An option for Bremainers?

EU passport

I saw a link to a change.org petition earlier, calling for the EU to offer European (sic) citizenship to UK citizens. While the author of the petition makes the usual conflation of Europe and the EU (I’m now convinced that the bulk of Remainers genuinely don’t know the difference between a continent and a political construct, given how often they use the term Europe when referring to the EU) and seems to be under the impression that we will be “unable travel and work together in a connected Europe”, there is some merit in the petition.

Namely, there may be mutual benefit for UK citizens and the EU to continue to offer UK citizens a way to opt in to EU citizenship.

From the perspective of those who hold dear the notion that nation states are bad and that it would be better to counter the concept of nationalism by, erm, building a larger nation and to counter the (admittedly imperfect) democracy of Westminster by pushing decision-making powers to more remote and, in the case of the Commission, unaccountable politicians, this offers hope. They would still be able to feel part of this great empire-building project and would continue to enjoy the right to live elsewhere in the EU without the inconvenience of first having to find work and fill in pesky forms. And they could keep their EU flag profile pictures too. I say EU flag, but it is of course the flag of the Council of Europe, which is wholly separate from the EU. The EU decided that it liked the flag and would use it as its own flag too.

On the part of the EU, it would have access to a keen and idealistic section of its citizenship living in a non-member nation. It would thereby exert an indirect influence into the UK through these holders of dual citizenship.

Naturally, citizenship carries responsibilities with rights, and it would seem that the fairest way to offer citizenship would be in exchange for a fee. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. This would be in lieu of the UK’s contribution to the EU. We have to pay for our national passports and given that the EU would be making a special case here, it would be perfectly justified in seeking a fee for citizenship.

Imagine the following scenario, based on what we know from the facts:

  • 16,141,241 people voted to remain in the EU.
  • In 2015, the UK contributed £17.8 billion to the EU budget (or £12.8 billion, assuming we use the number after the UK rebate).

If we divide the contribution by the number of Remainers, we arrive at the annual figure of £1,102.77 (or £799.20, based on the rebate figure). That would cover the UK’s contribution in full. That may be a little high, however, for even the most ardent Remainer.

So, to be truly fair to individual Remainers, and to think about it from their perspective and not that of the EU for the time being, we should probably use a figure based on the number of Remain voters proportional to the total population in 2015. The concession to the EU we should make at this point, however, would be to use the gross figure (without rebate), since the reality is that the rebate would no longer apply.

In that case, using the UK population figures for mid 2015 of 65.1 million, we arrive at a personal contribution figure of £273.43 per person per year, or as the Remainers kept telling us during the campaign in the run-up to the referendum, this represents a mere 75p per day per person.

Taking the idea further still, the EU could widen out the offer to any citzens of the world, or at least those with some level of European ancestry (to preserve its penchant for racial discrimination), who bought into the EU vision, on a similar basis. This would provide futher funds for the EU and a greater potential workforce for countries concerned about declining populations.

If this sounds like a strange notion, consider that people can and indeed do hold multiple citizenships, and that they would ordinarily have to go through the normal process of paying for a passport to hold that citizenship in any practical and meaningful way in the wider world. Indeed, many nations offer citizenship in exchange for money. Consider also that EU citizenship would offer the same rights across not just one, but 27 other member states (at the time of writing).

But maybe this still doesn’t offer EU fans true buy-in or influence into the EU project.

Perhaps then, an additional EU institution could be added; another parliament perhaps, to represent these “subscription citizens”, which wouldn’t necessarily be bound by traditional notions of geographic constituencies, but could instead assign representatives to virtual constituencies, simply based on one representative for the first x subscribers, another for the next x subscribers, etc.

From the EU’s perspective, it’s worth remembering that only a small proportion of such subscription citizens would actually take the opportunity to live or work elsewhere in the EU, and so the EU could look at the opportunity as a means to make a significant income from these people for very little in return, other than to provide for those who feel they have an emotional connection to the ongoing project to create an empire across Europe a way to preserve their dream.

For my part, I am European by birth, history, and cultural values. I don’t need to belong to an artificial political construct to make me feel European. I don’t need the very symbols of nationhood—the flag and anthem—as a means to show how anti-nationalist and very cosmopolitan I am. I don’t need a supranational organisation as a security blanket or as a means to ostentatiously signal my supposedly progressive outlook.

I’m absolutely relaxed about the right of others to claim citizenship of wherever the hell they like. Not only will it make them happier, which makes me happy as a fellow human, but it will stop the incessant whining of the hardcore few among them.

Opt-in EU citizenship seems to offer a win-win scenario for these people and for the EU itself.

So, for the sake of people like Emily*, please sign the petition.

*Make allowances for her broad, sweeping, racist, anti-American comments and factual errors. She’s upset, damn it.

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Is there a real doctor in the house?

This blog entry is in response to a blog post by a certain Doctor Andy Williamson, called 10 points to comsider about Brexit and the EU referendum (see http://www.andywilliamson.com/10-points-to-consider-about-brexit-and-the-eu-referendum/). A friend suggested that I might want to write a response, but it is tough to go over similar ground time and time again.

Nevertheless, since I am on my hols and have some quiet time, I’ve taken the opportunity to address Doctor Williamson’s ten, supposedly frequently made pro-Brexit comments and his responses. The doctor’s original comments and responses are in italics.

So, here goes…

1. We’ll have control over our own laws. No. We won’t, we will still need to harmonise with Europe. The only difference between now and then is that at the moment we get to influence those laws. If we leave we just have to adopt them (See Norway).

Yes, we will. We can have precisly the same relationship with the EU that the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, or any number of the majority of countries around the world have with the EU, if we decide to, following failed negotiations with the EU, by leaving the Single Market. As a major export market for the EU, with a large trade deficit, it is very likely that the EU will want/need to tread carefully with the UK. We hold the cards in this respect. The EU has more to lose if trade barriers are established, so it can be pragmatic and negotiate a good deal with the UK or be irresponsible and put the jobs of thousands of EU citizens at risk. The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy; Switzerland and Norway are the 20th and 25th largest respectively. Our prospective deal post Brexit looks likely to be on much better terms than those enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway, who nevertheless manage just fine thank you… but more of that later.

2. British courts can make the final decision. More complex this one but, in short, no. They can’t. At least not any more than now. The European Court of Human Rights (the Daily Mule’s biggest enemy) has nothing to do with the EU. The European Court of Justice is the final arbiter of EU law (not national law)… see point 1.

British courts will be able to reclaim judgements over issues currently ruled over by the ECJ. You effectively make this point in your own words. As for the ECHR, we agree that it has nothing to do with the EU, although EU accession does require subscription to the ECHR.  The UK government has touted withdrawal from the ECHR and the establishment of a British Bill of Rights, but this is separate from the debate around the EU. And yes, many of us Brexiters do know the difference—we don’t all rely on newspapers for our information, be they the Daily Mule or the Grauniad, which is no better, but merely has an editorial policy which is probably more in line with your mindset.

3. We can control our own borders. Er… We already do. You remember that passport thing you have to show the man?

We have no legal means to prevent an EU citizen from entering the UK without good cause for doing so. That is indisputable. This leaves us in the situation where Italy and Greece threatened last summer to offer all immigrants their respective nationalities and thereby to allow them to move unhindered out of their countries and onward to their preferred destination countries (after all, a genuine refugee could well feel in danger in Italy or Greece). The ‘man’ (or indeed ‘woman’) couldn’t stop any such person from walking into the UK. A sovereign UK could, as it used to.

4. We can control immigration. In theory, yes, we could. We could pull up the drawbridge and fill in the tunnel too. But it won’t happen because we lose more than we gain.

The financials on the benefits of mass immigration are hard to prove either way (see https://fullfact.org/immigration/how-immigrants-affect-public-finances/). There is conflicting evidence and it depends on how you measure. What is beyond dispute to people living in areas directly affected by large numbers of immigrants is the real effects on school places, doctors’ surgeries, transport, wage suppression and housing. Witness also the large number of house-building projects on farm land around most towns now.

Irrespective of this, you imply that those who campaign for Brexit wish to stop immigration. We don’t—we’d merely like to control it along meritocratic lines, so we can prioritise welcoming a citizen of any race from anywhere around the world whose skills we need over a probably white, unskilled EU citizen. The latter seems discriminatory and, well, just a bit racist.

Use of straw-men and talk of filling in tunnels and pulling up drawbridges is a little pathetic from an academic, but at least it identifies you as someone reluctant to argue based on facts.

5. Staying in makes terrorism more likely. One of the more facile claims, this is so brilliantly stupid that it is almost genius. Staying in the EU makes us a hotbed for terrorism whilst leaving means we’re all safe. There you have it! The only problem is, it’s not true. First of all, see point 4 above. Then consider that terrorists are just like multi-nationals – they don’t respect national borders, they don’t play fair and they don’t care about you.

Many terrorists have been EU citizens by birth. You’ll find that many identify with a certain faith which transcends mere boundaries and races, but those who come from outside the EU may acquire EU citizenship. Either way, see point 3 above, as this statistically makes terrorism more likely, since we can’t easily prevent potentially high-risk EU citizens from entering the country without good cause. It’s not the physical stops so much as the right to freedom of movement across the Single Market which is the problem. Someone doesn’t have to be transporting Kalashnikovs or nail bombs across borders to be a security threat.

In the EU’s preferred borderless Schengen area, the Paris attacks were carried out by fellow EU citizens who were able to travel unhindered across borders, without even ‘the man’ checking their passports. Had their passports been checked and had they been questioned at the border, their plans may indeed have been thwarted. So yes, while controlled borders won’t can’t guarantee that terrorism will be stopped, they do make it less likely.

However, this isn’t really a strong point I would make for Brexit.

6. We’ll renegotiate free trade deals to replace the EU. We won’t. Certainly not quickly at least. We’ll trade with the EU as a member of the EEA so we get pretty much the same as now but we lose the power to influence any future changes. Again, see Norway. And the US has already made it clear it has no interest in a FTA with a newly isolated and rapidly sinking UK. But if you believe we can do instant deals why don’t you start with Scotland. As it will undoubtedly leave if the UK leaves the EU. As eventually will Northern Ireland. And then Wales… starting to feel like the ugly kid at the school disco yet?

We won’t necessarily trade as a member of the EEA at all. The likelihood will be that the UK government, the day after our vote to leave, contacts partners around the world with whom we trade and asks them if they wish to remain on current terms. It is highly likely that most will. Those that don’t will have to be involved in negotiations on a one-to-one basis, which can be far more easily concluded than those where 28, often conflicting interests must be considered on one side alone. Switzerland has more free trade agreements than the EU does and reacts far more dynamically to events than the EU can. The UK can hardly be called ‘rapidly sinking’ compared to much of the EU! Christ, the self-loathing education we have seen over the last few decades has indeed work well on many of its products, hasn’t it?

What an outgoing US president says in his own interests does not reflect the UK’s interests. Tell me, who is in this US trade agreement line, I mean “queue”. Can you show me it? I would have thought that governments and civil services would work in parallel rather than series.

As for the prospect of another Scottish referendum, despite the assertions of the SNP, all the opinion polls show largely similar views vis-à-vis the EU in England and Scotland. This notion that the SNP has of being able to be more sovereign in the EU, where it would have 6 out of 684 (0.87% of seats for 1.8% of the population) MEPs in the European Parliament post Brexit, none of whom have legislative initiative, compared with 59 out of 650 (9% of seats for 8% of the population) MPs in Westminster, all of whom do have legislative initiative, and many of whom have gone on to be Prime Minister of the UK, is as factually accurate as Braveheart. Not only that, but Scotland would have the status of a minor country in the EU.

With these facts in mind, the stance of the SNP in desiring to rejoin the EU post-Brexit can only be rationally explained by anglophobia.

Nevertheless, if the Scottish people (or Welsh, or Northern Irish for that matter) voted for independence from the UK, I would wish them well. You see, I’m consistent in my belief in empowerment of citizens and decentralisation of political power.

7. We’ll be strutting our stuff as world power again. Newsflash! The UK is a world power. It has a seat on the UN Security Council. It punches enormously above its weight on the international stage. This is in part because of its connectedness to Europe and its power within the EU. Leave and what are you left with? There is momentum building to review the UNSC membership, what do you think are the odds that an isolated UK will still be there?

Blimey! A mere bullet point ago we were ‘rapidly sinking’! Our “punching above our weight” has precisely nothing to do with our EU membership. The UK was a world power and had its seat on the UNSC long before we joined the then Common Market. It is the EU which is seeking to assume control of the roles historically occupied by the UK (and presumably France). I can’t see the UK giving up that seat on the UNSC easily, although the rights, wrongs, and failings of the UN are for another debate. You carry on arguing for the precious 1/28th (3.5%) share in influence at the EU’s “table”, despite us being outside the majority of euro members, who are bound to and moreover need to act in their own best interests. I’ll argue for us regaining our own table once again. We are indeed a top economic and military world power.

8. The economy will thrive if we’re outside the EU. Seriously? It’s not even worth bothering trying to answer this one! The statement is just so blatantly devoid of logic. We’re not Norway. we sold off most of the family silver years ago. And what’s left is rapidly being outsourced and sold off too. And that great shining generator of wealth (for a small few), the financial sector? That will move to Frankfurt, did you ever see a bank with loyalty? (OK, I accept that this could be seen as a plus). In short, if we leave, we get to live through a fire sale at the sunset of a once great economic and political power.

We’re back to the doom-mongering, I see. Well, I suppose the unrestrained patriotism couldn’t last long. There you go, bringing Norway into it again. Indeed, we’re not Norway—we’re a much bigger economic power on the world stage, but make up your mind; is Norway a positive or a negative model?

All the negatives you insist on being an accurate assessment of the UK have happened and are presumably continuing to happen while we’ve been a member of the EU. We’ll take it as read that I have a little more faith than you in the UK. Your scenarios of doom don’t appear to reflect reality. The financial sector (I assume you mean ‘centre’, as there are existing financial sectors in all EU nations) could have moved to Frankfurt at any time and indeed the very same assertion was made in an attempt to cajole us into joining the euro.

It is nonetheless worth pointing out, that the record of small, independent countries around the world is extremely good, and since you insist on invoking Norway as an example, would you care to tell me which non-EU European country (along with Switzerland) is in the top five wealthiest per capita not only in Europe, but in the world? Then perhaps, moving away from money matters to the more important measures, would you like to take a guess which three non-EU European nations are in the top five happiest countries in the world according to the UN? Go on… Have a go.

9. The EU is incompetent, badly run and a drain on resources. Yes. It is. It is beyond incompetent in many cases. But we’re stuck with it one way or the other – leaving does not change that. It might be hard to change it but at least it’s possible from the inside (now more than ever). What can we do from outside? It’s also worth pondering that many of the problems with supposed-EU dictates lie in the local implementation (remember, it was the UK’s fault it didn’t impose the moratorium in immigration in 2004, as Germany and others did).

We’re largely in agreement here, only your advice appears to be akin to the poor advice given to victims of domestic abuse to stay and to try to change their partners. I’m more inclined to go down the ‘get the feck out of there’ route. What can we do from the outside? The same as every other country outside the EU does. It may have escaped your notice, but several less powerful countries thrive outside the EU.

You claim that many of the problems with “supposed-EU dictates” lie in the local implementation of them. OK, fine. Even if we grant you that, in what way would having EU dictates implemented better locally be better than having none?

But the EU does issue dictates. They aren’t supposed dictates, but absolutely meet the dictionary definition.

A moritorium on immigration is as useful as Cameron’s negotiated farce of a handbrake on benefits for EU migrants, except that the latter needs to be pulled by the EU itself—it’s merely temporary and kicks the issue into the long grass.

10. What’s it ever done for us anyway? Nothing much. Other than working time directives and other ways that protect your rights at work, protect your children. Then there’s consumer protection and European peace. Not to mention the wholesale transition of Eastern Europe from volatile authoritarian states into thriving democracies. Maybe you don’t care about any of those things. But you should. In short, the idea of leaving the EU is somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide.

Are you seriously going to attempt to claim that workers’ and children’s rights didn’t exist before we joined the EU, and that they wouldn’t have been implemented in the course of the last forty years but by the grace of the EU in its benevolence? Again, you’re supposedly an academic, for Chrissake! At least make the tiniest effort to attempt to retain the illusion of impartiality! Just how much EU funding do you receive, by the way? Just interested.

Sweden, before it joined the EU, had some of the most progressive social policies in the world, which far exceeded those of any EU country. All modern, developed economies have various measures of protection of rights. These are driven by societal pressures in a connected world and have nothing to do with the EU. To claim that such rights would otherwise not be enjoyed by UK citizens when such rights are enjoyed by Australians, Canadians, and New Zealanders, is simply ridiculous.

So, that’s the good doctor’s points dealt with individually. Most telling, however, as to his own bigotry was one of the opening paragraphs…

“Well, what exactly is the motivation not to be part of a modern Europe? It feels like a naïve and shortsighted hark back to the glory days of Empire, with a worryingly modern dose of isolationist xenophobia. It’s regressive. Hardly a platform for the future.”

This marks the doctor’s post out clearly as an appeal to virtue signallers everywhere through blatant straw-man portrayals of opponents of the EU. In effect, the doctor is making the following statement.

“If you believe in the EU, you must be a forward-thinking, liberal-minded, good ‘un. If you’re anti-EU, you’re stuck in the Victorian era, hate foreigners, and want to shut out the world.”

Well, perhaps this will be effective in bringing in a lot of young minds to the doctor’s side—that class of student who, sheep-like, falls in line with the prevailing group mentality and de rigeur opinion; those happy many, who like to be seen to have the right opinions rather than having to go through the trouble of examining evidence and thinking things through for themselves. It is, after all, far better and easier to be handed your socially-acceptable opinions, à la carte. And we see this now all too clearly and too often in institutions of higher education, where to have an original thought or to deviate from received knowledge was once considered positive or at least worthy of discussion, but is now more likely to see you no-platformed and sworn at by the mouthy, unwashed, “safe-space” numpties.

But the doctor has let slip his poor judgement and own prejudices. No doubt there are some who favour Brexit because they fit the doctor’s description, but I must admit, I haven’t met any of the Colonel Blimp would-be types.

No, quite the opposite in fact.

Speaking personally…

1. I’m not motivated not to be part of modern Europe.
2. The EU is a political construct; Europe is a continent.
3. I love Europe. I want the French people, Germans, Italians, Greeks, and British to have their politicians directly accountable to them. It’s hardly a radical proposal!
4. Nobody is harking back to the glory days of empire, except perhaps those who are looking to BUILD A FECKIN’ EMPIRE IN EUROPE! Pot, kettle, black.
5. Isolationism includes putting up borders and privileging people within those borders. The EU does precisely this by forcing the UK to discriminate in favour of unskilled EU citizens over skilled non-EU citizens. That seems rather more xenophobic.

Frankly, I don’t give a toss how it feels to Doctor W, because that’s wholly subjective. The doctor either utterly misunderstands my and many others’ motivating factors for campaigning for Brexit or he’s seeking to misrepresent them. Neither is especially good from an academic.

Many of us favour Brexit to increase political accountability, to bring decision-making closer to the people, and to ensure that the taxes we raise under the goverment we elect are used in ways we can influence. Furthermore, we seek to move away from the protectionist EU and embrace the wider world, welcoming talented and useful people to our shores from across the globe.

We recognise the EU for what it has become, not for what we might wish it were.

As I posted in a recent Facebook post…

If you’re going to decry people for nationalism and harking back to the days of empire while voting to remain in an anti-democratic political construct whose core purpose is to build a large, single, protectionist state through the acquisition of neighbouring countries… you haven’t really thought this through properly, have you?

Doctor Williamson… I’m afraid that my advice for others would be to urgently seek a second opinion!

What the Varoufakis he on about?

I recently watched this interview between Yanis Varoufakis and Owen Jones and was once again struck by an-all-too-common mindset on the part of Varoufakis.

I am so bored of this rather tiresome narrative and slur that those of us who value democracy and self-determination of nations are xenophobic, racist, or ultra-nationalist.

When did concepts of self-determination and democratic accountability become negative?

Here’s a thing for Varoufakis to consider. If an independent UK gets Boris Johnson and is unhappy with him and his government, guess what… We can vote him out of power in the next general election. Can we say the same about the EU Commission—the body which is part of the troika which has destroyed Varoufakis’ own country’s economy and democracy?

So, Varoufakis is trying to democratise the EU in the face of all the historic evidence, vested interests, and lobby groups involved. He’s right that the contempt is for political elites, but there’s also a hell of a lot of contempt for those who want to remove people’s sense of belonging to a nation state, which does not at all preclude friendship and partnership between nation states; and based on opinion polls, there’s quite a bit of public contempt for idealistic open-border advocates too. He may indeed find that it is precisely this latter development which is causing the resurgence of the extreme right, which, contrary to his rather bigoted view, many of us who favour Brexit vociferously oppose. For my part, I have growing contempt for idealists who think we should all share their utopian views in the face of all the contrary evidence and experience.

Why does he consider the notion that people like to belong to a group with whom they share cultural values, history, laws, and traditions, i.e. a nation state, a negative thing? I thought we were all in favour of maintaining cultural differences. The nation state is a natural and long-established state of affairs around the world. Most people are perfectly happy with and identify with the nation state, but are also perfectly capable of not hating other nations. Most people take the view that each nation, and even smaller subdivisions within nations, have their own ways, and see that rather as a point of interest, rather than a negative thing. In other words, we follow the maxims ‘live and let live’ and ‘vive la différence’.

Most people can identify with this sense of positive patriotism at times of national celebration or during international sporting events, such as the Olympics. If you support a national sports team passionately, you understand this. Your love of your own team and pride in its achievements don’t mean you hate other teams. Indeed, a good fan will recognise the positives in other teams and seek to learn from these.

One thing I find that internationalists (or continentalists, in this case) overlook is where their endgame inevitably leads them. In seeking to undermine the nation state and surplant it with a large political union, they are merely looking to create a larger, more powerful nation state in the long run—precisely the kind of empire-building they’ve traditionally opposed, and all entailing the shift of power from being closest to the people to increasingly remote levels away from people.

His argument against the notion of the nation state is as nonsenical as claiming that love for your family necessitates hatred of other families. It’s utterly bizarre!

He goes on to say

“[The Commission] can not be dismissed by anybody, and as Tony Benn said, ‘Unless you are able to ask those who make decisions over you, ‘how do I get rid of you?’ and get a meaningful answer, you don’t have a democracy.’ So that’s what’s important to do in Europe. We have to do it to give more sovereignty and more degrees of freedom to our national parliaments.”

He’s just made the precisely the argument I, and many others, make for Brexit. The difference is, he is under the rather bizarre delusion that the EU is capable of reform; reform which has been known about for decades (as a former pro-EUer, I know this all too well). How much longer is he going to put his idealism before the welfare of his own people and other members of the EU?

Do we need to be in a political union with New Zealand, the U.S.A., Australia, or Japan to be on friendly terms? No, we are bound by broadly aligned, common values.

“The retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left.”

But Varoufakis seems to suffer under the bizarre delusion that adherence to an organisation which is governed predominantly by the Right and is subjected to the highest levels of lobbying from multinationals will benefit the Left.

Frankly, I don’t give a stuff what will or won’t benefit the Left. I won’t vote to benefit the political Left or the political Right. I’ll vote on principles and on the basis of making decision-makers accountable to voters, and at the closest possible level.

If that means we get a government of Left or Right, I won’t care, because that government will do either good things and be re-elected, or it will do bad things, and be ousted. That’s national democracy for you – political Darwinism, if you like. Varoufakis on the other hand, appears to be a political creationist and expects everyone else to share his vision/beliefs. No thanks, I want accountable politicians and on a level where decision-making is responsive, quick, and decisive; not cumbersome, slow, and indecisive.

And I want to live in a confident, positive, and outward-looking UK, which doesn’t believe that the world stops at the EU’s borders and in forcing unwilling European people into a giant, political, undemocratic empire against their will.

Sturgeon’s Mask

I can’t work out whether the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is deceiving Scottish people through ignorance or prejudice, because it must be one or the other.

An independent Scotland which rejoined the EU would not have much greater control over its affairs, all the more so since it would lose all the opt-outs the UK has historically negotiated and be compelled to join the euro and Schengen, as specified in the EU accession requirements.

In an independent UK, Scotland would have—because it currently does have—59 out of 650 MPs (9% of seats for 8% of the population) influence in its ‘parent’ parliament, and each of its elected members could propose legislation or become government ministers.

An ‘independent’ Scotland in the EU would have 6 out of 684 seats in the European Parliament, so would have a huge 0.87% of seats in the EP for 1.2% of the population.

Then you have to consider the relative powers and influence of a MP versus an MEP. An MEP, unlike an MP, can not propose legislation (legislative initiative) and can not join the Commission (EU government), as the Commission is appointed, not elected, and is merely approved or rejected en masse by the European Parliament.

An independent Scotland in the EU would ironically have significantly less influence, given the above and the fact that it would have small nation status in the EU.

A truly independent-minded Scot would campaign for independence from both the UK and EU. That I could understand.

I’m not an especially strong unionist in political terms. I have a lot of sympathy for those who seek greater powers to be ceded to Edinburgh and indeed further than that.

If it were up to me, the UK would be a confederation of states, on the Swiss model, with all powers devolved to the lowest practical level—right the way down to village level—and matters only shared up to county, regional, and finally national level where necessary or desirable.

But to swap relatively big influence in Westminster, where Scots often hold very high positions of office, including the PM on several occasions, for minimal influence in the EU suggests that someone is driven either by ignorance of how the EU works or anglophobia.

There’s definitely something fishy about Ms Sturgeon’s claims.

 

General Ignorance

Last night’s Question Time made for depressing viewing, based on the exhibited level of public awareness around the European Union and fears over Brexit.

The first example of stunning ignorance which jumped out was the audience member who once again parrotted the ‘three million jobs at risk if the UK leaves’ nonsense, despite that nonsense being comprehensively refuted by the author of the report from which it’s taken! Why is it difficult for so many to grasp the difference between jobs being dependent on continuing trade with the EU and dependent on EU membership? Nobody is advocating cessation of trade with EU countries!

The second example was the bizarre bloke who said that young people like to travel and wouldn’t like the idea of not being able to travel to other EU nations. No, really! He actually went further than the standard ‘all trade will cease’ nonsense and thought that Brexit would prevent travel to EU countries!

So these are the kind of nonsense ideas that are stuck in people’s minds. I think that those people who seek to remain in the EU (Bremainers, as I call them) have room for cautious optimism on this basis. I’m sad to say that this referendum will be won by a combination of ignorance and conservatism, and I genuinely fear that the UK will see many dark years ahead as part of an ‘ever closer union’ in which it will continue to play the awkward child. This is beyond tragic.

If you vote to remain in the EU, you should be aware that the status quo is not a viable option. You should vote knowing that if we are to remain in the EU, we should throw ourselves into it fully by joining the euro and Schengen. The euro members will continue to drive the agenda and those outside the ‘top speed’ integrationist nations will find themselves outvoted in the Council on matters which protect euro nation interests over non-euro nation interests. Staying where we are will build continuing resentment within the EU.

This brings me neatly onto the crux of the issue. There was one audience member who had done his homework. He had a pretty good grasp of the institutions and their responsibilities and touched on what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

For those unaware, EU decisions are made by the Commission and to a lesser extent, the Council (formally known as the Council of the European Union or the Council of Ministers – as distinct from the European Council). In the case of the Commission, none of its members are publicly elected – they are appointed. EU citizens do not vote for Commission members and they can’t do anything to vote the Commission out of power every few years through the ballot box in the same way that national governments can be removed from power if they become unpopular.

If you support this, I can only assume that you would be happy with a UK government chosen by politicians and not elected at all. The reality is worse than that, of course. The Commission is the government of the whole of the EU – not just one nation!

Remember too that the EU parliament does not correspond to our national parliament. There is no legislative right for MEPs. That is to say, an MEP can not propose a new law, like an MP can. The direct link between a constituent and the legislative process does not exist in the EU.

As for the Council, things took a turn for the worse following implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2014, which saw the introduction of qualified majority voting on nearly all issues. The Council comprises ministers from each member state’s government and changes according to the issue under discussion. Prior to the introduction of QMV, unanimity was required amongst Council members, but as the EU expanded to its now 28 constituent states, it was clear that unanimity over issues would become almost impossible and slow decison-making down further still.

So, now if a state is outvoted in the Council, a member state can (and does) see measures adopted which are not only unfavourable, but which are positively against its interests. Depending on the issue under consideration, this can have hugely negative implications. And, as a net contributor, the UK pays handsomely for the luxury of having its own best interests out-voted. This becomes all the more relevant when you consider that the core euro nations will always vote as a bloc in their best interests and against the interests of the non-euro nations. That isn’t even nastiness, but merely pragmatism on their part.

People need to really understand these issues around EU processes and the responsibilities of the institutions, so forget what you read in newspapers of any political persuasion – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian – they all have an agenda. Buy a text book or even better, just seek out primary sources on how the EU works (from the EU’s own website, if that helps) and if you can conclude from your research that the European Union is a laudible project, I beg you to persuade me of its merits.

As a former EU supporter, who fell for the mantra of “we need to be in it to reform it” 25 years ago, has lived through EU expansion and increasing disenfrachisment of EU citizens, and has a depressing view of this country’s future within the EU when it could set a great example to other EU states about the benefits of life outside the EU, I could do with a laugh.

 

Why we should all, EUphiles and EUphobes, vote to leave the EU

It’s fairly obvious that those of us who oppose the EU (for political, not xenophobic reasons, before the tired old clichés are deployed) are likely to vote no in the upcoming EU referendum.

But here’s why those who are passionate advocates of the EU should vote no too. Assuming those of us who favour Brexit are correct, we have the following scenario:

Britain continues to maintain a good trading relationship with the EU (like the one the British public was deceived into voting for in the last referendum on the issue in 1975) and a friendly relationship with our European neighbours, but the country is able to open up to wider markets around the world and conclude trade deals with whom we please and on mutually beneficial terms; political decisions are made closer to the people by people elected by the people and removable by the people; political decisions can be made more quickly and expediently without having to seek agreement across 28 different member states, each of which has a different set of priorities from its neighbours; the net contribution we currently make to the EU is removed; the country can seek closer ties with nations across the Commonwealth countries, with whom we share a great deal in common; the country continues to cooperate and work very closely with our European neighbours on matters of global significance, such as issues around environmental concern, defence, human rights, and shared values.

But let’s pursue the alternative scenario and assume that following Brexit things take a turn for the worse and Britain nose-dives. We have no reason to suppose that this will happen at all. In fact, the objective views seem to suggest that in the short to medium term, there will be little economic effect, positive or negative, from Brexit. But let’s just humour the doom-mongers and run with the Domesday scenario, whilst bearing in mind that many of those who predict our ruin in the event of Brexit are the same people who predicted our ruin if we failed to join the euro.

In the worst-case scenario, we can simply apply to rejoin the EU. And here’s where things get really good for the serious pro-EU brigade.

Rejoining the EU would require that we adopt the euro, since that is a condition of accession, as is acceptance of the Schengen agreement, so we would have fully open borders with our EU neighbours. We would be very much the humbled, cap-in-hand country, and we would be in no position to play the former great power, but would have to accept the Commission’s decisions happily and with gratitude. We would revel in the benignity of the wise and impeccable decisions of the Commission. We would be the little player in the superstate that the EU fans would dearly like us to be… and we’d still have that massive 3.5% vote share at the ‘top table’ (or possibly less, depending on how many countries join in the interim) they keep banging on about.

So, what’s to lose? Pretty much everyone agrees that business as usual in the EU is no longer an option. The EU has been promising fundamental reform from back in the days when I was a big advocate of the then 12 member European Community, as it was then, around a quarter of a century ago… A mark of how piteously slow the mechanics of the EU operate.

If you’re an EUphile, and the UK leaves and ends up prospering, you win. If things go badly wrong following a Brexit and we apply to rejoin, you end up with the UK even more firmly integrated into the great United States of Europe project.

Either way, you’re a winner!

Arse Biscuits!

I’ve spent all of today and a good part of last Friday researching and carrying out work in order to comply with quite simply the most ridiculous piece of legislation I have ever had the misfortune of being unable to avoid.

It is a prize example of people making laws who have absolutely no expertise in the area over which they legislate, and who act either out of complete ignorance or malicious intent to do great economic damage to a sector they fear or over which they have little control.

It originates from EU Directive 2009/136/E – an EU Directive means all 27 members states are compelled to implement a law (although it is up to the individual state how this is done). In the case of the UK, this has fallen under the remit of the ICO (the Information Commissioner’s Office).

It has probably already cost the economies of countries in the EU millions of pounds to implement – that is those countries who have bothered to implement it.

It has still not been applied to the vast majority of EU websites, despite any risk of associated fines and it being well over a year since the original deadline was imposed.

I’m not even so much angry for my sake (I’ll get paid for the time it takes). I’m sorry for the poor, independent Web developer, who manages potentially hundreds of separate sites, all with different cookie usage and all of which require a lot of retro-fitting to comply with this bizarre, ill-conceived law; and for his/her small business customers, all of whom will have to pay for this work.

There are three glaringly obvious reasons why this is a stupid law:

  1. It doesn’t tackle the main organisations responsible for some people’s concerns over privacy issues (i.e. the likes of Facebook and Google).
  2. It doesn’t affect any website run from a company outside the EU, so it effectively penalises EU based companies.
  3. All browsers have an option which allows a user to block all cookies. Making website owners responsible for how an owner does or doesn’t use a browser is akin to making car manufacturers responsible for whether or not you lock your car.

Look, I’m so peeved about wasting my time implementing poorly thought-out dictates from tossers in Belgium, that I’m going to let someone else do my ranting for me…

http://nocookielaw.com/