The case for ‘Lexit’

It is not just the populist right who clash ideologically with the European Union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In 2013, a senior Conservative politician was overheard referring to Eurosceptic activists as “swivel-eyed loons.” Intended as a disparaging remark, some traditionalists wore the label proudly. Michael Fabricant, the party’s former vice-chairman, uploaded a picture of the late bulbous-eyed comedian, Marty Feldman, as his Twitter avatar.

The comments came after 116 Tory MPs defied the ex-Prime Minister, David Cameron, by voting for an amendment to protest his lack commitment to a referendum on EU membership before 2015. Those on the right of the Conservative party were appalled by the delay.

Hard Brexiteers continue to be stereotyped as demented, frothy-mouthed, “swivel-eyed” monsters. Earlier this month, the Telegraph reported that climate change minister, Claire Perry, had used the term in a group WhatsApp conversation with other Tory MPs.

But often overlooked is euroscepticism on the left – with Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn providing an obvious starting point.

Corbyn voted to leave the EEC in the 1975 referendum and has railed against European institutions consistently since becoming an MP in 1983. In parliament, he voted against the 1993 Maastricht Treaty and the 2008 Lisbon Treaty.

During the run-up to the 2016 referendum, the Labour leader was lukewarm in his support of remain. In one chat-show appearance, Corbyn claimed to be “seven out of ten” on the EU, and was conspicuously absent throughout the Brexit campaigning period.

Corbyn is not isolated amongst left-wing intellectuals over the question of the Europe. The New Left Review, one of the most influential political science journals in the world, had been hankering for ‘Lexit’, a handy – if a little ungainly – neologism of ‘left wing’ and ‘Brexit’, for some time.

The journal’s former editor, Perry Anderson, argued that the EU was an authoritarian and neoliberal project, bent on “enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.”

A right wing institution?

At the core of the European project is dogmatic commitment to the free-market. Since the 1970s, European markets have becoming increasingly integrated. The creation of a single currency, Masastricht and Lisbon Treaties, the Stability and Growth pact have driven this trend. Directives at the European Central Bank and the European Commission have now all but banned the Keynesian economic model – the very bedrock of social democracy.

With increased integration comes increased competition. EU states are now forced to compete for investment from multinationals more than ever before. In order to gain a competitive edge, states are forced to lower corporation tax, cut labour costs, weaken unions and compromise on environmental and social regulations. The result is spiralling inequality.

Some intellectual voices on the left, including Alan Johnson, have also argued that the failure of the EU to work democratically, in the interests of the majority, has created a “breeding ground for the far right.” In the US, many analysts have attributed the election of Donald Trump to anger at the unequal impact of globalization in some disaffected caucuses. The unequal spread of Economic integration benefits is perhaps a source of discontent here too.

Despite his long held opposition to the EU, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce a major policy shift next month. He is reported to be holding a meeting in early February with Labour bigwigs, in which he will discuss the prospect of remaining part of some sort of customs union.

For Corbyn this would draw clear battle lines to fight a Conservative party, currently floundering in chaos. It would appease pro-Europe sections of the Labour party. But such a policy shift would also represent a sacrifice of values for the Labour leader and some of his comrades.


By Sam Bradpiece

Brexit: the game is up on this outdated idea

One view of our divided country is that it was always a land of potential Leavers and Remainers, the rift being merely exposed by the referendum. On this theory, Remainers were born rather than made and Leavers, like leopards, will never change their spots.

Getty Images

Yet the truth is that Leavers comprise all sorts of people, as do Remainers. They are not a different species.

I am coming round to the view that our current turmoil is not the fault of the people themselves, so much as the power of a virulent ideology that has flooded the country like a tsunami, sweeping away common sense, but which is now slowly evaporating.

It has happened before: ideas have taken hold with a force disproportionate to their merit, and caused mayhem.

Brexit and other cults

Remember the Moonies? If you were around in the 1960’s like me, you probably will. So called after the founder, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, the Moonies, or the Unification Church to give it its official title, were said to be a sinister cult who seduced people away from their families, promising salvation through sex and free love.

The nearest I got to that was driving around in a flower power van, but more impressionable youngsters were turned against their families and brainwashed by the cult’s teachings, whilst being fleeced of any money and possessions. Desperate parents, grieving for the loss of their loved ones, attempted to locate and “deprogram” their sons and daughters, often with limited success.

What the cult of the Moonies had in common with Brexit Britain was the isolation and impoverishment of its victims. It was dressed up as a spiritual movement, but its ulterior purpose was the amassment of huge wealth by its founder. In the same way, Brexit has been dressed up as a patriotic protest, but its true purpose, as Nick Clegg made clear, is to make the very rich very much richer, by removing the protections and regulations of the EU.

Today, our continental neighbours are doubtful whether they can persuade us to remain within our European family. And with some justification, for to deprogram people like Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May or Jacob Rees-Mogg would be a challenge indeed. Nevertheless, they would welcome us back with open arms if we turned up on their doorstep.

So what happened to the Moonies? They faded from the limelight amid scandal and disillusion, though the Reverend Moon retained considerable political power and influence until he died in 2012.  These cults are no fleeting fads or fashions, they can last quite a long time.

How long will the Brexit fad last?

Brexit is an edifice of fantasy resting on no solid foundation, which is already crumbling at the approach of reality.  The game is up on this expired idea, which is just waiting to buried. The earliest time for another vote will be December 2018 – not too long to wait.

Some fear that even if we win, a second referendum will inflame the divisions further, leading to a civil war between Brexiters and Remainers. However, it is more likely in my view that the situation will stabilise, and instead of the armies of Brexiters, there will be just normal people again, like before David Cameron’s ill-advised referendum.

When the Second World War put the final nail in fascism, an improbable number of French people claimed they had been fighters in the resistance. And when Brexit is finally nailed, a fair few soft Leavers will discover they had been Remainers all along, because everyone likes to be on the winning side.


by John King

5 things to expect from the second phase of Brexit negotiations

Brexit negotiations are due to move onto ‘Phase 2’ in the next few weeks, after EU leaders finally signed off on a painful first round on the 15th December 2017. Here are five things we expect to see in the second round: 

*Ding ding ding.*


“They say it takes two to tango,’ said British Chancellor Philip Hammond to the BBC in January. “Both sides need to be clear about what they want.”

Which is exactly what the other side is asking for (clarity, not doing the tango with Phil). “The first big step is for the U.K. to say very clearly what it wants in clear terms,” stated Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the EU summit in December. A sentiment echoed by Michel Barnier: “There must be a precise negotiating position of the U.K. government.”

Unfortunately, neither side is dancing in reality. During Phase One, the EU repeatedly told the U.K. to clarify its position on citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Northern Irish border. The bloc remained united, and eventually the U.K. yielded, agreeing to a bill of up to €39 billion, a fairly weak citizens’ rights agreement, and a seamless and frictionless” Irish border.

Now that those issues have (at least partly) been put to bed, the real misunderstandings can begin. The first round, as difficult as it was, was at least centred around three tangible issues. The second-round focuses on a much vaguer outcome: the framework of the future relationship.

All these factors are going to make Phase Two extremely difficult. In comparison, Phase One will look like negotiating the sale of a second-hand Volkswagen, or a timeshare in Skiathos.

Already disagreements have emerged over the wording: the EU wishes to focus on the ‘framework’ whereas the U.K. accentuates the ‘future relationship’.

It’s no secret that Theresa May wants a transition deal to be agreed quickly: uncertainty is bad for business. But Michel Barnier has set a deadline of October 2018 to negotiate a transition deal, which is far later than the U.K.’s preferred deadline of March 2018. This transition deal will require the approval of the European Parliament, which will have its own requirements for the second phase of talks.

Not only will they need to agree on a transitional deal, but also a framework for future EU-U.K. trade. Again, this will require approval from European leaders, who will each have differing opinions on how quickly to advance trade talks.

All these factors are going to make Phase Two extremely difficult. In comparison, Phase One will look like negotiating the sale of second-hand Volkswagen, or a timeshare in Skiathos. How do you negotiate a trade deal with someone you’re already trading with? Until 2019, the U.K. it is still a full member of the EU. Politico reported that a senior EU official stated: “We cannot officially negotiate with the U.K. on a trade deal as long as they are a member state.”

Essentially, the U.K invoked Article 50, and will returned to third-country status under Article 218, whilst trying to agree a deal on trade. Good thing Poland is busy logging away their forests – a lot of paperwork is going to be needed.

A lot of talk about trade

Trade is going to feature heavily in Phase Two, because both sides want to know how much cash is at stake.

Expect disagreements here too. Brussels has repeatedly stated that the trade deal will consist of two options: Norway-style, or a Canada-style. Conversely, the UK wants a tailored deal, which would include “ongoing access to the EU market, the freedom to diverge from the bloc on certain rules, and ongoing cooperation with some EU agencies, such as Europol.”

Talks will need to cover all the main sectors of trade: financial services, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, aerospace, agriculture… These industries are massive and complex, each with their own subset of legalities. To date, businesses have largely been left in the dark, with the various captains of industry becoming increasingly agitated. In a joint statement, leaders of five U.K business groups stated: “the transition period must now be agreed as soon as possible…further delays to discussions on an EU-UK trade deal could have damaging consequences for business investment and trade”.

Two fractured sides of the table

Brexit has created its own political dividing lines, and Left and Right continue to find themselves, perhaps unwittingly, on the same side.

…a far-right coalition in Austria, a leaderless Germany and a recalcitrant Hungary and Poland, one thing is for certain: realpolitik is alive and well in the minds of European leaders.

Resultantly, the UK government – in particular the cabinet – is anything but united. Tango Master/Chancellor Philip Hammond represents a faction fighting for a soft-Brexit, placing him in opposition to the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who seems to want to bring back the 18th century swashbuckling Britannia of old. Throw some Tory rebels into the mix and you have yourself a collection of fiefdoms, in disagreement over everything from the length of the transition period to the retention of single market membership.

The disunity isn’t limited to the UK, mind you. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned against the EU 27 acting in their own interests in the next phase: “That’s what the prisoner’s dilemma is all about,’ he said. ‘Everyone can have an interest in negotiation on their own and think they can negotiate better than their neighbour.” These comments were echoed by Donald Tusk, who said he had “no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of the Brexit talks.”

With Norway threatening to rip up their current deal with the EU, a crisis in Catalonia, an election looming in Italy, a far-right coalition in Austria, a leaderless Germany and a recalcitrant Hungary and Poland, one thing is for certain: realpolitik is alive and well in the minds of European leaders.

Come back, wayward son

The European Union will continue to tell the UK it can re-join the club at any point before Brexit happens.  

Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker have both expressed their desire to retain Britain as a member of the EU. The former even said that Britain could reapply for EU membership post-Brexit, which will most likely turn British politics into one, never ending discussion about EU membership. Think M.C Escher.

A new government White Paper depicting the current state of negotiations.

The spectre of citizens’ rights

Lingering issues about citizens’ rights will crop up in the second round of negotiations. Several citizens’ rights groups – such as the 3million and Bremain in Spain – have made their dissatisfaction clear, and will continue to lobby against the loss of freedom of movement. Even small groups of expats have started to take legal action: British citizens living in Holland went to court earlier this year in a bid to retain freedom of movement.

We believe there are still a number of questions about citizens’ rights to which neither the EU Commission or UK parliament have provided a satisfactory answer. Certainly, trade will dominate the discussions, and it is vital that grass-roots movements and individuals maintain the pressure for greater clarity over citizens’ rights.


by Max Caskie

Insufficient and ambiguous: The PanEuropean opinion on the citizens’ rights agreement

The Brexit deadlock was finally broken last Friday, when the EU agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the divorce settlement. But has the deal on citizens’ rights provided enough clarity to the millions of UK and EU immigrants affected by it?

David Davis and Michel Barnier

EU citizens in the UK

The main takeaway for both sides was that they would keep their current rights: EU citizens who have lawfully lived in the UK for a minimum of five years will be granted ‘settled status.’  The UK government has said this will be a straightforward process and cost no more than a British passport (£72.50). They will retain access to tax credits, universal credit, healthcare, pensions, etc., and can be away from the UK for up to 5 years and still retain this status. Children born in the UK to parents from an EU country will automatically become British citizens. Irish citizens will not have their rights affected by Brexit and will be able to work and travel in the UK without hindrance.

UK citizens in the EU

Likewise, UK nationals that are legally living in one of the 27 member states will be allowed to stay (though some countries will require an application process to secure this). If they have been living in the country for five years they will be entitled to ‘permanent residence’ or the chance to apply for it. Again, they can be away from the host country for 5 years and still retain permanent residence. If they have a pension, it will increase every year just as it would in the UK.

UK nationals will remain eligible for free healthcare in the EU under a continuation of the EHIC scheme, and if working in several European countries, they will maintain the right to work in all of them.

In addition, close family members (spouse/direct ascendants/direct descendants) will be able to join them if their rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Children of British nationals are also protected under the withdrawal agreement if the parents are protected or nationals of the host country.

What’s been left out

For those that have no desire to move and meet the requirements for settled status, this agreement is probably satisfactory.

But it is likely that the EU will adopt a constitutive system – meaning that British immigrants will have to apply for a new status (as EU citizens will be expected to do in the UK).

This process is unlikely to be uniform and each country will have slightly different requirements. Individuals will be asked to provide comprehensive documentation to prove they have lived in their respective host country for 5 years, and this may not be easy to find. Besides, bureaucracies can make mistakes, as the UK home office has proved.

Theresa May has made no illusions: the British PM seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented people living in Britain illegally. We have already witnessed the consequences of this draconian policy on European citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for over 15 years.

‘What will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit?’

The fact that the continuation of free movement was not even discussed is a worrying sign. It may well come up during the next phase of negotiations, but there are no guarantees, thus it is imperative we pressure both British and European parliaments to make sure this issue is not sidelined. Freedom of movement is vital, whether we are officially part of the European Union or not. Associative European citizenship must be made available to those who either wish for or need it.

Furthermore, there are a number of grey areas within the agreement: what will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit? After the UK has regained control of its laws, what safeguards are in place to protect EU citizens?

These questions will be an afterthought in the second round of negotiations, which will focus primarily on the future trading relationship between the two parties. Given that the UK and the EU already have differing interpretations of what that relationship should look like, it is unlikely that we will see further clarification on citizens’ rights in the foreseeable future.

Essentially, we feel that European and British nationals have been largely ignored. Though there have been some assurances made by European leaders, it seems citizens’ rights are more of a hindrance to the UK and the EU to negotiating more important aspects of the deal.


Opinion: is French about to regain dominance in Europe?

“C’est une tragédie.”  That’s how European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker referred to Brexit in a speech in May.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.

Tragic or not, there is a silver lining for French speaking politicians like Juncker. “Slowly but surely,” he said, “English is losing importance in Europe.” Although there are currently 24 official languages in the EU, business in Brussels has mainly been conducted in English for more than a decade. To some on the continent, Brexit is an opportunity to change that.

How English usurped French 

From the 17th until the mid-20th century, French was the undisputed lingua franca of Europe. It was spoken by European diplomats and elites all over the world. That changed, however, after the United States successfully lobbied to elevate English to a position of diplomatic equality with French at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. By the time the United Nations was founded in 1945, English had definitively overtaken French as the language of diplomacy.

But the French resistance fought on. President Charles de Gaulle famously vetoed (twice) the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community, saying: “L’Angleterre, ce n’est plus grande chose” (“England is not much anymore”). Even when the UK finally did join the EU in 1973, the language of Shakespeare was reluctantly accepted.

Yet English quickly became the most common language of communication for non French-speaking civil servants. That process accelerated when thousands of Eastern European civil servants joined the ranks in Brussels in 2004, whose shared foreign language was often English. Much to the chagrin of French speaking eurocrats, the scales seemed once and for all tilted against them.

Profiting from another’s loss

Brexit, however, has opened a window of opportunity. After Britain exits the EU in 2019, English will be the official language of just two EU member states — Ireland and Malta. Their combined population constitutes less than 1 percent of the EU’s total population. In a ranking of the EU’s most widely spoken mother tongues, English would drop from its current 2nd place to a lowly 17th, coming in behind Finnish, Bulgarian and Slovak. For the pro-French camp, this is proof of the absurdity of conducting EU affairs in the language of a country that will soon turn its back on the bloc for good.

Regardless, re-establishing French as the EU’s lingua franca is easier said than done. Only the Council of the European Union is able to decide, by unanimity, to add or remove a language from the register of official working languages. Ireland, being a nation of native English speakers, would likely nominate English as an official language (alongside Gaelic) and veto the motion, as would Malta. And even if this legal obstacle were avoided, English will by far remain the most widely spoken foreign language in the European Union. With 95% of students in the EU currently studying English at secondary school, it is the language of the future. This will be true after Brexit, whatever language eurocrats in Brussels speak.

The push for greater use of French is acquiring new momentum. Those keen to banish English from Brussels seem willing to risk slowing down the efficiency of a political institution already marred by red tape. Much like the Brexiteers, the pro-French are motivated by national pride, not pragmatism. It is a rivalry not just between two languages but two world views — on the one hand, the Anglo-Saxon model of market-driven globalisation; on the other, the French instinct to preserve culture and tradition.

Granted, reduced British influence will strengthen France’s position on the continent in many ways, but language is unlikely to be one of them. Judging by the prevalence of English, both in Brussels and beyond, the French are facing an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.



This guest article was written by Kyrill Hartog. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.


Opinion: what’s really cooking in the Northern Italian referendums?

During the 1970s, many of the richest regions in Europe rediscovered both their cultural peculiarities and their old intolerance towards central institutions. Northern Italy was no exception. Now, decades later, separatists claims to the legendary ‘Padania’ imagined by the secessionist party Lega Nord (LN) are still relevant. But is independence the only aim?
A campervan promoting Lega Nord in Tuscany, Italy.

Barcelona faced a contested referendum on 1st October, and now Milan and Venice are being called to the polls on October 22nd. The question, as phrased by governors Roberto Maroni and Luca Zaia – both important Lega Nord politicians – leaves little room for interpretation: “Do you want Veneto to be given greater forms and conditions of autonomy?” On the surface, it appears that LN could finally realise its 30 year old dream of a bright, more autonomous future. However, there is more to these referendums than you might think.

A hollow referendum? 

Both referendums are nothing but consultative, and a victory on the autonomists’ side may only lead to years of fruitless negotiations between the central state and these two wealthy regions. Indeed, acquiring a special status for Lombardy and Veneto might not be the real goal of this campaign.

Since its creation in 1989, Lega Nord – literally “the Northern League” – has claimed to be the voice of hard-working populations whose high revenues were, they claimed, unjustly redistributed to the lazy southerners. Backed up by imaginative legends of a common northern history and ethnicity, Lega’s ambition was to divide Italy in two at the Po river, leaving Southern Italy on one side and Padania on the other.

This program mirrored that of several other independentist parties all over Europe, says Italian researcher Emmanuel Dalle Mulle. In his recent book, Dalle Mulle points out how the common thread of all these different parties was “ending the economic ‘exploitation’ suffered by a wealthy nation and supposedly carried out by the population of poorer regions”. In other words, rich nationalism hoped to reshape Europe.

Towards a new strategy

This narrative is fed by the fact that Lombardy and Veneto contribute a significant amount to the national GDP, according to EUROSTAT. While the former produces goods and services worth €357 million, the latter generates an estimated €151 million, which is far more than any other region. It’s therefore easy to understand why the citizens of these northern regions might be tempted to ask for greater financial autonomy. But Lega Nord has since moved beyond their Padania narrative.

However, since Matteo Salvini took the reins of the Lega in 2013, the movement’s separatism ambitions have been overshadowed by a new strategy. Aligning with many other right-wing populist movements, Salvini decided to reshape Lega around Euro-skepticism and a strong critique of current immigration policies. The transformation was completed in April 2014 when, ahead of the European Parliament elections, the slogan “No more euro” replaced the historical “Padania” as the party’s national slogan. At the same time, Salvini launched a parallel movement, Noi con Salvini (Us with Salvini), to reach out to those Italian regions – especially in the South – where Lega previously didn’t have a wide following.

If Salvini’s massive operation did allow Lega Nord to reach – according to the latest surveys – 12.9% of the population, this abrupt restyling doesn’t necessarily resonate with northern voters, who might feel they’ve been abandoned by a movement that used to serve their interests. This is where the referendum card comes in handy.

Just a few years ago, in March 2014, the Italian institute for political and social research Demos published the results of a survey conducted in Veneto. The research showed that 80% of the local population would have opted for independence, had a referendum been held.

Three years later, this data is still relevant, and Salvini knows it: in the north, most voters are still attached to Lega’s old values rather than to its new goals. Although, at the moment, the party seems to be doing better on a national level, the leader risks losing the party’s hard core of loyalists, should the populist, euro-skeptical program lose relevance.

“This referendum is probably the result of a tacit agreement: Salvini accepts Maroni’s and Zaia’s regional nation-building policies and, in exchange, they don’t challenge him on a national level,” says Dalle Mulle.

The researcher, who’s been observing his native Veneto from the Graduate Institute in Geneva for the past three years, also believes the referendums has a more subtle objective: that of strengthening Lega’s positions in the Italian national and regional elections of spring 2018. As Italy now heads into months of tireless election campaigning, even a symbolic victory might alter the political balances within the country’s right wing parties.

“The referendum’s questions are so generic, their answer so self-evident that this might as well be just a purely symbolic issue at this point,” Dalle Mulle states. After all, whether voters will reach for such succulent (albeit low-hanging) fruit is a matter of little doubt.

This guest article was brought to you by Viola Serena Stefanello. Follow her on Twitter here.

Opinion: Poland must stop alienating Europe

Warsaw’s ‘Law and Justice Party’ is now embroiled in three major disputes with the EU and Germany. Judy Dempsey writes in Carnegie Europe that Poland is alienating itself from its neighbours, and must stop ‘damaging its own interests’.

By Max Caskie

Polish President Andrzej Duda

War Reparations

Warsaw’s parliament research service has concluded that the country has a ‘right to demand reparations from Germany for the loss of life and damage it suffered during World War Two.’ The statement was issued on Tuesday, and has been met with ire in the German capital. Poland maintains that it was ‘bullied by the former Soviet Union not to seek reparations’ in 1953, and that the figure could be as high as $1 trillion. Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed under Nazi occupation. Several cities were destroyed, with Warsaw having been razed to the ground after a failed uprising in 1944.

Angela Merkel’s government responded by saying that Germany has already paid reparations on an ‘enormous scale’. Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, stated, ‘In the German government’s view, there is no reason to doubt the validity under international law of the act of declining reparations 1953…Therefore this question is in our view resolved both legally and politically.’

Bialowieza Forest

Since July, tensions have increased between Poland and Europe over logging in Bialowieza, home to the continent’s oldest forest. According to Deutsche Welle, Poland argues that ‘the logging is necessary to fight an outbreak of bark beetles.’

European Bison in Białowieża Forest

Currently, an injunction has been ordered against Poland to cease logging as the EU high court investigates the case. By ignoring this injunction and continuing to allow logging, Poland risks further infringement procedures, and the EU executive may ‘withhold EU structural funds from Poland – something allowed in EU treaties, but never used before. Poland receives 21 billion euros ($25 million) in EU structural funds each year, much of it for environmental protection.’ If found guilty, Poland could face a minimum fine of 8.4 million euros.

The Polish Judiciary

Simultaneously in July, the European Commission raised a separate legal battle against Poland over a new domestic law that may undermine the independence of Polish courts. The new law enables the Minister of Justice to choose (and remove) Court Presidents, prolong the mandate of judges who are of retirement age, and discriminates over gender through introducing different retirement ages for male and female judges. The Commission has given Poland one month to amend the law, or face a referral to the European Court of Justice.

Puzzling Attitudes

Poland has lost an ally with Brexit – the former believed Britain acted as a counterweight to the ‘Franco-German axis’. But rather than reaching out to its neighbours —Poland ‘is alienating Germany, the bloc’s most important country.’

Until recently, Poland was in favour of a strong European Comission (the very commission that it now faces in court), and European integration. Now, fighting two separate legal battles with serious ramifications, the latest decision to revisit the reparations issue will ‘only exacerbate its already strained ties with Germany.’

Opinion: the Merkel/Schulz ‘duel’ was dull, but that’s a good thing.

It was labelled by the German press as ‘das Duell’. Yet Merkel and Schulz agreed on all the major issues, and the former emerged as the clear victor. But in the current political climate, Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky argues the uninspired debate was a ‘gift from heaven’.

By Max Caskie

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker. 

Christian Lindner, the FDP party leader, quipped that the debate was like, ‘a long marriage, where there is the occasional quarrel, but both sides know that they have to stick together in the future, too.’ The disagreements were centred around Trump, Turkey’s EU accession and the migrant crisis.

Despite these potential flashpoints, Schulz failed to seize the initiative and delineate himself from his opponent. That the pair agreed on most of the major issues led to it being called ‘more a duet than a duel’.

Yet Bershidsky posits that this consensus is good news: there is enough polarisation taking place elsewhere. For example, the Netherlands has yet to form a government ‘based on the outcome of the general election held in March…the coalition talks are the longest in 40 years’.

The same deep divisions can be seen with Brexit which ‘shows no signs of subsiding’, and in the US, where people are still unclear as to what ‘Trump’s victory and his presidency are about’. Even Macron, the supposed new face of politics, has become aware of the number of people who used their vote tactically to keep Le Pen out.

In contrast, despite the German incumbent coalition’s ‘fatigue after ruling jointly for the last four years’, there doesn’t seem to be a strong alternative coalition structure.

So, is the Economist right to label the duel as a failure and a lack of a ‘clash of ideas’? Bershidsky says not, and the evidence is in the lack of support for more radical parties: Die Linke and Alternative for Germany (AfD) only have 15-20 percent combined support.

This is less than Schulz’s Social Democrats (SPD) hold 23 percent and a lot less than Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) with 40 percent. Given these figures, it appears most Germans are happy with the status quo.

The desire for ‘more of the same’ was obvious when discussing foreign policy, a stage on which Germany has tried hard to play a minor role on in recent times. Neither Schulz or Merkel were ‘interested in Ukraine or North Korea, and Russia only came up once…’ Any ground that Schulz tried to gain over Turkey, where 12 Germans are currently imprisoned as political prisoners, dealt no decisive blows to Merkel. The duel showed that both the SPD and the CDU are, for the most part, focused on a ‘rather tame domestic agenda’.

Overall, Bershidsky says that ‘the German press ought to hold the criticism.’ Many other countries in the West are faced with ideological crises and deep political cleavages. Merkel and Schulz’s difficulties lie only in how to provide more of the same stability that their coalition has become synonymous with.

European Parliament, Brussels

Opinion: Brexit means the time for a European constituency is now

Juuso Järviniemi of The New Federalist argues that Brexit has provided the perfect opportunity for European Parliament to create a Europe-wide constituency.

European Parliament, Brussels transnational lists
European Parliament, Brussels

Transnational lists for European elections have long been discussed in the European Parliament and among federalists. Brexit has presented a golden opportunity in this regard.

The creation of a Europe-wide constituency paralleling the national and regional ones would not require concessions from any member state if the new European seats replaced the British ones which are set to disappear in 2019.

But the clock is ticking, and the time to act is now.

Past efforts

On the initiative of Andrew Duff, the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament repeatedly called for a transnational constituency of 25 MEPs during the 2009–2014 parliamentary term, but there was no luck in the plenary chamber. However, that was of course before the Brexit referendum presented a new opportunity for the reform.

In November 2015, the Parliament adopted a resolution on reforming the electoral law of the EU. Andrew Duff writes that in the resolution, the Parliament “finally voted to support a joint list.”

In the annex to the resolution, it is proposed that the line, “The Council decides by unanimity on a joint constituency in which lists are headed by each political family’s candidate for the post of President of the Commission,” be adopted in a Council decision.

This was not enough for the Greens, who are in favour of transnational lists.

In the aftermath of the November 2015 resolution, against which the Greens voted, their vice-president Josep Maria Terricabras deplored the missed opportunity to send a clear signal in support of designating a proportion of seats for European lists.

As Andrew Duff notes, in April 2017 the European Parliament referred to transnational lists again in a Brexit-related resolution, where it reiterated its commitment to reforming the electoral procedure on the basis of the earlier resolution.

More advocacy is needed

This is the best chance we’ve had to create a transnational constituency.

In addition to Brexit, the supportive stance of French President Emmanuel Macron, among others, contributes to this. The transnational constituency would have the potential to bring genuinely European issues to the fore in European elections, as up to nearly a tenth of the seats would be occupied by politicians with a European mandate.

And not everyone would spend their campaign talking about what their national government is doing, or about their home country’s foreign policy. One could also expect this to push the national and regional candidates to focus on what’s relevant for the European election. Additionally, as each citizen would have two ballots instead of one, the novelty could energise the electorate and increase turnout.

More informed voting, means a bigger turnout.

Moreover, with transnational lists each citizen could exercise scrutiny over more MEPs than before. A Finnish voter could vote for or against 13 MEPs in 2014. In 2019 the number could be 86. From the point of view of democracy, transnational lists are a worthy cause, and democracy is what elections are all about.

The issue of what happens to the British seats will have to be addressed sooner or later, but simply removing the seats altogether appears to be the default option. Academics and politicians I have discussed this with all find it unlikely that transnational lists will come into being, or think that present efforts are insufficient. In April, Politico Europe called the idea “utopian”.

No wonder.

Public discussion on the topic has been scarce, even though there is a clear proposal to be made. We need more prominent European politicians and public figures to make the case for reform. In the 2019 European election, there must be a EU-wide constituency of 73 MEPs.

Some may propose a constituency of a smaller size, which would allow for reducing the size of the parliament to an extent, but there is ample reason to be ambitious. There will be plenty of others out there to try to water down the idea. Indeed, that is the only thing we don’t have to do ourselves.

The debate on transnational lists is a part of a wider discussion on the allocation of seats in the European Parliament, a key question being the just representation of each citizen, considering the (intentional) over-representation of smaller member states.

Politico argues that other seemingly easy alternatives would increase the inequality of representation among citizens. This would be the case for both removing the 73 British seats altogether, and potentially for distributing them among the remaining EU27.

Transnational lists may be called lofty or unrealistic, but these alternatives have their own disadvantages.

A proposal for reallocation that would reduce this inequality – the Cambridge Compromise – has been made, but that alone will not bring about the other benefits of transnational lists. A 73-member European constituency would also increase the equality of citizens in the European Parliament, although to a lesser extent than the Cambridge Compromise.

In May, Andrew Duff proposed the introduction of both the Cambridge Compromise and transnational lists, options that need not be mutually exclusive.

The time is now

Whoever wants transnational lists, must act now – better not wait until the next country is leaving the EU.

This week I plan to contact my MEP, voice my support for the idea and ask what more ordinary citizens can do.

In the name of democracy and European citizenship, I recommend others to do the same.

free market

Opinion: the free market doesn’t corrupt morals

‘Why, when there is no evidence to suggest that economic liberalism is morally corrupting,’ asks Ryan Bourne on CapX, ‘is the myth that free markets make us selfish so persistent?’
free markets markets
Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank

‘A common, yet unfounded, attack on free markets is that they encourage us to be greedy and selfish, and erode moral values.’

According to philosopher Michael Sandel, free market values have led to ‘the crowding out of virtues such as altruism, generosity and solidarity.’

The Pope recently said that “libertarian individualism…minimises the common good.”

Even the British Conservative party seem to agree. “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets,” stated their 2017 manifesto, “we reject the cult of selfish individualism.”

But ‘the weird thing’ about these claims, argues Bourne, is that ‘no hard evidence is ever offered to prove that free markets encourage greed.’

Let’s get one thing straight, he says, there is good evidence to show that levels of prosperity and economic freedom are strongly linked.

‘Natural experiments’ in the form of geopolitical divides such as East and West Germany, North and South Korea, and Hong Kong and mainland China, have shown that ‘market economies tend to be much more prosperous than non-market economies,’ Bourne argues.

And simply put, more money means ‘more resources for compassionate causes,’ either through individual philanthropy or tax revenue.

To quote a former British Prime Minister…

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What do studies show about whether ‘markets facilitate greed and lead to selfish immoral behaviour?’ asks Bourne.

A famous study by Armin Falk and Nora Szech claimed to show that markets were indeed morally damaging.

Their experiment involved participants being given the option of paying cash to save a mouse from being killed.

They found that ‘people were more likely to enable the killing when the decision came about as a result of bargaining between buyers and sellers’ – making the mouse a third-party – rather than when they made the decision alone.

They concluded that “market interaction displays a tendency to lower moral values, relative to individually stated preferences,” because their guilt was spread, and there was more “competition” for their money.

This study was seen as proof ‘that markets eroded our humanity,’ says Bourne, but in real life, economic transactions are more like the individual judgement than the bartering scenario.

As Breyer and Weimann argued in their critique of the experiment, “in typical market situations, moral norms play a more prominent role than in non-market bargaining situations,” that are mostly zero-sum.

This alternative conclusion is supported by Herbert Gintis, who experimented with economic games with members of 15 ‘tribal societies’ from across the world.

He found that those ‘exposed to voluntary exchange’ in markets were ‘more highly motivated by non-financial fairness considerations than those which were not.’

“The notion that the market economy makes people greedy, selfish, and amoral is simply fallacious,” Gintis argued.

In fact, he added, “movements for religious and lifestyle tolerance, gender equality, and democracy have flourished and triumphed in societies governed by market exchange.”

In other words, says Bourne, ‘greed, cheating and intolerance’ are more likely to be prevalent in ‘societies where individuals can only fulfil selfish desires by taking from, overpowering or using dominant political or hierarchical positions to rule over and extort from others.’

‘Markets actually encourage collaboration and exchange between parties that might otherwise not interact,’ he concludes.

‘This interdependency discourages violence and builds trust and tolerance.’