Tag Archives: EU

Some Twitter threads on trade

I’ve posted a couple of threads on Twitter recently about trade, challenging the Brexit narrative of some ‘liberal leavers’ in which they argue that the UK has been held back by its EU membership. Going back to find one’s old tweets is a nightmare, so rather than do that I’m simply going to link to them here for future reference. (Edit – I’m broadening this to include other Brexit-related threads, not just the trade ones.)

1. Busting the myth that the EU is protectionist:

2. Why ‘copy and paste’ won’t work:

3. How the Bombardier story shows us what’s in store post-Brexit:

4. Leaving the EU’s defensive umbrella exposes the UK to the EU as well as the US:

5. What happens to the EU’s 1,000 international agreements after Brexit?

6. UK foreign policy after Brexit – where can it go?

I may will have come back and added to this list and will continue adding to it if/when I do more of these.

Why I will be campaigning for Scottish independence

My British half is, as far as I know, purely English. But I am rooting for the Scots to vote for independence in their next referendum. It would be good for Scotland. It would be good for Europe. And it would be good for Britain.

I consider myself a patriot. My patriotism is not some arbitrary attachment to a flag, or to a piece of earth, or to a person descended from a Dark Ages robber baron; my patriotism is a love of community, society, and an attachment to a set of values. To me, patriotism is multilayered and fuzzy at the edges. I have a romantic fondness for the England of Arthur Ransome and E. Nesbit, I feel a connection to Marylebone Station and Tottenham Green Lanes, I’m moved by the music of Bach and Boccherini and the architecture of Durham and Rouen and Ulm. These emotional responses give me roots in my culture and they bring a sense of security and continuity which is an important component of human wellbeing. They are the foundations and load-bearing walls which support the practical, rational manifestation of my patriotism: my public service, my campaigning for our values, my politics. There is no inconsistency in my loving England, and Britain, and Germany, and Europe; and in my feeling contempt for the British parliament after what it did on the evening of 13 March 2017. On the contrary, anyone who loves our society and its values must necessarily feel rage at how these have been challenged and weakened by the very people whose job it is to protect them.

Scotland would be better off outside the UK but in the EU. Scots are not represented by Westminster nor have they been for a long time. I don’t see how Scotland’s interests can be adequately represented by Westminster without a fundamental reform of how British government works. After the 2014 referendum, the Scots were promised meaningful devolution. This has not happened and it is obvious to me that it won’t happen, because exceptionalist Westminster cannot understand the concept of meaningful devolution. The very existence of the West Lothian Question proves this, as I’ve argued. To have meaningful self-governance within a meaningfully federated governance structure, Scotland must leave the UK and remain in or rejoin the EU.

Europe would be better off with an independent Scotland. Scotland is European, and belongs in the family. (So does the rest of the UK, of course.) Scottish independence within the EU would be a demonstration of belief in Europe, in our values, in multilateralism, and a rejection of the binary zero-sum nationalism advocated by Putin-backed populist movements in England, France, the Netherlands, etc.

The United Kingdom would be better off if Scotland chose independence. British society is irredeemably broken. We might argue how we arrived at this juncture, but to me this is self-evident. Westminster’s exceptionalism means continued centralisation of power in national government at the expense of effective subsidiarity whether that means Brussels, the regions, or local government. And national government has shown itself to be unfit and captured by toxic special interests. Brexit is the proof. A ruling party captured by zealots for whom no lie was too much, any means justified the end, the end being a corruption of patriotism resulting in its polar opposite: the impoverishment of the country, its decline in status and influence, the undermining of its security, and the destruction of its citizens’ quality of life. Time and again we have seen that Westminster will not reform itself. Only a seismic shock can deliver change, and it’s hard to see what such a seismic shock could be short of civil discord unless it’s the actual break-up of the United Kingdom. A velvet divorce might be the greatest gift Scotland could give to English patriots.

To me, the choice Scots face is clear: they could stay in a dysfunctional United Kingdom ruled from Westminster, unable to rein in a contemptuous and entitled elite who have proven themselves guilty of serious and serial misgovernment; or they could emulate Europe’s other smaller countries which have thrived as independent states within the EU, enjoying higher standards of living and a better quality of life. For Scots, it’s what you’d call a no-brainer. But it should be welcomed by the rest of us, the citizens of the United Kingdom they’d be leaving behind. Because we like the Scots and want the best for them; and because it gives us a chance to mend what is broken in our own system.

Knitting pattern: the fairisle euroberet!

Calling all members of the Bresistance! Show your love for Europe with this unisex fairisle euroberet! May be worn Citizen Smith-style, Che Guevara-style, or René-off-of-Allo-Allo-style – however you wear it, it’s guaranteed to troll a kipper.

 

Disclaimer: this is my first attempt to write up a pattern, and it won’t lead you by the nose. I am assuming some experience with stranded colourwork and basic increasing/decreasing on the part of the reader, and that you will be comfortable adapting the pattern on the fly to suit your needs and address any errors. My beret (pictured at top and below) was improvised, and so is this pattern. If you don’t recognise an abbreviation, you probably won’t want to knit this pattern (but if you’re curious please search them on youtube where there are hundreds of great tutorials).

The beauty of a beret, knit from the top down, is that you don’t have to be too fussy about sizing. The only bit you have to get right is the very final four rows of ribbing which have to fit the head you’re knitting for. If you get to the end of the pattern and you find you’re still a bit too big, just add another decrease round or two.

The beret is knit in the round from the top down (beginning with an i-cord). Start using DPNs and transfer to circular needles as appropriate (once I’d complete the i-cord I transferred to a single set of long circular needles and used the magic loop method throughout). At the top and the bottom of the star section, there are long floats of up to 15 stitches, I recommend trapping the floating yarn every five stitches using a twist. Be careful to avoid making your floats too tight or the fabric will pucker.

Yarn: DK weight (I used Cascade 220 Superwash 821 Daffodil, Cascade 220 Superwash 1925 Cobalt Heather, Cascade 220 Superwash 1951 Sapphire Heather)

Gauge: 24 stitches x 24 rows per 10cm

Needles: 3.5mm circular, 3.5mm DPNs

1. With 3.5mm DPN, CO six stitches in light blue yarn

2. Knit an i-cord of around 2cm or 3cm

3. Arrange stitches evenly on 3 DPNs (2 stitches on each) or transfer to long 3.5mm circular needles (to knit in the round using the magic loop method). Next row is Row 1.

4. Row 1: k6, PM.

5. Row 2: kfb* x 6 (12 stitches total), SM

6. Now, knit rows 3-50 following the pattern with row 3 at the top (click on the thumbnail below). Each row in the pattern is repeated twelve times to complete a single round. SM (slip your marker) at the end of each round. At its maximum breadth, you will have 192 stitches per row.

On increase rows, M marks the increase. Use any increase you like – I used kfb, m1l and m1r. For the decrease rows, a backslash / marks decrease stitches (I used k2tog).

Chances are your head is smaller than mine, in which case you might want to repeat row 50 once or even twice until you arrive at a size that fits you more comfortably.

7. To finish, knit five rows in k1 p1 rib

8. Cast off in rib using an elastic bind-off (eg http://slipslipknit.com/?page_id=92). Weave in ends.

 

Also published on Ravelry.

Muddled mindsets

There is a good piece by Philip Stephens in today’s FT (£/€) arguing that differences in the way the UK sees the EU, compared to the way the other EU 27 see it, means that a “disorderly brexit” is more likely. This very much corresponds with my 25 years of experience in government on both sides of the Channel. But I think it goes beyond a mere difference in mindsets. Yes, I have long observed, and noted, that the UK approaches its foreign relations with a transactional attitude, on a case-by-case basis, always asking “what’s in it for us?” in very narrow terms. By this I mean that the calculation is quite deliberately and often explicitly made in terms of immediate trade-offs – winning a defence contract, or some other political victory that can be triumphed in the House of Commons and the tabloids. The calculation does not tend to give sufficient weight to the country’s longer term, strategic interest – for example the investment in goodwill which is hard to quantify but which is nonetheless very real. This is the mindset which led to a succession of EU ‘wins’ from Fontainebleu to Maastricht, Lisbon, and finally Cameron’s “reform” package. But all these wins had costs in terms of goodwill and influence, costs which were visible to many of us but downplayed or even actively denied by those who claimed the victory for themselves. And this speaks to a second aspect of this mindset: the UK’s confrontational, zero-sum approach to foreign relations in which there must always be winners and losers. Perhaps this is an echo of Britain’s winner-takes-all politics. Certainly, it’s something of a cliché that the Parliament in Westminster seats government and opposition literally against each other at sword’s length, while continental legislatures generally sit in a hemicycle configuration, facilitating a kaleidoscope of coalitions.

Well, after 40 years of trying, it seems that the square peg would not go into the round hole. The UK will step away from the EU and plough its own furrow. Viva la différence. But first we have to get past the Article 50 negotiations; and then we have to carve out a new UK-EU relationship. Years of difficult and very important negotiations lie ahead. As I said in my previous post, to negotiate successfully requires empathy and intelligence. Understanding the way your negotiating partner thinks is crucial to a successful outcome. And here we move beyond a mere difference in mindsets.

Philip Stephens

My observation over many years has been that not only does the UK (by which I mean Westminster and Whitehall) have a short-term, transactional approach to the EU, it thinks everyone else does, or should. It seems incapable of understanding that its partners’ different mindset might be a conscious political choice made in good faith and for sensible reasons. We see it in Whitehall’s reflexive focus on lobbying Paris and Berlin rather than Brussels and Strasbourg. We see it in the fixation on German cars and Italian prosecco. It is reflected in the “have your cake and eat it” attitude whereby Leave politicians in the UK seem unable to accept that EU politicians mean it when they say there will be no cherry-picking, that the UK cannot have a bespoke arrangement which allows it to benefit from the rights of EU membership without shouldering the responsibilities. The intelligence is there: the UK’s highly regarded diplomats are experts in communicating differences back to London in beautifully written telegrams. And yet this intelligence falls on resolutely deaf ears. The Leave ayatollahs don’t want to hear it. They shoot the messenger who dares to challenge their world view.

Philip Stephens

This is Westminster exceptionalism taken to a logical extreme. At the time of the Scottish referendum, I wrote about it and expressed a hope that devolution would in time introduce people to the reality and obvious benefits of federal, tiered government, undermining the Westminster exceptionalism that poisons the UK’s politics and public life. Perhaps it will, one day, but it will come too late for this generation and the next who will live in a Britain outside the EU, and much, much poorer for it.

Apple as a good European corporate citizen

I’m a bit of a Mac fanboy and a follower of Apple blogs and podcasts. I also happen to work for the European Union. The Apple blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Apple has been fined €13 billion by the European Commission for breaking EU state aid rules. There has been a lot of comment from people who know the tech industry intimately, certainly better than I know it. What I bring to the party is my knowledge of the EU, what it’s there for, its politics, and how it works.

I don’t work in the European Commission’s state aid department, and if I did I wouldn’t be allowed to write this blog. I’m writing this in a personal capacity as a private individual with a bit of specialised knowledge and the usual caveats apply. I offer no opinion on the legal merits of the Commission’s case, or Tim Cook’s rebuttal, I just want to talk about the politics of it, prompted by John Gruber’s comment on Daring Fireball.

dfireland

Gruber’s comment on DF

EU state aid rules are there for a reason. They are there to create a level playing field for investors across the world’s largest economic bloc. The aim is to create a stable and nurturing environment in which companies can make long-term investment decisions while citizens can enjoy a certain quality of life. EU state aid rules are there to stop national and regional governments engaging in a race to the bottom, sacrificing tax revenue and services in order to attract business which might otherwise have invested elsewhere in the EU.

You might not like these state aid rules, you might not even agree with the principle, but the rules are there because EU Member States chose to adopt them and if they choose to change them, or abandon them, they can. What they can’t do is sign up to them and then flout them. The European Commission’s job is to enforce the rules, and if the European Commission spots (or thinks it spots) an infringement and then neglects to act it is failing at its job.

Ireland has famously attracted giant tech investors and with good reason. It has a talented work force, excellent infrastructure, and an investment-friendly political culture. Since Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, European taxpayers have poured around 20 billion US dollars into its building its infrastructure and training its workforce – influencing Apple’s decision to invest in Ireland.

As an EU member, Ireland has been one of the big beneficiaries of its generous regional policy. It has also signed up to a whole host of other rules – and been involved in setting those rules, through the EU’s twin-chambered legislature (Council and Parliament). The EU’s member states can’t cherry-pick, something which the UK’s Brexit advocates are finding out. You want to be in the club, you pay the membership fee and you obey the club rules.

Corporations pay tax not least because corporations benefit from taxpayer-funded state provision – universities churning out graduates, roads and railways to get those graduates to work, street lighting, waste collection, etc etc. Apple makes a staggering amount of money because it makes fantastic products. The European Union’s taxpayers have helped it to do that. (Just one example: Jony Ive was educated through the British state system.)

Corporate taxation is a hugely sensitive issue, especially since the Crash in 2008. Apple knows this. Whether or not it is judged to have obeyed the letter of the law in how it pays taxes in Europe, European citizens are looking at Apple and asking themselves whether it has respected the spirit of the law. Apple needs to stop playing the victim and start acting the good corporate citizen that it aspires to be.

That “demos” thing

Sooner or later, every Brexit debate hits the “demos” wall. The following conversation is a classic example:

 

Its critics will say that the European Union is not democratic, and therefore lacks legitimacy. Its defenders will contest this, as I did in this post. We claim that, actually, it has all the characteristics of a healthy democracy, and arguably then some (compared to certain EU Member States). No no, its critics argue, none of these characteristics count because they are meaningless without a “demos”. The EU, they say, doesn’t have a demos; and so it can’t be a democracy.

This is a tautology and a circular argument. They criticise us for not being democratic while in the same breath arguing that we cannot be democratic by definition, and that we should therefore not even try. The very fact that we try seems to be what infuriates them. The more the EU attempts to advance its democratic credentials, the more state-like it seems, the more we anger those who insist that sovereignty and statehood must be limited to existing nation states. Why? we ask. BECAUSE DEMOS, they yell, as if this is self-evident (which to them apparently it is).

For a long time now I have wanted to tackle this argument, but I have never found the right way to come at it. I think it’s because we are simply talking past each other, in different languages. Theirs is the emotional language of nationalism, I think, and it just doesn’t make sense to me. What defines a “demos”? The Oxford English Dictionary definition says that a demos is “the populace as a political unit, especially in a democracy”, which hardly helps – what defines a “political unit”? If the EU has all the trappings of a political unit, then isn’t it one? By specifically excluding the UK from the quest for “ever closer political union”, has David Cameron effectively excluded the UK from an EU demos and thereby validated the “out” camp’s argument in a bizarre form of Pyrrhic victory?

We need to dig deeper. What makes people feel that they belong to a political unit? Is it language? Several EU Member States have more than one official language and all certainly have citizens whose first language is not the majority language – are those citizens excluded from the national “demos”? Is it a shared history? Clearly not, I won’t even bother dismantling that argument but will simply point to Norman Davies’ excellent book Vanished Kingdoms. Perhaps it’s shared culture? That’s also hard to argue in our multicultural and yet monocultural modern world. I’ve come to the conclusion that a demos is self-defining and therefore largely meaningless unless you are already part of that self-selected demos. Playing the “demos” card is like playing the joker, it only works if everyone playing the game has agreed a common set of rules.

I could end this post here. But that would be a touch too dismissive. Clearly, this does mean something to lots of people, and I have to try to understand. Many people feel disconnected from the European tier of government and have no sense that they belong to a continental “demos” or political community. Evidence for this is the poor turnout at European elections, with many of those who do vote tending to do so on national issues. Clearly, many of us in Brussels feel defensive about this and so we invest a lot of effort in creating democratic institutions and attempting to communicate more effectively with citizens. (On this subject, see Jon Worth’s article on the EU’s efforts at comms.)

Not having a magic solution to offer, let me instead offer these thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The harder we try to legitimise EU government by giving it the trappings of democracy, the less people seem to like it. So why do we bother?
  • Are we not falling into the populist trap of fetishising democracy? (By which I mean misrepresenting our representative democracy as a direct one, and glorifying the people’s actually rather limited though important safeguarding role in the complex process of modern government – which I talk about here.)
  • In a functional, modern state there are multiple tiers of government which each have legitimacy with a given ‘political unit’ (or demos), and we are all as citizens members of more than one demos. The trouble with the people who claim that the EU has no demos is that they actively choose to exclude themselves from that demos; and I think that these are generally the same people who dismiss the other tiers of government too. These are the Westminster exceptionalists who get in a tizzy over the West Lothian Question. They cannot see the wood for the trees. I can’t lose any sleep over their inability to see the bigger picture, and it would be a crying shame if they took the UK out of the EU because of their tunnel vision.

The referendum’s silver lining

Still early days, but so far I’m finding this referendum campaign less of an ordeal than I expected.

This morning, a friend said to me “this whole farce must be very frustrating for you.” But it isn’t. Negativity, misinformation, and ignorance has long been the norm when it comes to the UK’s public debate about the EU, and I am used to it. Refreshingly, we are now also hearing the other side.

I blame the media far more than I blame politicians for the years of toxic negativity. There are many principled British politicians who make the case for the EU but who have not been heard because the media does not give them a platform. There are principled politicians on the ‘out’ side too, who truly believe that the UK would be better off outside the EU (I am quite sure they are wrong, but I respect their opinions and am happy to debate them). But these are not the politicians to whom the media gives a platform, either.

Seen from an outsider’s perspective, the UK’s mass media seems to have lost touch with the principles of sound journalism, confusing business imperatives with journalistic imperatives. What matter are circulation figures, viewer figures, listener numbers, page hits. EU-bashing sells papers, therefore it must be right. We are reaching the logical conclusion of our fetishisation of democracy, interpreted in a literal and simplistic fashion. People power is what counts. Have your say! Vote in our online poll! The results of which become the news.

Chris Morris beautifully skewered the vox pop as a news tool in The Day Today, but twenty years later it has become a core ingredient of modern ‘journalism’. In a world where focus groups and call-in shows set the political agenda, it’s small wonder that we now refer complex and weighty policy decisions on the future of our country to a referendum.

murdoch

This is the world of the Daily Mail and UKIP; this is why Nigel Farage appears on Question Time more often than, say, Catherine Bearder, or Douglas Carswell for that matter. Euromyths sell newspapers; fearmongering generates page hits. Demonising the EU makes business sense for the red tops (and some of the broadsheets), and in our confrontational, bipolar, first-past-the-post beauty contest of a democracy, the market leader is also the opinion leader. There may well be more sinister reasons for press barons to denigrate the EU, but regardless of this, our system is skewed towards populism. This is why we are having a reckless and risky referendum on the UK’s future; and incidentally it’s why our cousins across the pond are now presented with the real risk of a populist President.

trump

Donald Trump – popular

My critics will tell me that I am guilty of paternalism and elitism. This is a lazy defence of populism. We live in a representative democracy, not an Athenian-style direct democracy (thank God). General elections are there as a safety valve, so that the people can remove an executive which seriously underperforms. But we appoint an executive to govern on our behalf – we do not govern directly, because as ineffective as that was in an ancient agrarian society it would be simply ridiculous in a complex modern society.

So where is the silver lining? Here it comes: this referendum has finally given a platform to the moderates. The media’s obsession with ‘balance’ can be infuriating when we see a swivel-eyed climate sceptic given airtime alongside scientists; but in this referendum campaign we are finally hearing from the ‘pro’ side of the argument. After literally decades of overwhelming negativity, the UK media is at long last also giving coverage to the people who are making the case for the EU. Personally, I am finding it wonderfully refreshing.

There is another upside to what I guess we should call the popularisation of the news: the rise of social media. As our society has careered from one extreme (elitism) to the other (populism), the undue weight given to poorly-informed popular opinion is balanced to a degree by the decline in relevance of the mainstream media. The Daily Mail might sell the most papers, Question Time might have Nigel Farage on again, but we are using Twitter and Facebook and we see that we are not the only ones who have a problem with what we are hearing on the television and radio and reading in the press.

Boris “Outs” himself as a fan of electoral reform – or is he just a massive hypocrite?

So it seems that Boris will be the figurehead of the Out campaign. Today he writes in the Telegraph that:

That is what we mean by loss of sovereignty – the inability of people to kick out, at elections, the men and women who control their lives. We are seeing an alienation of the people from the power they should hold, and I am sure this is contributing to the sense of disengagement, the apathy, the view that politicians are “all the same” and can change nothing, and to the rise of extremist parties.

Boris

I love this new Boris with his passionate concern for citizens, his belief in democracy, his frustration on our behalf at our inability to kick out our rulers. I have every confidence in him that he will carry on from here to crusade for electoral reform and rid us of the wicked First Past The Post system which disenfranchises the vast majority of British voters. Good for you Boris!

 

btl

 

I mean, he must mean FPTP, right? He surely can’t mean the EU…

 

Why British exporters love the EU

econgraph

The Economist tweeted this graph this afternoon showing that the UK now sends the majority of its exports outside the EU. It offers an accompanying editorial comment that this chart will please eurosceptics. At first glance, you would think that it supports the ‘Leave’ campaign’s assertion that the UK can thrive as an exporting nation outside the EU, focusing on trade with the rest of the world. Actually, the graph shows quite the opposite.

Firstly, as @Shivoa points out, the UK benefits from many trade deals which the EU has negotiated with other countries in order to sell its products overseas. Outside the EU, the UK would no longer be party to those agreements and would have to renegotiate them on far from preferential terms, without the muscle which the EU has as the world’s largest trade bloc. Rather than accelerate the trend which this chart illustrates, Brexit would put it at risk.

Secondly, as this article on Conservative Home demonstrates, we are not talking about a zero sum game here. British exporters do not choose between the EU and the rest of the world. If exports to the EU fall, they do not automatically rise elsewhere. The Economist’s graph in fact illustrates (but also masks) a serious deterioration in the UK’s balance of trade over the same period. A fall in the UK’s exports to its primary, high value markets in the EU is a bad thing, even though it can be made to look like a shift towards non-EU markets if we ignore volume and look purely at percentages.

150901-Balance-of-trade

The ‘Singapore’ argument for Brexit is fallacious. Brexit would only harm British exporters, and that is why they overwhelmingly want the UK to remain in the EU.

Follow-up: I have to add this graph which was posted by @NauroCampos (Professor of Economics at Brunel University). It speaks, literally, volumes.

germany