wrong, but not as much as many (including me) thought, was too much for him. Also incidentally his mother appears to have ended her own life several years previously.

It was Gilligan who “sexed up” the story; the BBC backed him when they should have checked out their own man more thoroughly; and those two actions led directly to Kelly’s death. Kelly told the truth to his bosses at the MoD and FCO, who backed him all the way (after issuing a private verbal reprimand) once he had come forward. Kelly’s version of events and Gilligan’s differed because Gilligan was exaggerating. And as one of the BBC’s supporters, and someone who opposed the Iraq war, I feel a certain sense of personal betrayal.

It still leaves as the big puzzle why western intelligence services got it so wrong. But let’s not forget that while it was only the US and UK who insisted that Iraq’s WMD presented an imminent threat justifying military intervention, almost everyone – certainly including the European governments who opposed the war – believed that there were weapons of mass destruction of some kind there; certainly that’s what I got from my German diplomat friend who works on trans-Atlantic relations when I spoke to him last February. See for instance Hans Blix on 27 January 2003. Everyone was wrong, it turns out, though of course the US and UK more so than others.

But it’s unfair to have expected Hutton to explain why the world’s intelligence agencies got it wrong, when his mandate was clearly to explain Kelly’s death. He has done that quite convincingly.

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The ambassador speaks

Back on Monday I gave an interview to a journalist from, well, let’s call it Syldavia; a slightly difficult interview because the journalist only speaks French and my French isn’t particularly fluent, but I did my best to get across my reasoned and carefully thought out criticisms of the Syldavian government and its policies.

The Syldavian ambassador called me personally just now to tell me that my remarks were all over the Syldavian papers this morning. Apparently the interview appeared in yesterday’s edition of the paper my Francophone journalist works for, and has now been picked up by everyone else as “Whyte Speaks Out Against Syldavian Government”. This worries me a bit because I’m not entirely sure what I said, since I said it in French, and I certainly don’t know what the journalist wrote since I don’t read Syldavian.

So when the ambassador called me I thought, oh my god, this is a direct demarche from the Syldavian government to complain about an interview where I have no idea what statements are attributed to me. I said to him, “I hope I haven’t made life difficult for you.” He laughed heartily, so I was somewhat reassured and added “I hope I’ve only made life difficult for people who deserve to have their lives made difficult.” He chortled and said “Exactly!” So I am very relieved, and we fixed a lunch date for next week.

It’s obviously a slow news day in Syldavia.

[later edit] The journalist just called again to say that the Foreign Minister has declared that he will invite me personally to Syldavia. I’m not sure if I should take this so very seriously…

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This new virus is bombarding me pretty heavily; I guess my explorers at whyte dot com account is pretty badly exposed, but I think I’m immune due to using webmail at work and eudora at home.

One of the incoming infected emails claimed to be from Lorne Cramer, though from his previous job at IRI.

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More career developments

Went to see a chap from the Foreign Office this morning about my career plans. I’d already sent them my CV before Christmas. Basically the message is that the first tranche of new European Commissioners who start working in May will have only three cabinet members, two of their own nationality and a commission insider, so there is no scope for me there. But come the end of the summer, there will certainly be a Commissioner of the 25 who take office in November (including the 10 who start in May) with Balkan repsonsibilities, and the chap from the Foreign Office more or less promised me British government support as a candidate for that commissioner’s cabinet! But I can’t do much more on this apart from basic networking until August.

Then lunch with a lobbyist, which I’d fixed up at a point when I was more enthusiastic about going down that line than I am now. Still, she managed to reinvigorate my interest a little. But I think I’d prefer the security of being on the inside of the institutions.

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Made for walking

Ursula took her first tentative steps last night; she was 13 months old last Thursday. So a little slower off the mark than Bridget (week before her first birthday) or Fergal (walking at ten and a bit months) but she got there in the end as we knew she would.

Then a gruesomely horrible night of interrupted sleep from about 0330 followed. I shall be fit for very little today, though I’ve already had a meeting with a French diplomat, am awaiting a Macedonian journalist, have a lunch with the World Bank and then a Kosovar journalist lined up for the afternoon.

Left to right:
Mladen Ivanic, Bosnian Foreign Minister
Fraser Cameron, chairing the meeting last Friday
Miomir Zuzul, Croatian Foreign Minister

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January Books 7) From The Dust returned 8) Best of Lester Del Rey 9) Death: The High Cost of Living

7) From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury. Whimsical ghost story, a little light for my taste. Marketed as his new novel” but it turns out several bits date from the 1940s. infinity plus already has a review of it, by someone who knows Bradbury much better than I do, so I aske Keith if I really needed to bother and he said no.

8) The Best of Lester Del Rey. Well, this was worth the €5 I paid for it, and maybe a bit more. A lot of the stories were variations on the themes of robots replace humanity and then have to recreate their makers in the far future, but the one or two that tried to grapple with religious themes – “For I Am a Jealous People” and “The Seat of Judgment” – struck me as well ahead of the curve (for the 1950s anyway).

9) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. Fun stuff, spin-off from the Sandman series, bought when I dashed down to Waterstone’s during the lunchbreak of today’s conference, read while relaxing on the sofa afterwards.

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Friday excursions

Two big meetings yesterday. First of all it was back to my former employers at CEPS where I chaired a discussion on the future of Serbia and Montenegro. (I have to go back there this morning for the second half of the conference.) Then it was over to the European Policy Centre for lunch and a panel discussion with a group including the Bosnian and Croatian foreign ministers. The new Croatian minister, Žužul, is much better than his predecessor, Picula. That finished at 5 pm. Then drop into work for an hour and a half, and finally met up with Anne at the station and we went to the CEPS conference dinner together. A good evening.

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Literary coincidence

So I’m sitting in this rather dull conference session beside the Starnbergersee outside Munich; and I remembered that I’ve downloaded TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” onto my Palm Pilot, and take it out to idly flick through it.

And the Starnbergersee is mentioned in the eighth line of the poem.

Weird. Still trying to work out what it means (the poem, I mean, rather than the coincidence).

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Small person

U is tantalisingly close to walking – moving from clutching her mother's hands to clutching mine and back again, but not yet able to take steps independently.

I'm at a three-day conference on Moldova in Germany starting tomorrow. I hope she can put off walking till Thursday.

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Books on my “to read” shelf

The next two books on my list are for reviews:
From the Dust Returned, by Ray Bradbury – a review copy sent me by Infinity Plus
Memories of the Irish Israeli War, by Phil O’Brien – sent me by the author so that I can put a review on my page of Irish sf and fantasy

The other books that ended up by my bed because I recognised them as unread or unfinished during last weekend’s labours were:
The Best of Lester Del Rey, by Lester Del Rey; a classic author who I don’t particularly know, picked this up cheap in the remainder section of the local American bookshop
The English, by Jeremy Paxman; a Christmas book from the in-laws which I discover I already had an unread copy of
The House on the Borderland and Other Stories, by William Hope Hodgson; also a review copy sent me by Infinity Plus; I’m partway through it, which means I’ve read the three rather good short novels in the first half and am floundering in the long one that occupies the second half of the book Irish Tales of Terror, ed. Peter Haining; more education for my Irish sf page
Lays of Ancient Rome with Selections from the Essays, by Lord Macaulay; a school prize given to my great-aunt Caroline in 1886; classic historical stuff
The Meeting of the Waters, by Caiseal Mór; the last of the review copies sent me by Infinity Plus
Paths to Otherwhere, by James Patrick Hogan; I knew nothing of this author until I met him in Dublin in September, had a bizarre Guinness-fuelled conversation with him and noted that many people whose literary judgement I generally trust seem to hold him in respect; haven’t started the book yet though
Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction, by David Michael Kaplan; of course I’ll have to actually write some fiction before this is useful
Sandman: Book of Dreams ed. Gaiman and Kramer; will probably save this until I’ve reread vols 8, 9 and 10.
Shadowkings, by Michael Cobley; bought this because the author was a guest at the first sf convention I ever went to, but haven’t been able to get into it yet
30th Annversary DAW Fantasy, ed. Wollheim and Gilbert; picked it up cheap, haven’t got around to it yet
The Trial, by Franz Kafka; have read the first couple of chapters, but lacked any compulsion to finish it although it’s on two different lists of the 100 greatest books of all time
World’s End (Sandman vol. 8), by Neil Gaiman; rereading the whole sequence n a more leisurely fashion than I did when I absorbed them quickly at Christmas, will follow this with The Kindly Ones and The Wake.

That should keep me busy for the next month or so…

January Books 6) The Lord of the Rings

6) The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Enjoyed it just as much as I ever did; last read it just around the time B was born to take my mind off imminent paternity. Of course I was moved to reread it largely because of having seen RotK recently and also followed the BBC Big Read.

Things that stood out this time: I remember way back in a discussion of the book in Cambridge, probably at a Jómsborg meeting fifteen years ago, someone commenting that Merry and Pippin are in fact really distinct characters. And it's quite true; I hadn't really picked up on it before, but Merry is the one who plans the move out of the Shire, looks at the maps in Rivendell and directs the Battle of Bywater at the end. Pippin is the impulsive one who wakes the Balrog, grabs the palantir, and swears fealty to Denethor.

Someone in my friends list was complaining a few weeks back about the songs. Well, I agree that the ones near the start of the book are somewhat twee but they really do pick up, and actually add to the narrative. Compare, for instance, how you can blithely skip over the immense amounts of poetry in A.S. Byatt's Possession and feel that you haven't missed a thing.

And really, the effortless way in which he can change gear in his use of language is something we all should envy. Compare the epic, Anglo-Saxon metre of "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" –

Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel's son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain. Out swept his sword, and he spurred to the standard, hewed staff and bearer; and the black serpent foundered.

And at the start of the next chapter, we are back to direct speech:

Something terrible may happen up there. The Lord is out of his mind, I think. I am afraid he will kill himself, and kill Faramir too. Can't you do something?

And finally, the ending becomes ever more powerful as I get older.

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A youthful fascination

I’m rereading The Lord of the Rings at the moment and I realised that wrestling with Tolkien’s alphabets is what gave me the fascination with alphabets that I still have.

I started writing a note on transliteration for work; wonder how much of it will survive to livejournal posting?

A.            Albanian

Ë and ë are written E and e in our reports; Ç and ç are written C and c. Otherwise Albanian spelling is used. [Note on forms of words with definite article? In general I suppose we use Tirana rather than Tiranë?]

Note: Care must be taken when using Albanian proper names found in Serbian or Macedonian sources. There is a strong risk of double transliteration producing an inaccurate spelling – eg the common Albanian surname Hoxha is written Хоџа in Serbian and Macedonia, which is then transliterated back into Latin as Hodža (and printed in our reports as Hodza, so even further from the original).

B.           Azeri

ə and ə are written A and a in our reports; Ç and ç are written C and and ğ are written G and is written I and ı is written and ö are written O and and ş are written S and and ü are written U and u.

But we rewrite the Azeri letters Q and q as G and g, and the letters X and x as Kh and kh.

C.           Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian

The standard transliteration from Cyrillic to Latin will be used in our reports, subject to the following modifications:

Č and Ć are written as C, and č and ć as c in our reports. Đ and đ are written as Dj and dj. Š and š are written S and s. Ž and ž are written Z and z.

An exception is made for names which are Russian or Bulgarian, in which case the standard English transcriptions for those languages are used – most importantly, Ш and ш become Sh and shЧ and ч become Ch and chЦ and ц become Ts and ts (not C and and ж become Zh and zhЕ and е are often Ye and ye.

In Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, proper names of companies and organisations normally capitalise only the first letter (eg Međunarodna krizna grupa). When such a name is used in an English language report we retain the original capitalisation. [Actually I’m not sure about this. It is clearer to the average Anglophone reader if all words in the name are capitalised.]

D.           Georgian

, and are all written as K or k in our reports. and are both written Ch or ch. and are both written as P or p. and are both written as T or t. and are both written Ts or ts. is written Dz or dz. is written Gh or gh. is written Sh or sh. is written Zh or zh. is written Kh or kh. is written J or j.

There are no capital letters in Georgian. We follow English language conventions for capitalisation.

It may be necessary to check the correct English spelling of non-Georgian names found in Georgian media reports. There are risks of triple transliteration (ie via Russian and Georgian).

E.            Macedonian

The standard transliteration is used as for Serbian. Ѓ and ѓ should normally be written Gj and gj, and Ќ and ќ as Kj and kj, except if the name is clearly of Serbian origin in which case dj and c should be used. Ѕ and ѕ as far as I know are always transliterated Dz and dz.

See also notes under Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian about Russian/Bulgarian names and compound proper names.

F.            Romanian (Moldovan)

Our reports in English do not use diacritical marks. The obvious modifications are therefore made to Ă/ă, Â/â, Î/î, Ş/ş and Ţ/ţ.

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Finished one of the papers that has been on my desk for far too long!

Now that just leaves pan-Albanianism. And, er, the 50-pager about Moldova that came in this morning…

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Bruce Sterling interview

thought-provoking stuff. My favourite bit:

“I’m a transitional figure. I’m the very last generation that worked professionally on typewriters. William Gibson wrote his first book on a typewriter. I wrote two books on typewriters. I was taught to use slide rules in schools. Now it’s like having a pet trilobite.”

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The LiveJournal Meme

Seen in various places:

1. Which 5 LJ friends have you known longest?

(actually also met the same weekend as the last three but on the second night of the con ratehr than the first). I met many years back but didn’t really get to know her then.

2. Is/are your significant other/s on LJ?


3. Do you have LJ friends you’ve never met in real life?


4. Do you have friends that you met first on LJ, then in real life?


5. Do you discuss personal information in your LJ?

Yes, though some topics will remain off-limits.

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From the Procrastinator’s Handbook, chapter 1

Make a list of little and big rewards (which you can provide) to motivate yourself to do a task or job that you tend to put off.

Little Rewards (for completing little jobs)

  • posting to LiveJournal!
  • cup of coffee
  • evening pint after work
  • surfing the net

Big Rewards (for completing big jobs)

  • trip to bookshop
  • buy expensive book
  • going out for dinner

Great Fabulous Rewards (for completing life-changing accomplishments)

  • weekend away with Anne

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Further job reflections

Coupled with buying the e-book about procrastination, I came to an uncomfortable realisation about my job (actually prompted by a comment from , here).

On Monday this week I reviewed a colleague’s memoirs of working in Clinton’s foreign policy team and pointed out to her where her account of one incident varied so much from two other published versions that she would have to either back her story up or change it. I also briefed an intelligence source about reports we had received of gun-running in one particular trouble-spot.

Yesterday I was sent a draft peace treaty for review. I passed on to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague a tip-off we’d received about one of their “clients”. I also had a long discussion with a Bulgarian diplomat about his country’s chairmanship this year of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Today I saw a diplomat from one of the new EU member states who told me frankly that there was much better information in our reports than they could get from their own (small) diplomatic structure or than they would get from their European partners.

The fact is that I really like the movin’ and shakin’ aspects of my job, and I am silly to think that I would get much of a kick out of the lobbying sector. When I mentioned this to Anne last night she said that she was relieved that I had come to this realisation…

OK, back to chasing the European Commission and UK Foreign Office for my next job…

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January Books 5) Procrastinators Handbook

5) The Procrastinator’s Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing It Now by Rita Emmett

I got this last night from FictionWise as a means of putting off the tasks I’ve been putting off for weeks, and wow, what an excellent book. The patterns of behaviour it describes are me exactly. I’ve been buying these sorts of self-improvement books off and on for a few years now but this is the first one that really seemed to me to get to the heart of my particular problem – untidy desk, projects delayed, personal finances not up to date, not enough exercise. Lots of little homework exercises which I think I’ll update on LiveJournal as I do them. $2.50 well spent (I hope). I may even go out and get a paper copy.

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January books 4) Looking Backward

4) Looking Backward: from 2000 to 1887, by Edward Bellamy (another one that I read on my PDA)

It’s always fun to read people’s literary predictions of how the future will work out (apart from the obvious examples like 1984, go and check out the time-line in The Martian Chronicles, for instance). Bellamy’s hero, Julian West (whose Dublin-based namesake is known to several people reading this) goes to sleep in his Boston home one day in 1887 and awakes in the year 2000 (“the last year of the twentieth century”) to discover that not just the United States but the entire world has been transformed into a Communist utopia. Of course, such an enterprise had never been tried in 1887; fifteen years on from 1989, it seems to me clear that the battle between market forces and central planning, the main crux of Bellamy’s argument, has been decisively settled in favour of the former. There really isn’t a plot, apart from the final two chapters where we have a love interest and a proto-Philip K. Dick moment.

The most striking success in Bellamy’s predictions of the future is his description of piped music from various different programmes being available at the touch of a button in every house (of course, it was all to be live, classical music, with the occasional uplifting sermon, but still not a bad try). His most striking failure is to show any imagination whatsoever about relations between men and women. In one excruciating passage, we learn that “so far is marriage from being an interference with a woman’s career, that the [best jobs] are intrusted only to women who have been both wives and mothers, as they alone fully represent their sex.” No conditions of marriage or paternity are made for men, and traditional marriage remains the only conceivable relationship sanctioned by society. Much of the book is presented as conversation between the narrator and his host, often after dinner “when the ladies had retired”. It seems to me that Plato was much more imaginative on this area in The Republic. (Also notably the only non-white character mentioned is the narrator’s nineteenth-century servant.)

Still, it’s at least a little thought-provoking to read such utopian literature now that the experiment has been tried, and reflect on why it didn’t work.

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Probably about right

Are you Addicted to the Internet?

52% (41% – 60%)
You seem to have a healthy balance in your life when it comes to the internet and life away from the computer. You know enough to do what you want online without looking like an idiot (most of the time). You even have your own Yahoo club or online journal! But you enjoy seeing your friends and going out to enjoy life away from your computer.

The Are you Addicted to the Internet? Quiz at Quiz Me!

and although the question wasn’t asked, it even worked out that I have both an online journal and a Yahoo mailing list (OK a rather modest one).

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This doesn’t surprise me at all…

[image deleted as I felt it was in poor taste]
You are the grammar Fuhrer. All bow to your
authority. You will crush all the inferior
people under the soles of your jackboots, and
any who question your motives will be
eliminated. Your punishment is being the bane
of every other person’s existence, because
you’re constantly contradicting stupidity.
Everyone will be gunning for you. Your dreams
of a master race of spellers and grammarians
frighten the masses. You must always watch your
back. If only your power could be used for good
instead of evil.

What is your grammar aptitude?
brought to you by Quizilla

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Travel meme

Where were you born? Belfast
Where are you now? Brussels

When was the last time you crossed an international border on foot? accidentally really, wandering around Geneva airport in July between the French and Swiss entrances
…in a car? going to Bratislava from Vienna airport in November by taxi
…in a bus? oooh, years ago, probably the Irish border
…by train? coming back from Paris in October
…by boat? coming back from Ireland last August
…by plane? flying to Vienna in order to go to Bratislava in November

What is the farthest north you have ever been? Valamo monastery in Finland (61 ° north)
what is the farthest south you have ever been? Jerusalem (32 ° north)
Have you ever gone the whole way around the world? No.
If not, what is the farthest east you have ever been? Tbilisi, Georgia (45 ° east)
…and the farthest west? Marin County, California (122 &deg west)
(Thanks to the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection for help on this section. I see I haven’t even made it halfway round the world yet!)

Which country would you most like to visit, that you haven’t? Hmm. Russia, perhaps? Australia? Uzbekistan? Not sure.
Which country would you like to live in for the rest of your life? I’m fairly happy with Belgium.
Which country would you like to live in for a year? The United States. Crazy place but I think I could take twelve months without being driven mad.
Which country would you like to visit for a week? Russia or Australia or Uzbekistan. Or maybe South Africa.
Which country would you like to visit for a day? I always like having a day in London. Expensive and tiring but fantastic bookshops.
Which country do you plan to visit next? Germany, going to a conference in Munich next week.

And finally, how many countries have you been to? 39, I think. United Kingdom; Ireland; Italy; France; Canada; USA; Bulgaria; Romania; Malta; Spain; Andorra; the Netherlands; Belgium; Germany; Luxembourg; Austria; Slovenia; Croatia; Switzerland; Liechtenstein; Monaco; San Marino; Vatican City; Denmark; Sweden; Finland; Estonia; Portugal; Cyprus; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Hungary; Macedonia; Serbia and Montenegro (inc Kosovo); Israel; Moldova; Greece; Czech Republic; Georgia; and Slovakia. Doesn’t count Montenegro and Kosovo separately from Serbia, or Jerusalem/West Bank – yet.

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