Tuesday 16 September 2014
A fascinating article from Reuters explores the relationship between the EU and an independent Scotland.
As to what its status will be, partial legal precedents are cited for and against the Scottish case. They include Algeria, which kept some access to European markets for a time after it broke from France, Danish-ruled Greenland's exit from the EU and Kosovo's disputed statehood, as well as the EU's absorption of 16 million East Germans with minimal fuss.
Ultimately, however, we are told that "it may be less lawyerly argument and more messy but flexible EU politics that win the day". A compromise could prevent five million EU citizens being cast out against their will while easing fears in Spain and beyond that it opens a Pandora's Box of centrifugal spirits - Catalan, Basque, Flemish, Breton, Lombard and many besides.
We then get this priceless comment from an anonymous Commission official in Brussels: "Whatever the lawyers say, this will come down to politics," he says: "It's the EU way. Whatever politicians eventually negotiate can be made to fit the texts".
The article goes on to tell us that many who reject the idea that Scots risk expulsion from the EU cite David Edward, a Scottish former judge at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). He has written on the implications of Article 50 of the EU treaty, which spells out a negotiating period of two years or more to unwind relationships before a state can leave the Union.
If the treaty rules out an abrupt departure "at the midnight hour" for those who want out, then, Edward argues, it cannot be in the spirit of the law to demand it of those who want to stay.
"The EU institutions and all the member states ... would be obliged to enter into negotiations before separation took effect", Edward wrote in a commentary cited by nationalists who want to begin talks with Brussels immediately after a "yes" vote.
Other legal experts say Barroso ignored views that EU law is not just a matter of state treaties, in the manner of classic international law, but gives citizens individual rights, to live and work across the bloc for example, that could not be removed.
Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, professor of European and human rights law at Oxford, wrote recently: "How could ... the EU ... dispossess Scots of their acquired rights and EU citizenship as a result of Scotland using the democratic right to vote for independence? This would seriously undermine the EU's credibility and its claim to be a promoter of democracy".
At Edinburgh, politics professor McEwen forecast Europe's politicians could bridge the legal void, if needed: "The European Union is very good at finding ways around things", he says.
And that is about the size of it. For the "colleagues", the treaties are a moveable feast. They tend to have them mean what they want them to mean, when it suits them. But, of course, for us simple people, with our naïve belief that words like "no" don't actually mean "yes", when it comes to EU referendums, that is far too sophisticated a concept for us.
Monday 15 September 2014
Almost by default, it seems
, we have hit upon the optimum, cost-effective policy for dealing with migrants with dark skins: they escape together, so they can drown together - synchronised drowning, so to speak.
This is certainly one interpretation of the inertia that confronts the growing humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean as, last night, scores of African migrants trying to reach Europe were feared dead after their boat sank off the Libyan coast.
According to Libyan navy spokesman, Ayub Qassem, only 26 of 250 on the latest wreck had been rescued. The boat had sunk near Tajoura, east of the capital, Tripoli, with Qassem remarking: "There are so many dead bodies floating in the sea".
Libya, as we all know and have known for some time, is a major departure point for migrants leaving Africa, often for Italy. We also know that the use of unseaworthy, overcrowded boats has resulted in several thousand deaths.
The latest incident comes just weeks after another wooden boat heading for Italy sank half a mile off the Libyan coast, killing 100 people. More than 100,000 have survived the journey so far this year, according to the Italian government.
In the face of the mounting death toll, Qassem tells us another thing we know already, that the Libyan coastguard is underequipped to deal with the scale of the problem and had few resources to search for survivors. The agency mainly exists on paper and relies on fishing boats and tugs it borrows from the oil ministry.
Faced with the problems and increasing expense of dealing with the survivors, Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, is once again calling on the EU to take responsibility for rescuing migrants attempting the sea crossing. He also wants the UN to help curb the flow of refugees from Libya.
For the UK, distant from the front line, we know that a goodly proportion of those who do survive the crossing will end up in Calais, waiting for an opportunity to slip into Britain – even though many more end up in Germany and even Sweden (which has just lost its prime minister).
An intelligent and humanitarian response would be to address the "push" factors which motivate desperate people to take such terrible risks, but it is much easier to sit back and let a policy vacuum develop, blame the EU for our own inertia and let the darkies drown.
Because it is a long way away, and there is no direct link between our inertia and lives being snuffed out in the waters of the Mediterranean, we can ignore any responsibility for the crisis, and leave others to deal with it. It's nothing to do with us – humanitarian issues do not concern us in any way. We are British, after all. Let the "Europeans" sort it out.
Monday 15 September 2014
In a classic response to a challenge to the status quo, we have seen the establishment pour out a torrent of FUD, indicative of exactly what we might expect at the tail end of an EU referendum campaign, if the "out" camp ever looks like winning.
So transparent is the tactic that it had the Sunday Herald lifting the lid off it, noting that the "no" campaign had described it as "Project Fear", even though the official title of the London government's rebuttal document was "United Kingdom, united future: Conclusions of the Scotland analysis programme".
This has had the "yes" campaign producing its own rebuttal (pictured top), after Mr Salmond had already produced his 670-page exit plan. And now, Sunday Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter thinks the FUD isn't working (examples below).
So many Scots refused to heed the warnings of press, politicians and banks, he says, because this has been a truly bottom-up movement, that rose from obscurity in drafty halls and internet chatrooms; ignored by the establishment and ridiculed by the press; dismissed by polling gurus like Nate Silver who said a Yes was "almost inconceivable".
It has, Macwhirter asserts, been mediated through new-fangled social media and old-fashioned word of mouth. The internet has given anyone with a computer the ability to correlate, often in real time, what they are being told is going on with what is really going on. This may be the first election in which the mainstream media ceased to be the mainstream.
Perhaps, he then says, the atmosphere before the 1945 Labour election landslide was similar to this. That was the last time that ordinary people in this country took charge of the political process by the scruff of the neck and demanded radical change. Certainly, 1997, the year of the Labour landslide and the devolution referendum, was a non-event by comparison. There was none of the optimism, engagement, cultural and political - the fun. The Scottish people have entered history, not to pick a fight with England, but to have a party.
If Scots take the momentous step of voting "yes" on Thursday, the shockwave will be felt across the world, Macwhirter concludes. In Europe, governments will look at regional movements like Catalonia in a new light. America will watch in amazement as the old country disintegrates, concerned about the strategic implications for NATO of Trident moving elsewhere.
In England, he tells us, social democrats, who have felt excluded from British politics for that last 30 years of neoliberal economic hegemony, will gain renewed hope that it is possible for people to challenge the political and economic establishment.
In my view, though, it is more likely that the status quo
will prevail. My expectation is that, for the "yes" campaign to win, it needed to be 10-15 points ahead in the polls, and climbing. And, when the "no" campaign wins, we will be able to say that Salmond's 670-page "exit plan" was not good enough to check the FUD, which was allowed to flow unchecked.
If, on the other hand, the "yes" campaign wins, we can agree with Macwhirter that it was because their campaign has been a truly bottom-up movement, that rose from obscurity in drafty halls and internet chatrooms; mediated through new-fangled social media and old-fashioned word of mouth.
And if that is the case, then perhaps we have a chance of winning an EU referendum. But even then, we will still note that the "yes" campaign had to deliver a 670-page "exit plan" and fight off the FUD. To that extent, we have a case whichever side wins, although my mind is still set on the "no" campaign winning, primarily because of a failed exit plan.
Sunday 14 September 2014
What a deep sense of foreboding crept up on many of us last week as we contemplated the fearful spectacle of what was going on in Scotland, writes Booker.
Yet again, it brought to mind those most haunting lines in all 20th-century poetry: "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold", when "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity". At the very last minute, it seemed, we were waking up to the utter shambles that would be unleashed on us all if Scotland did, after all, choose to rip our two countries apart.
It had already been disconcerting enough as that superficial, bad-tempered campaign unfolded to see how the politicians, far from rising to the occasion, were sinking so dismally far below it. Not one seemed capable of facing up to the real implications of this splitting of our nation into two.
In all his bluster and bullying, Alex Salmond has simply not begun to take on board the reality of the position in which an independent Scotland would find itself. Just one instance of this has been his inability to recognise that, by throwing off the yoke of the hated English, Scotland would then have to go cap in hand to apply to subordinate itself again to that other government in Brussels – a condition of which, as a new applicant state, would be its need to sign up to the euro.
Even if Salmond wanted to hold on to the pound, the Governor of the Bank of England has made clear that the new Scottish central bank would have to hold reserves that could be equivalent to all of Scotland's £100 billion annual GDP.
In purely practical terms, in fact, to unravel all the institutional ties that bind our two countries together, such as the BBC or the Royal Mail, would be far more complicated than anyone has yet begun to realise.
Last week an expert on treaty law told me how Scotland would have to renegotiate literally thousands of international agreements. These cover everything from membership of the UN to the thicket of rules governing aviation, which – until Scotland had negotiated a new deal – would prohibit any aircraft from leaving or entering Scottish airspace. Where would Mr Salmond find the thousands of civil servants to carry all this out in just 18 months, let alone the staff for the embassies he would need to open in 192 countries around the world?
What is abundantly clear is that Mr Salmond and his excitable followers are living in a bubble of fantasy that scarcely touches practical reality at any point, for which the perfect metaphor is his belief that Scotland could remain rich for ever on that cupboard full of North Sea oil – only to find that, when the cupboard is open, nothing is left.
But this dream, that with one mighty bound Scotland can be free, is only the latest example of what has become one of the most prominent features of politics in our time: the extent to which politicians can get carried away by fantasies that seem to promise some glorious future, only to find that, once they have taken the great gamble, reality comes crashing in on them, in the shape of everything their blinkered make-believe had overlooked.
We saw it in the EU's launch of the euro. We saw it in Messrs Bush and Blair's belief that, by toppling Saddam Hussein, Iraq could move into a happy, democratic future. We are seeing it in the crisis created with Russia by the EU's vainglorious urge to suck Ukraine into its own empire. We see it in all the disastrous consequences of that collective make-believe over man-made global warming.
Other examples large and small have shaped the politics of our time more than those of any other age in history. At least in this childish dream of Scottish independence there are signs that reality may at last be beginning to break in on the make-believe, before it is too late.
But if this week's vote goes the wrong way, the resulting shambles for both the Scots and the rest of us will be far greater than anyone has yet begun to imagine. Then God help us all.
Saturday 13 September 2014
Running in The Times and The Daily Mail is a story which is hardly calculated to improve the popularity of the European Union.
It has European commissioner for employment. László Andor telling us to "stop moaning about immigration". He accepts that there are "problems" for countries such as Britain in dealing with a "large, sudden influx of people from other EU countries", but he urges the British government to invest in new infrastructure rather than looking to tighten immigration controls.
Britain, he says, is happy to exploit the economic benefits of free movement of people within the EU, but it is failing to provide sufficient infrastructure to house them. "The answer to these problems", he says, "is to invest in new facilities, housing and services, not to turn away people that are working hard and more than paying their share into the UK's budget".
Clearly, Andor is not aiming to score any popularity points, and nor does he seem to take into account the effect of increased population on the quality of life. This is an issue that the bean counters do not factor into their calculations, but generally low population density is regarded as a plus factor and higher densities - past a certain level - reduce quality.
Furthermore, Mr Andor does not seem to have worked out precisely how much cash would be required to meet the infrastructure investment he has in mind. We are not, therefore, able to calculate the overall cost-benefit of taking in a "large, sudden influx of people from other EU countries".
An additional issue in this context is that Andor is suggesting that UK public spending priorities should be determined by EU-mandated "freedom of movement" provisions, rather than those dictated by the electorate of the UK.
Mr Andor's intervention, therefore, is not going to improve sentiment on EU immigration. In the Commission's opinion, we must not only accept unregulated, unplanned and unpredictable migration levels, we must also divert public spending to cope with the influx, regardless of our own priorities.
Tactful, this really isn't, and neither is it realistic. No government can realistically be expected to budget for expenditure which, by definition, is unplanned and unpredictable.
The Commission has a problem here, because immigration is creating intolerable stresses within the UK. The "freedom of movement" policy has the potential to break the grip of the EU in the UK, and the commissioners seem to be completely unaware of how dangerous it is becoming to their own construct – otherwise Mr Andor would not be making such unguarded comments.
What, of course, is going to happen is that the government will ignore the likes of Mr Andor, which means that immigration is going to continue imposing stresses on the existing infrastructure. And with that come political stresses, to which Mr Andor seems to be adding.
Nevertheless, in those stresses may lie the longer term answer if, progressively they make the UK a less attractive place for EU immigrants. If that happens, a balancing dynamic takes effect and immigration reduces automatically. Not only will the UK ignore Mr Andor, therefore, it should do so – at least long enough for us to manage an orderly exit from the EU.
And therein lies the ultimate relief – leaving the EU. The only debate should be over how exactly we manage the process.
Friday 12 September 2014
Hundreds of thousands of Catalans packed the streets of Barcelona yesterday. They were there to demand the right to vote on a potential split from Spain, their ambitions boosted by the Scottish referendum, scheduled for next week.
Participants, estimated as many as 1.8 million, dressed in red and yellow, the colours of the Catalan flag, and lined up along two of Barcelona's main arteries to form a huge "V" for "vote", visible in aerial footage. Many wore T-shirts saying Ara es l'hora ("Now is the time") in the Catalan language, in a festive atmosphere on Catalonia's national day.
"We want a say in politics and our future. We've won back our sovereignty (by getting independence on the political agenda) and realised the strength we have, if we mobilise, to change things," said Carme Forcadell, head of the National Catalan Assembly (ANC), one of the organisers of the event.
"We don't expect anything good from the Spanish government. All we get is misunderstanding, intolerance, threats and totally anti-democratic attitudes. They've always been like that," says Oscar Sanchez, "We just want to be treated equally, with respect. Nothing more. We are Catalans, not Spaniards".
With polls standing at 80 percent in favour of independence, the Catalonian campaign has drawn momentum from the coming Scottish referendum. The fact that Scots have been allowed to vote at all was singled out as the main motivation for taking part in Thursday's event.
"We don't understand why that is constantly denied. We look up to Scotland," said Victor Panyella, a 50-year-old professor wearing a yellow T-shirt with a red "V" on it. "They are so lucky to belong to a country that allows that kind of vote".
And there lies an interesting dynamic. With Scotland, "on the slab", so to speak, other European separatists are watching developments with more than academic interest. If Scotland does manage to break away, there will be plenty of other movements wanting to repeat the experience.
The interesting thing here is that the growth of separatist movements is in part a reflection of the weakness of the national governments which have hitherto held together the disparate parts of their domains.
Now enter M. Monnet, his friends and successors, who have spent lifetimes undermining nation states, all in the interest of creating their glorious supranational state.
But the irony now seems to be that, rather than paving the way to a United States of Europe, weakening the nation states is lifting the lid on a wholly different can of worms. Instead of unifying states, reducing their power is having the opposite effect, fragmentation rather than unification.
The "colleagues" might thus have to confront the daunting prospect (for them) that their great guru was wrong. Far from being the fount of all evil, nation states were (and are) the only thing standing between us and a fragmentation that, once started, will only continue.
At the end of the line are the terrors of tribalism, and the Scots may find that they have unleashed forces over which they have no control. A spilt from London may not be the end of it, with the Orkney and Shetland islands to follow.
That dirty word, "nationalism" may have to be rehabilitated. The nation state may be the only thing standing between us and chaos.
Thursday 11 September 2014
To his eternal credit, Witterings from Witney has been goading the erstwhile UKIP (now Tory) MEP David Campbell Bannerman (DCB) into publishing his entry for the IEA "Brexit" prize, which he is now done, with a copy posted online.
Alongside that, WfW has published a critique, concluding that David Campbell Bannerman may well be feeling a tad aggrieved that his submission did not make the final six – and rightly so, for it is no better or worse than those that did. Which means, like those, his too is irredeemably flawed.
WfW takes on the difficult task of showing how badly flawed DCB's work actually is – difficult because the work is so riddled with factual and legal errors that to do it justice would require an extremely long document – and it is simply not worth wasting that amount of time on it.
The fact that it is being criticised at all, though, raises an interesting conundrum for the eurosceptic "community". After all, DCB is "one of us", in the sense that he is committed to leaving the EU, subscribes to Better off out and has been an avid campaigner on leaving the EU.
On that basis alone, it can be (and is) argued, that DCB should not be attacked, and his work – if not entirely sound – is a step in the right direction, so we should not be dismissive of it.
On the other hand, though, we are in a no-holds-barred fight, and in order to win a referendum, the eurosceptic movement will not only have to be on top of its game, it will have to predict, and then pre-empt countermeasures from the opposition.
In terms of the general fight, we have consistently argued that the outers will need a well-thought-out and sound exit plan, as an essential part of the campaign. And in this, we argue that any plan is not good enough. It must be the best, collectively, that we can all devise.
If there are multiple plans on offer, what we can expect of the opposition is that they will seek out the weakest of them, and ignore the stronger submissions, then representing the plan(s) they choose as representing the best the eurosceptic community has to offer.
This is an extension of the classic "straw man" technique, misrepresenting your opponent's argument in order then to win it. And, for our enemies, the DCB plan presents an ideal opportunity, for it is a very bad plan, so easily demolished that it provides endless opportunities for showing how dangerous it would be to leave the EU.
The essence of the problem we confront with DCB's "EEA-lite" is that he believes the UK can expect to rejoin EFTA, who will welcome the UK with open arms, while our negotiators move in to unpick the EEA agreement, dipping into it to take exactly what they want from it, without any reference to what the other EFTA members, much less the EU-27, might then expect.
He then thinks we can adopt EU legislation for our export trade, in a "pick 'n' mix" fashion, while carving out changes to the "freedom of movement" provisions of the EEA agreement, that have already been declared by the EU to be non-negotiable.
The "plan" is so much of a non-starter that we cannot afford to leave it, or the rest of the poorly formulated exit plans, on the table, unchallenged. Absence of criticism implies assent and if the likes of DCB produce their plans, and we don't point out their flaws, our enemies will use our silence (if it suits them) to imply that the plans have the general support of the eurosceptic community.
Where these plans would have some value would be if their authors offered them as contributions to the debate, and were then prepared to engage in debate, encouraging discussion of their works, arguing the point they make, and defending it against criticism, in an honest and open way.
And this is where the whole process falls down. So many of these people – of which DCB is a typical example – deliver their plans, ex cathedra
, seeking to invest them with prestige
and appeals to authority, while refusing to engage in debate, or defending their work.
As a result, we now have a number of poorly framed and wholly inadequate plans in existence, each with their own advocates and supporters, the net effect of their efforts being to give material support to our enemies.
Thus, if their authors are too grand to engage in a debate, we must do it for them, and clear out the rubbish. WfW
has contributed to the process, and now The Boiling Frog
has joined in. He observes that, if DCB's effort is the best the eurosceptic movement as a whole can accomplish, then we deserve to lose any referendum. We seriously need to up our game.
However, it is a measure of DCB style that he probably won't even deign to respond. Yet the WfW
piece stands, to which I add my endorsement.
Thursday 11 September 2014
Work on erecting the Berlin Wall started on 13 August 1961, and the date on which the Wall fell is considered to have been 9 November 1989 – almost exactly 25 years ago.
But with only just over a half a century elapsed since the wall was first built, we are again seeing the spectre of a wall dividing parts of Europe – an outcome, at least in part, of the interference of an organisation supposedly dedicated to keeping the peace in Europe – but actually keeping Europe in pieces.
Yet, despite the European Union bringing us to the brink of another world war, the British government is still marching blindly into enhanced defence co-operation with it.
During a recent visit to Milan, we are told, recently appointed Defence Secretary Michael Fallon "joined EU defence ministers for discussions about security, defence and the situations in Iraq and Ukraine".
This was one of those "informal" meetings, but the ministers still talked about developing a policy framework for long term defence co-operation, the financing of EU missions and operations, "rapid response options" available to members of the EU, and the next steps to be taken beyond furnishing EU battle groups.
Thus we have a British defence secretary willingly engaging in discussions to "support the development of European Council initiatives" to strengthen the EU's common security and defence policy. The next step will be during formal council talks, which are to take place in November.
What is doubly worrying though is what appears to be the gradual merging of EU and NATO interests, so that the two organisations are effectively becoming one and the same.
Thus we find ministers focusing their talks on the EU response to the crisis in Ukraine, "building on the progress made at the NATO Summit in Wales last week".
At that summit, the UK announced a double commitment of headquarters staff and a battle group to a NATO spearhead rapid reaction force, and a commitment of up to 3,000 troops to a new Joint Expeditionary Force – but that is as much to serve EU interests as NATO commitments.
In fact, as Ukraine is not a NATO member, NATO as an organisation has no locus in what amounts to an internal dispute between Russia and the Ukraine.
Fallon, however, is peddling the NATO/EU line, talking of "huge security challenges" across the Middle East and eastern Europe, and of "building structures that allow us to respond to threats quickly and effectively is integral to our collective security".
Whatever "collective security" issues there might be, we get no sense that Fallon was at the meeting safeguarding British national interests. But, if "collective action" so far has only been able to trigger the building of more walls in an area of increasing instability, we might be better off if Mr Fallon was more cautious about offering the EU more British co-operation.
Wednesday 10 September 2014
Booker is planning to "do" Scotland in his column this weekend, and I am going to reserve substantive comment until then.
However, I do remain confident that the status quo
effect will kick in and the "no" campaign will win by a comfortable margin (a sentiment shared by The Boiling Frog
), even if the shambolic nature
of the referendum suggests otherwise.
Despite the narrowness of the current poll, therefore, I do think it is rather silly of party leaders to go rushing up north. It really cannot be a good idea to give the Scots such a prominent reminder of why they might want independence in the first place.
And if it is only now dawning on Mr Cameron that people are increasingly motivated in their voting behaviour by a desire to give the effing Tories a kick
, one can only observe that this realisation has been a long time coming.
In the meantime, I can confirm that there are no immediate plans to declare Scotland a no-fly zone, and no plans for a NATO bombing campaign
- despite the probable popularity of such a measure.
Wednesday 10 September 2014
Juncker has today announced his "new team" to head the European Commission, accompanied by the usual leaden euro-rhetoric: "A strong and experienced team standing for change", the press release says.
If you want to know what Juncker stands for (or says he stands for, which maybe something different), he set it all out in his manifesto on 15 July – his agenda for "Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change".
One senses, though, that he's already on a loser. "We need a stronger Europe when it comes to foreign policy", he says. "The Ukraine crisis and the worrying situation in the Middle East show how important it is that Europe is united externally. There is still a long way to go".
Amongst the "important novelties" in the new Commission, there will be a "First Vice-President" – effectively the deputy president. This is to be Dutch Labour Party politician Frans Timmermans, whose "day job" is to pursue the "Better Regulation agenda", guaranteeing that every Commission proposal "is truly required and that the aims cannot best be achieved by Member States".
The former Dutch foreign minister will watch over the subsidiarity principle, "whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments". His role will be special, and will include a veto right over any proposal coming from any of the Commission departments. "The First Vice-President can stop any initiative, including legislative initiative, coming from a commissioner's team", Juncker says, underlining the importance of the post.
Another "novelty" is a Commissioner in charge of both Climate Action and Energy policy under Miguel Arias Cañete. "Strengthening the share of renewable energies", we are told, "is not only a matter of a responsible climate change policy. It is, at the same time, an industrial policy imperative if Europe still wants to have affordable energy in the medium term.
Both new portfolios will contribute to the Project Team "Energy Union", steered and coordinated by Alenka Bratušek.
Then there is the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations portfolio (under Johannes Hahn). This will be next to a reinforced neighbourhood policy, putting the focus on the continuation of enlargement negotiations, whilst acknowledging that there will be no enlargement of the European Union for the next five years.
Crucially, there will be a commissioner specifically for Migration (under Dimitris Avramopoulos) "to prioritise a new policy on migration that will robustly tackle irregular migration, whilst at the same time making Europe an attractive destination for top talent". This reflects the pivotal role currently played by immigration in European politics, but it should be noted that the emphasis is on "irregular migration", not freedom of movement – which remains off limits.
In a clumsy attempt at populism, which is soooooooo 20th Century, the Commission is being called #teamJunckerEU, which does little more than demonstrate how behind the curve these people really are. Nevertheless, these are the people in power – subject to European Parliament approval – and we're stuck with them for the next five years.