Tag Archive: AngloDeutsch™ Blog

The Return of the Greek Drachma … err Drama!

© Ricardo Pinto, 2015, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

Greece is widely considered to be the cradle of democracy. The theatre of ancient Greece is also considered to be the fountainhead of the Western dramatic tradition, and it shows. The earliest Greek dramas emerged during the 6th Century BC and the term “drama” is derived from the Greek word for action (to do or to act). Indeed, the three main dramatic genres, namely tragedy, comedy and satire (tragicomedy or burlesque), emerged from Athens.

It is just as well that drama is a Greek invention because in the last five months, a mixture of “comedy” and “satyr” is exactly what the Syriza-led government has been serving-up on the European Union (EU) stage. For the final act, it is quite possible that “tragedy” will complete the fascinating yet frightening performance that is unfolding before our eyes. The end product of the Greek drama could well be a return to the Greek drachma.

Greek Drama: paving the way for the drachma?

Dramatic structure refers to the framework of a dramatic work such as a play or a film.  According to Gustav Freytag, dramas can divided into five parts or acts (also called Freytag’s pyramid), as illustrated below.

Freytag's Pyramid and the Greek Drama

I would like to take the liberty of applying Freytag’s pyramid to modern-day Greece, as far as the Eurozone crisis and its future in the EU are concerned. Bear with me.

Act 1. Exposition

This introduces important background information to the audience such as the setting before the main plot in the form of flashbacks, characters’ thoughts, background details, etc.

The first Act of the latest instalment of the Greek drama started during the General Election of January 2015. The Syriza party, indeed almost all Greek parties, told more or less the same narrative and provided the same broad analysis of the background to the plight of Greece and the Greeks. The plot can be summarised as follows: the Greek troubles are the result of the Euro and EU, the Troika (ECB, IMF and EC) has imposed unbearable burdens on the Greek people, resulting in a collapse of GDP, reduction in income and pensions (internal devaluation), very high levels of unemployment, etc. This has all been done in the name of austerity, which has principally served to rescue German and French banks, as well as the Eurozone as a whole but Greece itself. The Greek people have suffered enough. Austerity must end and Greece must regain its self-respect.

Interestingly, the above exposition concentrated almost entirely on the period post-2009, when Greece was rescued from bankruptcy by the EU. The first Act makes clear that the protagonist (Greece) has been treated very badly by the main antagonist in the drama, the Troika / EU / Eurozone / Banks but that enough is enough. The protagonist´s exposition somehow leaves out the decades of corruption, mismanagement, clientelism and sheer incompetence of generation upon generation of Greek leaders that necessitated a rescue by the rest of the Eurozone in 2009 in the first place. But such is the nature of dramatic plots. It is not convenient to set out the background in painful detail, including the fact that Greece had the chance to exit the EU but chose instead to remain and be part of the euro while taking the painful internal devaluation that it implied and which countries in a similar position have also gone through. The previous government signed-up to the bailout conditionality but clearly the mood has changed after five years of painful austerity.

A key aspect of the exposition was the election manifesto. As I have previously discussed, the Syriza programme did prioritise an end to austerity, however, any reading of its pledges would lead to the conclusion that it was both contradictory and unrealistic.

It called for Greece to remain in the EU and Eurozone yet basically roll back the commitments made by the previous government as part of the conditionality for the bailouts, while at the same time calling for an end to privatisation, restoration of lost state jobs, raising of minimum incomes and pensions, free health provision and much else beside. That is all very well during a general election, except for two minor issues: Greece is broke and the only way this can be done is if others pay for it in the short, medium and possibly long-term, yet permanent bailouts are forbidden by various EU treaties for a very good reason.

The EU rescue packages were designed to stop Greece from becoming bankrupt as a result of its own decisions made over a period of decades and did indeed manage to keep them in the Eurozone and the EU, something which the Greek people have always insisted upon. They were designed primarily to buy Greece time to regain competitiveness through reforms agreed to by the previous government. Five years later, this is all interpreted as no more or less than national humiliation, bullying and dictatorship on the part of the EU, with Germany and the Troika singled out for special attention. This was a cracking opening Act in the play.

Act 2. Rising Action

The rising action is a series of events that begin immediately after the exposition (introduction) and builds up to the climax. The entire plot depends on these events to set-up the climax and the satisfactory resolution of the story.

A series of events took place immediately after the election, which set the course for the current Greek drama.

As I have previously discussed, instead of picking a mainstream coalition partner, Syriza chose the Independent Greeks Party which was committed to revoke the agreements between Greece, EU and the Troika, prosecute those who negotiated them, repudiate part of Greece’s debt and require German war reparations for the invasion and occupation of Greece during WWII. Syriza selected this party over other moderate alternative partners. This was widely interpreted and an immediate slap in the face for Germany, by far the most important contributor to past, present and future EU bailouts. Not a good start to negotiations, but great drama.

Syriza then took it as read that being elected actually gave it a mandate to end  austerity in Greece. Under a scenario where Greece would leave the Eurozone and possibly the EU, this would have been correct. Just because they were elected on the basis of a contradictory and unrealistic manifesto, does not give a country the right to implement it unless it assumes responsibility for the costs associated with such a manifesto. Clearly, all the other Eurozone countries would need to pay for a Greek programme that they had absolutely no control over. But if they are to agree a further bail out, they naturally have to approve the basis or conditionality associated with further funds, since they have their own electorates to consider. Instead, Syriza chose to act as if the other countries owed it to Greece to agree their programme by virtue of their electoral mandate.

Furthermore, Syriza and the Independent Greeks Party made a series of important appointments based on political dues to take-on the Troika, rather than selecting experienced and diplomatic negotiators, steeped in the EU way of doing things.

A critical decision was the appointment of the unelected Yanis Varoufakis as the Finance Minister. A bike riding, fiery blogger with a penchant for game theory who describes himself as a “libertarian Marxist” was not necessarily an inspired choice for dealing with 27 other EU Finance Ministers. While he may be a highly regarded economist, he has almost no political experience, except for a period during 2004 – 2006, when he served as an economic adviser to George Papandreou.

Alexis Tsipras, the other main character in the play, can hardly be considered a mature politicians himself, having first been elected to the Greek Parliament in 2009. But initially both Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis were widely fêted by the European media for being a contrast to the previous government – young, handsome, tieless, bike riding (Varoufakis), living in a modest neighbourhood (Tsipras), etc. The media throughout Europe loved this and the message that the Greeks were going to take on the austerity camp in the EU. But it was not only the media and the population of various countries that appreciated the rising action in the Greek drama. Many political parties, such as Podemos and other populist movements, saw the Syriza as a white knight in shining armour riding to slay the austerity dragon and reclaim its democracy from the clutches of the dreaded Troika.

Indeed, many economists and politicians in the EU were actually in tune with the message that after five tortuous years, the emphasis had to change. Instead of unrelenting austerity, collapsing GDP, falling incomes and standards, increasing poverty, deflationary pressures, the emphasis simply had to shift to investment, growth and employment. This had to be combined with flexibility in the bailout programme’s target of a surplus of 4.5% of GDP, so that it could be redeployed to achieve Syriza’s programme objectives.

Therefore, a series of events and individuals came together in the second part of the play that created the basis for the next Act in the political drama.

Act 3. Climax

The climax is the turning point. If the story is a comedy, things will have gone badly for the protagonist up to this point; now, the plot will begin to unfold in his or her favour. If a tragedy, things will go from good to bad or bad to worse for the protagonist, often revealing their weaknesses.

However, although the media, general public, economists and politicians were generally well disposed to the Syriza agenda for easing austerity and focusing on growth, the next  set of events gradually but systematically turned against the Greek government, leading to a crescendo of criticism and recrimination.

The talk of war reparations, right at the beginning of the term of government did not go down too well in Germany. Yet Tsipras and Nikos Paraskevopoulos (Justice Minister) kept banging this particular drum to the tune of € 341 billion in compensation (about the same as the overall Greek debts), knowing full well that this would goad German public opinion at a critical time in Greece’s negotiations. This was naïve to say the least and resulted in a general feeling on the part of the Germans of being blackmailed.  Just to add a bit fuel to the fire, Panos Kammenos (Defence Minister, Independent Greeks) seemed to consider it appropriate to threaten to send Islamist fundamentalists to Germany from among tens of thousands of migrants currently in Greece in revenge for the austerity measures he felt had been imposed on Greece by the Germans. That turned up the heat nicely, not least because other people had been under the impression that the Greeks had chosen to remain in the EU and Euro, sign-up to be bailout and take the bitter medicine of internal devaluation.

The choice of Varoufakis to negotiate the EU bailout was a little unfortunate. Varoufakis may well be a brilliant economist and he may well know more about the ins and outs of the financial crisis than all the other 27 EU Ministers of Finance put together. However, lecturing to them from the off was never going to be a winning strategy. From the beginning there was a fundamental personality and ideology clash between himself and Wolfgang Schäuble, the powerful, experienced and prickly German Minister of Finance, who wasted no time in making it clear to the Greek negotiators that their programme was unrealistic, their promises to their electorate had been misleading and that there would still be conditionality in negotiating EU bailouts.

The basic assumption which characterised the Greek position from day one was that they had the Eurozone countries by the balls and that they simply had to squeeze long and hard enough for their demands would be acceded to. In other words, the basis of negotiations, perhaps informed by game theory,  was that the Eurozone countries feared a Greek default and the contagion that would follow, and that this had the potential to deal a mortal blow to the Euro and the EU project.

But the EU finance ministers did not seem to be cowed by this threat, which I consider to be the worlds´s biggest game of chicken. Greece’s most natural allies in the anti-austerity movement, namely Italy and France, were quickly put off by the strident tones and lack of willingness to compromise. The Spaniards, Portuguese, Irish and Cypriots who were also following the internal devaluation route proved to be even more resistant to backing the Greek cause, no doubt fearful of similar populist movements in their own countries. And the northern group of EU countries, especially Germany, Finland, Slovakia, etc. and others were anxious of the consequences of capitulating to Greece’s insistent demands. As I previously wrote, moral hazard is the main reason why Syriza could not and will not force an EU capitulation. If the Greeks could manage to drive a coach and horses through the bailout terms and conditions, would others be tempted to follow their lead and would this be sustainable for the rest of the Eurozone?

The demand for 50% debt relief was denied, though everyone recognises that the current level of state indebtedness (180% of GDP and rising) is not sustainable and will need to be tackled at some point in the future, during calmer global economic times. There certainly was recognition of the need to allow Greece to use more of its primary budget surplus over the next few years. But Greece’s steely determination to avoid as conditionality to the extent possible in the future Eurozone rescue package, whilst simultaneously dismantling the few reforms implemented so far, such as rolling back privatisation, reemployment of former public employees and raising wages and pensions which it can ill afford, only served to harden opinion against Greece. The consequence after five months of intense negotiations and diplomacy is that remarkably little agreement exists on the overall package of reforms necessary to secure the latest tranche of the EU bailout worth Euro 7.2 billion.

It is tempting to conclude that the single most notable Greek achievement appears to have been the rebranding of the “Troika” into the “Institutions”.  This would be unfair, but everyone has noted the Greek government’s populist tendencies. Progress has been made on the reform programme, but there appear to be insurmountable sticking points, such as the primary surplus targets, VAT reform, privatization targets, minimum wage levels and pension reforms. These are all issues which impinge directly upon the country’s fiscal base and thus its debt sustainability, which is why both sides are sticking grimly to their guns.

Within a few months, the almost complete inability to make progress on these sticking points has raised tensions to critical levels. The resulting lack of confidence and trust means that several high-profile individuals no longer negotiate directly. Varoufakis has been removed from the Greek negotiating team for his abrasiveness and style. Schäuble has been side-lined because of his prickly relationship with Varoufakis and his conclusion that the way forward is a “velvet Grexit”.  Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission and one of the key remaining Greek allies, has expressed his anger and frustration at Tsipras’ misrepresentation of the EU proposals. Many others have vented their frustration with the main protagonists of the Greek drama. The IMF has packed its bags and gone back to Washington saying it was pointless to stay while the two sides remain so far apart. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice-chancellor recently said that Europe and Germany will not let themselves be blackmailed or let the exaggerated electoral pledges of a partly communist government be paid for by German workers.

These almost unprecedented accusations and counter-accusations serve to harden positions and will make it ever more difficult to achieve compromise in the coming days. Instead of seeking common ground, the Greek Prime Minister reacted by accusing the IMF of “criminal responsibility” for the situation and that its creditors were seeking to “pillage”, “humiliate” and “asphyxiate” his country. For good measure, he added that if Greece fails, it will be the beginning of the end of the Eurozone.

As if that was not enough, others are raising the stakes. Germany’s EU Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger argues that Greece could face a “state of emergency” on 01 July 2015 and Josef Kollar, the vice chairman of Slovakia’s Finance Committee, accused the Greek prime minister of “swindling the whole world” and that “Politics should … be based on economic reality. And in reality, the drachma would be a rescue for Greece.”

The climax was reached in the third Act: there are open rifts and recriminations, the likelihood of Grexit is openly talked about, emergency measures and being discussed and a return to the Greek drachma is widely speculated upon.

Act 4. Falling action

During the falling action phase, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, with the protagonist winning or losing against the antagonist. The falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt.

During mid-late June 2015, we enter the 4th and penultimate Act of the Greek drama. Nothing less than the future of Greece in the Eurozone is at stake. Unless Greece honours the € 1.5 billion repayment due to the IMF on 30 June, it is likely to default. Yannis Stournaras, the Governor of the Bank of Greece, has pitched-in to confirm that his country does not have enough funds to pay the IMF and sketch a less than reassuring scenario of the likely consequences of default.

The only solution is to resolve the critical sticking points in the little time that is left. In the past, I would have bet my bottom dollar in the EU’s ability to manage this. Today, following all the posturing and bickering, I am doubtful that the remaining issues can be resolved and a possible EU rescue package can be approved by the Eurozone governments in time for the IMF payment on 30 June 2015.  At the same time, the game theorists among the Fine Young Radicals remain convinced that the EU will shrink from pressing the euro Armageddon button and Greece will win take the prize.

Freytag’s pyramid predicts that the falling action may contain a moment of final suspense, in which the final outcome of the conflict is in doubt. There is only one politician with the stature to change the entrenched dynamics, and I certainly do not refer to either Mr Cameron or Mr Hollande, whose lack of leadership and vision is palpable. A last-minute intervention by Mrs Angela Merkel is the only hope for a compromise that satisfies all parties sufficiently to get a deal done but, as usual, she is keeping her cards close to her chest until there is no alternative but to act. But perhaps the situation is already past the point of acting.

At the moment, it is far from clear whether the protagonist or the antagonist will win the day. But in a way, it does not really matter because we have already entered uncharted territory where there will only be losers in this Greek tragedy.

Act 5. Dénouement

The comedy ends with a dénouement in which the protagonist is better off than at the story’s outset. The tragedy ends with a catastrophe, in which the protagonist is worse off than before.

And so we enter the final Act, but it is not clear whether this drama is a comedy, a tragedy or a mixture of the two.

It is still possible for the conflict to be resolved, reducing the tension and stress in Greece and Europe. If this happens, Tsipras, Varoufakis and the rest will be fêted for their high stakes brinkmanship and other countries will undoubtedly try to replicate the methodology deployed by the Greek government. But will this end happily for the Greeks and for Europe? I very much doubt it. There may be a rolling back from the reforms that the Troika/Institutions have been seeking so as to raise Greece´s own competitiveness, but this will only make it harder and take longer for Greece to regain economic traction compared with its neighbours. There may be further debt relief, but even if the level of indebtedness is scaled back to the supposedly sustainable level of 120% of GDP, the Greek economy would still need to perform well consistently for a stretch of time so as to avoid its debts mounting-up rapidly. There may also be implementation of many of the measures that the Syriza has been insisting upon and which are the source of the stalemate, but these will come at the expense of the Eurozone countries for the foreseeable future, many of which are significantly poorer than Greece and resent having to subsidise the Greeks’ minimum wages, pensions, etc. The seeds of doubt about the merits of continuing Eurozone membership have already been sown and will start germinating. If other countries such as Spain and Portugal follow the Greek model (moral hazard), several of the net EU contributors, not least Germany, may conclude that the limits of the EU and Eurozone have not only been reached but surpassed. As for the Greeks themselves, they may be in greater control of their own destiny but the reforms that have been so elusive in the past will still need to be implemented, which is not a given. Whatever happens, the Greek citizens will realise that austerity will not, in fact, have been stopped. Furthermore, unless the economy starts performing much more strongly, the latest tranche of the EU bailout will not last long. But after the extreme stress and friction of negotiating this agreement, there may not be much enthusiasm for another full bailout. The game theorists must realise that this is a consequence of their winner-takes-all and at-all-costs strategy. Grexit will remain a possibility. Or perhaps the Syriza government will begin to collect tax revenues vigorously, introduce effective reforms exceeding all expectations and pull the country back from the brink. The past is not necessarily a predictor of the future, but I doubt this will happen without strong and timely global growth to lift all boats, including the Greek one.

But it is possible, indeed likely, based on the latest statements emanating from all sides, that this Greek tragedy will end in catastrophe – yet another word of Greece origin. If Greece does not make the IMF repayment due on 01 July 2015, it is quite possible that a political rabbit will be pulled out of the bag and default will be averted. Angela Merkel is apparently fond of the saying: where there is a will, there is a way. But based on the current situation, sooner rather than later, the country will run out of money. At that point, all hell will break loose, despite all the warm and comforting reassurances from politicians that firewalls are in place to avoid contagion that would wreak havoc across Europe and possibly other parts of the world.

As I wrote in a separate blog post: Eastern Europe went through variants of shock therapy in the 1990s and the Russians, Poles and all the others will confirm that very little was predicted by economic theory, that recovery took much longer than anticipated and that they have absolutely no desire to ever experience such wanton destruction again. I would not wish this upon Greece or any other nation. I would much rather another round of muddling through in the classical European way instead of the destructive, unpredictable catharsis that is being floated. But I also know that many would disagree and not just in Greece.”

Having reflected on the last five months since the election of the Greek government, I am tending to the conclusion that the Greek drama may well end in a dénouement / catastrophe / catharsis resulting from the Fine Young Radicals’ refusal to compromise. They will take the hit, re-establish the drachma or something similar and do their best to move forward. Greece will then be fully in charge of its monetary policy, its currency, its dignity and everything else that its people, in an act of mass amnesia, believe Germany and the other Eurozone countries have taken away from them in the last five years. Of course, they cannot then expect further EU bailouts, will have to live within their own financial means and will rely on their own politicians to navigate the process of regaining international competitiveness.

Hold on! For a second I almost forgot that this is precisely the scenario that the Greek citizens have been bending over backwards and executing double somersaults to avoid. For otherwise they would surely have voted to exit the Euro/Eurozone/EU in one of their previous two general elections, rather than willingly go through the latest acts of this excruciating Greek drama.

Perhaps it really is true that we cannot have it both ways… even in the EU.


Britain has taken away my right to vote (and I want it back)

With the British General Election due on 07 May 2015, I tried to register to vote as a Brit living in Germany. Imagine my shock at discovering that not only has my right to vote been taken away from me, but I will never again be entitled to vote in any future British election. Britain has just withdrawn my fundamental democratic right without a warning or right to appeal against it.

Gobsmacked? Join the club, because so am I. In what is supposed to be one of the oldest parliamentary democracies, Parliament has withdrawn what I always believed to be one of my most fundamental rights for the rest of my life.

You are perhaps thinking that I must have done something to have lost my democratic rights. I have lost my right to vote because Parliament has determined that I have lived too long away from the UK. This is otherwise known as the “15 Year Rule” whereby British citizens automatically lose their democratic right to vote in British elections; they simply fall into the grey Zone that I now find myself in. By virtue of being in a European Union country, I am at least eligible to vote in German local, regional and European elections, but not their national elections, since I am not a German citizen. As of today, I know that I shall never again be able to vote in any election in Britain unless I return to the UK, when my rights would be restored.

So it is worth asking why is this the case? Is there something logical and reasonable about the 15 Year Rule or is it an arbitrary decision taken by Parliament which deprives people of their democratic right to vote?

The main rationale for the 15 Year Rule appears to be to limit the vote to only those who are affected by decisions made in Westminster or who have retained ties with the UK. If so, there are serious problems with this line of argument.

Is this a throwback to a long gone colonial era where people migrated to some distant land, lost complete touch with their country of origin and never returned to the UK? If so, Parliament is woefully out of touch with the world of today.

Who is to say that I am no longer affected by the decisions made by Parliament? For example, I have and continue to contribute to the UK State Pension and the decisions made by Parliament will certainly affect me until the day I die. Secondly who is to say that I have now lost my ties with the UK? My parents, my brother and my oldest and closest friends live in the UK. With globalisation, cheaper international travel and the ICT revolution, they are ever more accessible to me than ever before, even though I may not be physically in the UK. I believe I am at least as well informed and in touch with social, political and economic developments in the UK than the average voter, so why should I be penalised in this arbitrary manner? Does living across the Channel in “Europe” automatically mean that I have lost touch with Britain after a predetermined period of time? And who can decide whether the cut-off point should be 1, 5, 15, 25, 50 years or the day I die?

I do not accept at all that a 15 Year Rule or indeed any other time or other restriction should apply, especially in today´s day and age where the internet and international travel have shrunk space while increasing accessibility to almost everything. It is not only the apparently arbitrary nature of the rule that I object to; it also appears to be punitive and anti-democratic to force people like me into a grey zone where I shall never again be eligible to vote in any future British election unless I return to the UK.

The supposition that my links, connections and interests to and in the UK are somehow automatically lost after 15 years spent abroad is neither logical nor defensible. It amounts to little more than a hypothesis which cannot be proven, except at the individual level. It is equally arbitrary to automatically return all my democratic rights if and when I choose to return to the UK. I could then immediately leave again and be eligible to vote for another 15 years and keep doing the same thing over and over again. But why should I resort to doing this?

On the other hand, Article 25 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, … without unreasonable restrictions: (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” The 15 Year rule would appear to be amount to an “unreasonable restriction” and thus to contravene this Covenant, which Britain has signed and ratified.

The situation becomes even more interesting when one examines the data on overseas voters. Firstly, the problem is very well-known to government (see “Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15“, 2014). Secondly, a mere 15,818 such overseas voters are actually registered to vote, which is remarkably few. Thirdly and most interestingly, there are actually a staggering 4.7 – 5.5 million potential overseas voters, only 1% of whom are currently registered to vote in the UK. The total number of eligible electors in 2014 was 45 million, so about 5 million amounts to potentially over 10% of the electorate. It is not known how many of the 99% are, like me, artificially debarred from voting by the 15 Year Rule, but it must be a significant number.

The current situation is an anti-democratic disgrace. The House of Commons report “Voter engagement in the UK, Fourth Report of Session 2014–15” stressed that something had to be done about overseas voters by the 2015 General Election:

“Although British citizens are only entitled to register to vote for UK elections if they were resident in the UK in the previous 15 years, it is clear that only a very small percentage of those who are likely to be eligible to register to vote are actually on the electoral register. It is not acceptable that such a small proportion of this franchise is registered to vote” (Paragraph 90)

However, it failed to make a recommendation about the 15 Year Rule itself. As far as I can see, the Government has simply ignored both issues. It is interesting to note that Germany used to have a 25 Year Rule, which was a much longer period of time than the current UK rule. However, the exclusion from the right to vote of German citizens residing outside the Member States of the Council of Europe who had departed from the Federal Republic of Germany more than 25 years previously was deleted in 2008, and with good reason.

With about 5 million votes at stake, many of which are affected by the 15 Year Rule, it is more than clear that it must be replaced by something logical, proportionate and democratic. At the very least, British citizens living in EU countries should be excluded from the 15 Year Rule. This would be a very partial improvement. The whole thing must be scrapped for all overseas voters.

Perhaps starting an ePetition after the General Election is over would be the way forward.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Europe is a litmus test: Britain and a possible EU Referendum

As expected, a key battleground of the British General Election due on 07 May 2015 concerns whether Britain should remain in or out of European Union (EU). The position of the main political parties is now clear namely that Labour, the LibDems and the SNP are all fighting the election on the basis that they wish to remain in the EU, whereas the Conservatives are fighting on the basis that if re-elected, they wish to hold a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay in or leave the EU. The Ukip party´s position is to leave the EU as soon as possible, preferably before 2017.  The manifesto positions are summarised here.

I have written about this the possible Referendum in 2017 before (British Voters and EUroscepticsm: much ado about nothing?), namely that it does not actually rank highly in the the average British voter´s list of priorities.  When the Ipsos MORI poll of January 2015 asked British voters about their top concerns, four issues predominated: healthcare (almost half of voters), economy (one-third) followed by asylum and immigration (one-quarter) and education/schools (one-fifth). Europe/EU as an issue is on par with unemployment, which at present is very low in the UK. Indeed, less than 10% of potential voters consider it to be of importance in their list of priorities. The same post also examined the full list of British voter priorities and concluded that they had very little to do with the EU, since they the vast majority of them, with the exception of EU immigration are largely or entirely the responsibility of the British government. In other words, voting for the Conservatives in order to have a referendum resulting in leaving the EU would change precious little in relation to the state of the NHS, the economy, the education system, the housing system and much else besides. The responsibly for these rests squarely with the British government, not with the EU.

There is, in my view, little or no point to quote research and studies regarding the economic and other consequences of leaving the EU. The fact is that both sides of the debate use the assumptions that best suit the conclusions that they they wish to arrive at. Ultimately, each voter will have to weigh up the pros and cons of staying and leaving the EU. The British voter had to do so in 1975 and chose to join the EU. I shall trust them to arrive at an appropriate conclusion in 2017, should the Conservatives regain power after the General Election.

I would note, however, that the Ukip has been simplifying the pros and cons of leaving the EU and, as I have previously discussed, have made strenuous efforts to conflate the issue of migration, use of the NHS, etc. with the EU which also underplaying the consequences of leaving the EU as soon as possible. By contrast the Conservatives have understood perfectly the consequences of leaving the EU but have simply pandered to their Eurosceptical wing while at the same time seeking to stop the hemorrhage of support in their traditional voters which have, until recent months, been increasingly warming to the dubious charms of the Ukip party.

The Labour party, unlike the LibDems and the SNP, initially gave the impression of sitting on the fence on this issue but have ultimately decided to stay in the EU, while reforming the EU budget and ensuring EU migration does not lead to workers’ wages being undercut.

On 07 April 2015, a leading British political figure waded into the debate and, for a change, it was not to denounce the EU, EU immigration, benefit scroungers and all the rest of the anti-EU rhetoric that has become common place in recent British politics. The person in question has this to say about the possible EU referendum, should the Conservatives be returned to power following the General Election:

“For me Europe is an important litmus test. I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation. It would be a momentous decision….

A decision to exit Europe would say a lot about us [United Kingdom] and none of it good: that an adventurous country has become a timid one; that one with global ambitions has opted to be a parochial bystander; that a country known for its openness to the world shuts the open door nearest to it; that a nation which has built its history on confidence towards others defines itself by resentment to others; that, with all the challenges of the world crowding in upon us, demanding strong and clear leadership, instead of saying ‘here’s where the world should go’, we say ‘count us out’. “

At last, a notable politician has the courage to stand up and be counted in relation to the importance of the EU to the UK and vice versa. The speech by this politician has been prominently reported but alas has also been widely dismissed for the simple reason that it was said by none other than Mr Tony Blair (Europe – a very good reason to vote Labour, 07 April 2015).

This is a terrible pity. Tony Blair has gone from being the darling of the left and the person that brought about Cool Britannia to achieving political pariah status in the years since he resigned in favour of Gordon Brown. The main reason for this is that he was he was blown off course by 9/11 and committed British troops to Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Of course, many seem to find his ability to amass a personal fortune since leaving public office galling, though it is entirely his right to do so and simply mirrors what other ex-Prime Ministers have done.

Personally, I believe that because of the so-called special relationship with the USA, almost any other British Prime Minister would have made the very same decisions that he did at the time and that, just like Margaret Thatcher before him, not only has he defined British politics since 1997 but his legacy continues to do so today.

I admire his capacity to communicate and I respect his political courage for making this speech on the UK and Europe.

 Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


Moral Hazard and the Future of the Eurozone

The blame game

I greatly sympathise with the argument that Greece and its citizens have been through the meat grinder, otherwise known as austerity, in the last six years. But this is categorically not because of the EU, the euro, the Troika or Germany. It is down to Greece and the Greeks. Ask the Britons about their own version of austerity, which is nowhere near its end stage with a further GBP 50 bln of cuts in public expenditure scheduled in the next five years. Britain is in the EU but not in the euro, however, there are similarities in the causes that have led to the austerity that both countries are facing for the foreseeable future. The difference is that Britain retains control over its currency and interest rates and is able to manipulate both, while still needing to undergo a painful process of austerity. Despite the most serious economic and social stresses and strains since WWII, the political parties are consistent about the journey in the next five-year term of office.

Contradictions galore

The Greeks chose to join the EU and the euro. In their last two general elections, they have chosen to remain in both. They must either live with the consequences or leave one or both. If Greece chooses to stay in the euro, the only option is to submit to the process of internal devaluation so as to regain competitiveness. Greece can choose to leave the euro but it knows full well that it will still have to submit to a different and rather more unpredictable form of pain that would follow as surely as night follows day. What Greece cannot do is to continue to want to have it both ways, namely to blame everyone else, row back completely from its obligations and totally unshackle itself from any conditionality connected with on-going eurozone support.

I have already written two other posts about the future of the eurozone, centred on Greece and the current phase of uncertainty about the future of Europe:

  • The first focuses on Syriza and its commitments, which are contradictory and impossible to achieve given Greece’s current financial circumstances. It has also chosen a completely unsuitable coalition partner, when it had various more reasonable options. This is a serious miscalculation by its Fine Young Radical leadership.
  • The second focuses on the demands of the Greek leadership, which amounts to the world’s biggest game of chicken. The Greeks are assuming that the rest of the eurozone will blink first and simply cave-in to its demands so as to keep Greece in the euro, avoid contagion in the eurozone and possibly save the EU project as a whole. The new Greece wants to have its euro cake and eat it at the same time, but at the expense of all the other eurozone countries that have been standing by it through various rescue schemes. This approach is inconsistent with the principle that rescue packages must be time-limited, clearly earmarked and subject to conditionality otherwise, they become permanent transfers, which are illegal under both EU and national constitutional law.

Moral hazard and financial crises

This post focuses on the third reason why the Greek will, in the end, be unable to bounce the other eurozone countries into agreeing to its demands, leading ultimately to an abandonment of its major electoral platform. That reason is “moral hazard”, a pervasive and inevitable feature of the financial system and of the economy. Moral hazard arises when a contract or financial arrangement creates incentives for the party(ies) involved to behave against the interest of others.

Many of these moral hazards involve increased risk-taking: if I can take risks that you have to bear, then I may as well take them; but if I have to bear the consequences of my own risky actions, I will act more responsibly. Thus, inadequate control of moral hazards often leads to socially excessive risk-taking—and excessive risk-taking is certainly a recurring theme in the current financial crisis.

Turning back to the latest eurozone crisis, it is not so hard to see where the moral hazard arises from the Greek stance.

Greece, as well as the other countries bailed out by the eurozone countries, namely Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus, have benefited tremendously from being members of the EU in the first instance, as well as the ultra-low interest rates and other advantages of being part of the euro. All experienced sustained growth which delivered much higher levels of income and prosperity. The cause of the problems they commonly face was almost entirely self-imposed: they borrowed too much, paid themselves too much, relied on the construction sector too much and deregulated too much, all of which fuelled their economic growth until the bubble burst.  They can blame the banks and the fatcat banksters, they can blame the government, they can blame the establishment and clientelist elites, they can blame the EU, they can blame the euro, they can blame the troika, they can blame the Germans and they can blame the immigrants… and they certainly do. But facts are facts. Citizens borrowed too much, spent too much, focused too little on productivity, competitiveness and innovation, and kept voting-in politicians for more of the same. They did this for generations prior to even joining the EU and the advent of the euro, then accelerated the process until the music inevitably stopped.

To blame the EU and the eurozone countries for their plight, as Greece is currently, amounts to wilful collective amnesia. The Greeks want to stay in the EU and euro. They have taken on obligations connected with the various euro rescue packages which they now wish to roll back. There is no doubt that there has been and continues to be massive suffering and not just in Greece. I am all for finding solutions that generate economic development that allows Greece and others to turn the corner as soon as possible. I am all for productive, long-term investment. Greece desperately needs this, as does the rest of Europe.

There is no such thing as a free lunch

But I am not for debt forgiveness combined with rolling back all the commitments that the new Greek leadership insists upon. The reason is that it would amount to a permanent transfer union from all other eurozone countries to Greece, something which is not only forbidden but also increases moral hazard. If the other eurozone countries are expected to assume the resulting risk, then it cannot work. If I were Greek, I would be thrilled to reduce my own burdens while at the same time increasing my pension, my wages, my social benefits and all the rest of it, knowing that someone else will foot the bill. I would certainly agree with the thinking: “Let the strong eurozone countries carry the burden. They can afford it. I have suffered enough.”

This is at the one and same time totally logical and yet totally unconscionable, but it is precisely what would happen. Once the Greeks are granted their 50% debt relief and released from the conditionality of the eurozone rescue packages why should the country reform itself as the new Greek leadership promises? More importantly, why should the rot stop there? It is quite clear that the Podemos movement in Spain is carefully watching developments and others also look on with great interest. Once the principle of debt relief and release from conditionality is established, what is likely to happen at the next general election in those countries? If other anti-austerity parties are elected, would they not reasonably expect similar treatment from the eurozone countries?

It might be possible to absorb the resulting losses and implied on-going costs in the case of Greece, but the euro game would be up soon after. No one could afford it. This applies to Germany as much as to any other eurozone country that has been backstopping the various eurozone rescue packages.

I am resident of Germany and a taxpayer there and I can assure you that I do not fancy this scenario at all. You can take it for granted that my neighbours, no matter how Europhile they may be, care for it even less. While they may go on holiday to other countries of the EU, they have not lived and worked elsewhere and therefore do not have the friendships and family networks that I do and even I am dubious about this future. Germans are financially conservative not by nature but as a direct result of horrific experiences with financial and other catastrophes within living memory. Its ageing population structure simply reinforces this tendency. If moral hazard takes hold in the eurozone, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Germany might experience a rapid and pronounced disenchantment with the EU and the euro. Were this to occur, it would be an unmitigated disaster for Europe.

I believe the new Greek government will fail with most of its contradictory anti-austerity drive. Its programme is completely unrealistic (except for their insistence that austerity must be counteracted with a pro-growth, productive investment programme), EU and national constitutional law forbid a transfer union and the obvious moral hazard connected with all other eurozone countries mean that this simply cannot be accepted.

The current Greek position would directly increase moral hazard in the EU to an unprecedented degree. If other countries were to follow suit, moral hazard will reach hitherto unimaginable levels. If I take a risk, I should bear the consequences. But if I take a risk at someone else’s expense, then it becomes moral hazard and I would consider this new EU and eurozone, where I would have to pay on an on-going basis for other countries’ decisions, to be little short of an economic nightmare. I would be in hock to third parties for the rest of my life, as would my children and my grandchildren.

I would remind the Greek Fine Young Radical leadership, as well as all the economists out there pushing for the eurozone to give-in to the Greek’s apparently reasonable anti-austerity, pro-growth demands, of a universal truth: there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone will have to pay for it and I have no intention to be paying lunch for complete strangers from elsewhere in the EU for the foreseeable future.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


British Voters and EUroscepticsm: much ado about nothing?

A Historic Turning Point Coming Up?

British voters are weighing up their options, but a strong element of anti-EU sentiment can be detected. The General Election scheduled for 05 May 2015 may well be turn out to be historic. If the Conservative Party wins, it is committed to holding a straight in/out referendum in 2017 about whether Britain is to remain in the EU or not. Previous posts have discussed the role of the eurosceptic Conservative wing and the role played by the Ukip party in the hardening Conservative and Labour Party stance in relation to the EU and EU-related immigration. Previous posts have also discussed a growing anti-Euro and anti-Islam sentiment in Germany, though it is materially different and not as pervasive as in the UK. No obvious anti-EU sentiment can be detected, which is why this post focuses mainly on Britain.

A reading of opinion polls illustrates that the balance of British public opinion, which has never exactly been EUphoric since joining in 1973, appears to be turning stringently EUrosceptic. The common assumption among quite a few politicians and a large segment of the media seems to be that life would become instantly better if only Britain would jettison membership of the EU, regain “control over its borders”, thus stopping “uncontrolled” migration along with excessive “interference” from Brussels in British affairs. But is this really the case? How much would actually change overnight, as far as the voters’ priorities are concerned?

Voter Priorities (2010-2015)

With the British general election not so far away, it is worth asking: just how much would actually change in people’s lives if the UK were to leave EU in terms of immediately improving life in Britain, based on the issues that matter to voters? To address this thought experiment, I have used the latest Ipsos MORI poll which asks about the top concerns of British voters.

British voter priorities 2010-2015

In January 2015 four issues predominated in terms what is important to voters, namely healthcare (almost half), economy (one-third) followed by asylum and immigration (27%) and education/schools (20%). Europe/EU as an issue is on par with unemployment, which at present is a pretty low rate in the UK (less than 10% note it as being important). A further five issues are of some importance in terms of voting intentions (benefits, taxation, housing, foreign affairs and pensions).

Table 1 shows some change since 2010, but the top four priorities have been fairly consistent. What is noticeable, however, is that whereas economy and education have not changed, both health and immigration have risen significantly in importance to British voters since 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, housing is increasing in importance but remains a secondary priority for British voters.

Voter Priorities and UK vs. EU Responsibilities

On the basis of the voter’s priorities, it is worth asking the question: what exactly are the responsibilities of the British Government and what is affected by the EU? On the basis of this question, it is possible to assess what might change for Britons.

UK EU competencies

Below I discuss these issues briefly, focusing first on the top four voter priorities:

  • Health: The Department of Health is entirely responsible for the NHS in terms of budget, priorities, reforms, etc. The main EU influence is in enabling the citizens of the EU-28 to be fully covered when they go to other EU countries without the need for additional health insurance for work, holidays, study, etc. It also allows people to choose where they wish to be treated, if the services are better or waiting lists are shorter. Health Tourism is an issue concerning non-EU citizens, rather than for EU ones. Nothing dramatic would change tomorrow, if the UK were to leave the EU in terms of quality of care, waiting lists, response rates or any of the other key issues of concern to the British voter. If anything, choice is likely to be reduced and extra costs incurred when British citizens travel to the EU. In terms of EU residents living in the UK and their use of the health service, not much would change. If they are working, they are also paying for the NHS through their National Insurance contributions. Otherwise, they would have to insure themselves privately and still have access to health in Britain. The exception would be if the UK chooses to deport, something that is barely imaginable. Verdict: no change. There are no magical solutions to the problems of the health service in Britain. The trends are neither recent nor connected with membership of the EU.
  • Economy: the UK is entirely in charge of its macro- and micro-economic destiny, since it is not part of the euro and thus not affected by the eurozone rules. The UK can affect its interest rates and implement quantitative easing to its heart’s content. The Stability and Growth Pact does have requirements, such as no budget deficits greater than 3% of GDP, no public debt exceeding 60% of GDP without diminishing by 5% per year on average over 3 years. Verdict: nothing would change. The UK and many other countries have greatly exceeded these limits at a time of serious economic and financial concerns. Britain is 100% in charge of its destiny, unlike Greece, Spain, etc. The Chancellor has already set in train further drastic reductions in public expenditure in the next period of Government. There is nothing about the programme of austerity that the British Government can pin on the EU, which is probably why this has not been tried, unlike for example Greece.
  • Asylum/immigration: as I have previously discussed, there are three elements here. Firstly, the UK is entirely in charge of its asylum policy and can choose who to let in and who to keep out. The same applies to non-EU immigration, which Britain is entirely in charge of. These elements comprised over 68% of immigration (together with Britons returning to the UK). The EU cannot and does not interfere with this but the balance (32%) is EU migrants. Many international companies are based in Britain that require access to the global pool of human resources to maintain their standards and profitability. On balance, basing a decision to leave the EU because of the freedom of movement of people principle and perceptions of “uncontrolled immigration” in the last decade does not appear to be justified. The unemployment rate remains at 5.8% (compared with 6.5% in Germany and 11.4% in the EU), despite a long period of intense economic and financial crisis. A critical issue that affects voter sentiment is net wages, which is determined by the companies located in Britain, as well as the public employers. If Britain were to stop EU and any other form of immigration (it is doubtful that employers would welcome this) the perceived pressures on health, housing and social services would not change since most EU immigrants would presumably remain. The exception is if such a police were to be combined with (forced) repatriation, which is unimaginable at the present time. If so, in theory Britain would have to make allowance for the 1.3 million Britons in other EU countries to return from EU countries to the UK. Verdict: possible short-term gain but likely long-term loss. The change would affect 32% of Immigration (2012 data) at the very most, but asylum and immigration would not end. There would only be perceptible changes, if a policy of terminating EU immigration were to be combined with deportation. I cannot imagine the average British voter wanting this or the consequences of enforcing such a policy.
  • Education/schools: this is entirely the responsibility of the UK and the pressures have been decades in the making. The issue that the EU has concentrated on is harmonizing qualifications and certification to ensure greater scope for freedom of movement of workers. This is advantageous for Britons as well as for others. Verdict: no change. The children of EU migrants make-up a small percentage of all children in schools across the country. If their parents are working here, they are entitled to study in Britain unless the Government and the British electorate wishes to evoke the deportation route.

So in terms of the most important issues to UK voters, there is not a huge amount of immediate gain from Brexit, based on the top four voter priorities. I am not even going to discuss the possible losses which would be the consequence of gaining control over EU immigration. Britain is already in charge of two of the three key elements of immigration, which makes up the majority of immigration. It is an island, which gives it more protection than others in the era of globalisation. The fear that there is uncontrolled immigration from the EU is overdone. When the economic downturn started, many EU migrants simply left the UK of their own accord and the migratory pattern turned towards Germany instead, the only EU country experiencing strong economic growth. When the UK economy started growing again in mid-2014, the immigration trend started reversing (though probably influenced by the A2 countries,namely Romania and Bulgaria). In any case, if the unemployment rate is 5.8% and decreasing, it is worth asking the question: who is employing the EU migrants and benefiting from their contribution to the economy, to tax inflows and to company profits? Might the answer be Britons and Britain? If the real issue is decreasing net wages and benefits in Britain, the question is who is gaining from this development? Might the answer be certain segments of British society?

Below I address the remaining voter priorities:

  • Europe/EU: The issue which the EU insist on is that the freedom of movement of people (as well as goods, services, capital) be maintained, allowing all EU citizens to travel for tourism, study, work and retirement purposes. Many, if not most Britons, enjoy some or all of these freedoms in one way or another. 1.3 million Briton live in other EU countries, and a large number travel, work, study, invest (e.g. second homes and pension funds) or retire in EU countries. This is something which is currently taken for granted at present. I believe the loss will be felt much more rapidly and keenly than most British voters may realise.
  • Unemployment: leaving the EU might result in less European migrants, but it would not put an end to EU immigration or lead to zero unemployment. British-based enterprises compete globally for many skills essential to maintain productivity and innovation. I doubt that there would be a significant reduction in qualified labour coming from the EU.It is not certain that the agricultural, tourism, hospitality, etc. businesses would be able to satisfy their needs simply from UK-based sources. There might be a reduction in less qualified labour and thus in unemployment but this is unlikely to be more one or two percentage points and will lead to other pressures. Verdict: possible short term gain but likely long term loss.
  • Benefits: very few EU migrants claim benefits. Immigrants were 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK natives during 2000-2011. They are also less likely to live in social housing than the UK born population. EU migrants of working age who are not students, not in employment and receive some kind of state benefit, amount to 39,000 or less than 1% of all foreign nationals in the UK and 1% of all EU nationals in the UK.  Recent analysis of 23 out of 27 EU countries shows that there are at least 30,000 Britons claiming unemployment benefit in countries around the EU. In other words 2.5% of Britons in other EU countries are claiming unemployment benefits, roughly the same as EU nationals doing the same in Britain. The numbers are tiny: the political and media coverage of this issue is completely disproportionate. If this is the case, an even smaller sub-set of them are living in Britain for benefit tourism/abuse purposes. Verdict: no change (but one less emotive topic for certain parts of the media and politicians to bang their biased drum about).
  • Taxation: the UK is in entirely in charge of all its taxes, including Corporate Income Tax, Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax and VAT. Verdict: no change.
  • Housing: The UK is entirely in charge of its housing policy, construction, planning system, etc. There would be fewer EU immigrants, which might affect the housing situation in terms of rent levels and house prices. However, this would only be a marginal effect since the trend in housing supply, demand and pricing is a long term trend of over 30 years and any nationality is able to buy property in Britain. I have already referred to the fact that fewer recent immigrants claim benefits and live in social housing than the UK born population. Verdict: no change. I have written the first of my blog posts comparing the British and German housing systems to illustrate aspects of this point.
  • Foreign affairs: in terms of foreign affairs this role is, to some extent, coordinated with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for specific issues. In the main, each EU nation does its own thing and Britain is no different.
  • Pensions: the UK is entirely in charge of the retirement age, contributions, qualifying years, minimum state pension pensions, etc. The EU facilitates freedom of movement of people and capital, so develops rules to ensure that if people work in different countries, that their contributions are acknowledged and count towards their overall pension entitlement. Furthermore, it seeks to ensure, under the same two freedoms, that Britons and others can receive their state pension in any of the EU-28 countries without suffering from arbitrary reductions, cancellations, fees, etc. Since many Britons enjoy their retirement in the sun and have bought second homes in other EU countries (rather more than is the case in terms of EU nationals buying properties in the UK), it would appear that to be well worth remaining in the EU.

EUroscepticism: much ado about nothing?

Ultimately, it is up for each voter to assess their personal gain or loss from staying in or leaving the EU. Based on the analysis above, the anti-EU sentiment is much ado about nothing, as far as the most important issues to voters are concerned, except for the freedom of movement of people. The EU has helped to secure so many rights and opportunities across all 28 nations that it is hard to imagine life without them. It is not simply that not much would change overnight. A moment of reflection on what would be rolled back as a result of leaving the EU, should show just how much we perceive as being normal and do not even actively consider. The fact is that we usually do not miss that which we take for granted… until it is no longer there.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU

 

 

 

 

 

 


The British Question: shall we stay or shall we leave the EU?

Since joining the European Union (or EEC at the time) in 1973, the United Kingdom has had an ambivalent attitude to being a member of the European Union (EU). The British general election due in May 2015 will determine whether Britain will hold a referendum over whether to stay or leave the EU. The skirmishes over the “British Question” or “Brexit”, in other words, whether Britain is to remain a part of the EU or not started long before the General Election.

EU Red Lines for Britain Staying

When Mr Jean-Claude Juncker sought to become the President of the European Commission (EC) his election manifesto had five priorities, the first four of which were:
• Creating jobs and growth.
• A European energy Union (diversify our energy sources, and reduce the energy dependency).
• A balanced trade agreement with the USA.
• Reform of the monetary union with a greater focus on social aspects (governance in the Eurozone beyond the ECB, reform of support to Eurozone countries in financial difficulties to take into account of the social impacts and strengthen the Eurozone’s voice in the IMF).

So far so good – nothing unexpected there. However, it is Mr Jean-Claude Juncker’s fifth priority (reproduced below with the original emphasis) that was a little bit unexpected and gave rise to the title of this post.

A fifth and last priority for me as Commission President will be to give an answer to the British question. No reasonable politician can ignore the fact that, during the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the United Kingdom. We have to do this if we want to keep the UK within the European Union – which I would like to do as Commission President. As Commission President, I will work for a fair deal with Britain. A deal that accepts the specificities of the UK in the EU, while allowing the Eurozone to integrate further. The UK will need to understand that in the Eurozone, we need more Europe, not less. On the other hand, the other EU countries will have to accept that the UK will never participate in the euro, even if we may regret this. We have to accept that the UK will not become a member of the Schengen area. And I am also ready to accept that the UK will stay outside new EU institutions such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, meant to improve the fight against fraud in the EU, but clearly rejected by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We have to respect such clear positions of the British Parliament, based on the British “opt out” Protocol. David Cameron has recently written down a number of further key demands in an article published in the Daily Telegraph. As Commission President, I will be ready to talk to him about these demands in a fair and reasonable manner. My red line in such talks would be the integrity of the single market and its four freedoms; and the possibility to have more Europe within the Eurozone to strengthen the single currency shared so far by 18 and soon by 19 Member States. But I have the impression that this is as important for Britain as it will be for the next President of the Commission.

 

This was a remarkably explicit statement from a man seeking high political office at a point in time when he was far from certain of being successful in his bid to lead the EC. This uncertainty was largely due to a high-profile initiative on the part of the British government, led by the Prime Minister himself, to ensure that Mr Juncker did not become the President of the EC. Yet Mr Juncker won resoundingly, despite colourful rumours floating around about his alleged drinking habits.

There was a steely underlying determination to recognise but not pander to UK demands: the four freedoms of movement (of capital, people, goods and services) are non-negotiable, the UK can continue to opt out, but the Eurozone will continue its march towards further integration, so as to strengthen the Euro. But it is interesting to note the absence of a broad commitment towards “an ever-closer union”, 1957 Treaty of Rome, except in the context of the Eurozone countries.

Six months into his mandate as President of the EU, Mr Juncker has underlined his views of the British Question. On the 18 January 2015, he publicly floated the idea of a British exit (or Brexit) from the EU for the first time. Mr Juncker not only compared Britain’s membership of the EU to a “doomed love affair” but also suggested that it might be time to call it a day. He rounded off his comments by warning David Cameron that he will not be “grovelling” for the UK to stay in the EU during future negotiations. What was previously a personal “red line” prior to his election to the most influential of the EU’s Presidential posts, has now become the official EU one.

British Red Lines for leaving the EU

An answer to the British Question it is due now, in the run-up to the British General Election on 05 May 2015. Britain has been largely ambivalent towards the EU, tending to focus on the economy and trade issues and, for a period of time when it suited its economy and voters, enlargement of the EU. Due to a combination of the Eurosceptic wing within the Conservative Party and the growing influence of the Ukip, should they win the election, the Conservative Party has pledged to allow the voters a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU unless the current terms of membership are renegotiated. There is, of course, the possibility that the Conservatives will not win but the ambivalence towards the EU is more than likely to remain. Mr Juncker’s red lines are presumably of importance, regardless of whether the Conservatives win the general election or not.

The Conservative attempts at EU reform which would satisfy its Eurosceptic wing and win back Ukip defectors included renegotiated of the terms of EU membership, such as the principle of freedom of movement of people. The explicit aim was to find an acceptable half way house between “uncontrolled” and “no” immigration.

David Cameron has stressed that he favours staying in a reformed EU but that Britain will “rule nothing out” if the changes required are not made, some of which will necessitate EU treaty changes. There are several problems with this position, which the British Government is well aware of: treaty change requires the agreement of 28 member states, all member states are highly averse to such treaty changes because of the debacle of the aborted attempt to develop a EU constitution, several countries are required to hold referendums in relation to such changes and, quite simply, there is not enough time to undertake such changes before the UK referendum is due in 2017. Apart from anything else, why should other member states do anything unless and until there is a Conservative Government in power post May 2015? The insistence on EU treaty change appears to be a lot of hot air blown by the British government, which other politicians and the EU representatives are willing to play along with. There are obviously messages to be put out to the British voter between now and the general election.

For the British is it a serious matter: asylum and immigration are among the top four issues that are likely to determine the outcome of the general election. Consequently, the PM David Cameron has set out his own (latest) version of his “red lines” most recently in November 2014:

  • Workers from the EU: ban EU nationals from claiming in-work benefits or social housing in Britain for four years. No child benefits or tax credits paid for children living outside the UK.
  • Unemployed EU migrants: deport jobless migrants if they do not get work for six months.
  • Other: veto EU enlargement unless the new country impose controls on the movement of their workers until their economies reach UK levels, restrict EU migrants bringing in family members from outside the EU, longer bans on rough sleepers, beggars and fraudsters returning to the UK and tougher rules on deporting foreign criminals.

Notice that there is no mention of EU treaty changes, change to the principle of freedom of movement or renegotiation of the current terms of EU membership. The British Red Lines are highly specific and, to my mind, do not amount to a radical change in the British position within the EU. For the British government it seems as it the British Question or whether to remain in the EU or not simply boils down to these issues.

Early skirmishes over the red lines

The British Question is already being addressed by the two most influential people, namely Mrs Angela Merkel and Mr Jean-Claude Juncker. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made the position of the German government clear. In the same way as Mr Juncker and any other leader of the other 27 EU members, in her 07 January 2015 visit to the UK she said at the joint press conference with Mr Cameron: “We have no doubt about the principle of freedom of movement being in any way questioned.” Taking his cue from those words, in a speech on 18 January 2015, Mr Juncker said: “When one mentions the end of the free circulation of workers, there can be no debate, dialogue or compromise.” Not much wiggle room for Mr Cameron there. He added that: “We can fight against abuses, but the EU won’t change the treaties to satisfy the whim of certain politicians.” No other EU nation state has questioned the freedom of movement principle. Mr Juncker also added a dimension which is rather pertinent to Britain’s economy, dominated as it is by the financial industry: “if you question the free movement of workers, Great Britain has to know that one day the free movement of capital will also be called into question.” Do I detect an attempt by the EU to outflank Britain?

The Conservative Party if left with a weak hand: despite the threat to pull out of the EU if it does not get its way; its bluff is being called. Britain is on to a loser in terms of both treaty change and/or reform of the freedom of movement principle. The British government knows it, hence the reasons for the watered down version of Mr Cameron’s red lines above.

The only chink of light for the British government is in relation to cracking down on welfare abuse by EU migrants (but many doubt the extent to which this is widespread abuse). But even here, Britain is not being handed carte blanche. The possibility of tackling EU migration abuses been conceded by the German Chancellor, whose country is holding a similar debate connected with the end of the transition arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania: “We are looking at the legal (aspect) and we are looking at legislation here … abuse needs to be fought against so that freedom of movement can prevail.” But there is a sting in the tail for Britain – Mrs Merkel added: “One has to take a very close look at the social security systems of individual member states … and to what extent they have to be adjusted. And that’s something we need to address”. It hardly amounts to a ringing endorsement of reforms that might involve EU treaty changes before a possible 2017 referendum. It sounds as if the emphasis is placed on individual nation states (Britain and Germany?) getting their own house in order in terms of their welfare benefit eligibility rules and regulations.

It is still early days in the battle of the red lines over the British Question, though some of the early skirmishes have already been decisive. The latest British position appears to be mainly designed for domestic consumption in the run up to the General Election. However, the red lines are of importance, so I plan to address them in future posts.

Ricardo Pinto, 21 January 2015, www.AngloDeutsch.eu


Counteracting Intolerance and Xenophobia: lessons from Germany

Recent developments in Germany are illustrating lessons in counteracting xenophobia and intolerance which the rest of Europe, Britain included, could learn a lot from.

In recent posts, I have written about the increase in anti-immigration and anti-EU / Euro sentiment in Britain and Germany. I have also posted about the significant gap in perception and reality between people´s estimates of foreign-born immigrants as opposed to the much smaller numbers in actual fact. This is even more extreme in the case of the Muslim community than in the case of foreigners in general.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the anti-Muslim signs are increasing. In the case of Germany, this has been surprisingly swift. Very few people had even heard of Pegida (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes or Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West) movement based in Dresden. Since October 2014 Pegida has been actively protesting against what it considers to be the Islamization of Europe. Initially it drew few supporters to its demonstrations but has since grown dramatically, achieving an 18,000 turnout on 05 January 2015 in Dresden even though Muslims make-up only 0.1% of its population.

Its rapid rise (43,000 Facebook followers), despite the rather colourful background of its founder, Lutz Bachmann, is attributed to the same broad trends also evident in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, not least a general dissatisfaction with economic developments, immigration and asylum policies, combined with a degree of alienation from the mainstream political parties and elites.

In a separate post I have argued that the UK Independence Party (Ukip) and its anti-immigrant and anti-EU message has become increasingly powerful, to the point where apparently the “Ukip tail is wagging the bulldog”.  The main political parties are increasingly attuned to the apparent receptiveness of the electorate simplistically alluring populist messages; they appear to be almost falling over themselves to out-Ukip Ukip. This hits the wrong target; the ills of society and the economy are largely due the decades of mismanagement of the part of the insiders (not outsiders) and magnified by the varying degrees of austerity in Europe. It is also a dangerous trend in a democratic society which may become even worse in the months leading to the General Election in May 2015.

Very few media and politicians are willing to step up to the plate and counteract these messages in the UK. Since initially branding the kippers as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” David Cameron has been busy backpedaling to the point where, in addition to offering a straight in-out referendum on whether to remain in the EU in 2017 or not, he is no longer able or willing to rule out a possible coalition government with Ukip after the May 2015 General Election.

Whilst acknowledging that Ukip´s key targets are immigrants generally and the EU specifically rather than Muslims per se, it is interesting to note that the reaction of the German public, media and politicians has been quite different to that of the UK. Rather than perfecting giving the impression of being powerless to counteract these sorts or trends and then simply caving in to them, the President and the Chancellor have been preaching tolerance in relation to immigrants, Muslims and asylum seekers, all of which Germany have had a good deal more than Britain in recent years.

In her New Year´s address, Angela Merkel stressed that: “So I say to all who go to such [Pegida] demonstrations: do not follow those that call for it! Often there are too many prejudices, there is cold, and yes, even hatred in their hearts.”

The public is demonstrating a degree of attraction, especially to the more mainstream Alternative for Germany (AfD), but have largely not gone anti-immigrant apart from the Pegida demonstrations, which are targeted at the Muslim community. If 18,000 turned-up to the demonstration in Dresden, even more citizens are attending counter-demonstrations, with around 30,000 taking a stand against Pegida in marches in Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, Munster, Stuttgart, etc. Church authorities in Cologne turned off the lights of its cathedral, one of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions, to present Pegida from using it as a backdrop. Other top attractions followed suit, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Dresden opera house and other museums and public buildings.

There is also an anti-Pegida on-line petition for a “Colourful Germany”, which started on the 23 December 2014 and has collected 330,000 signatures with a target of one million. The numbers are impressive and, at this rate, the target will be reached.

One of the most impressive developments is that rather than certain parts of the media simply tapping into the anti-immigrant sentiment, as might be argued is largely the case in Britain, they have acted to counteract it. A lesson for the UK to learn was evident today. The Bild newspaper, by far the most popular German newspaper, went public on 06 January 2015 with their “No to Pegida” campaign, including 80 prominent Germans from all walks of life including politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, sports people, scientists, etc.

Can you envision The Sun doing the same and motivating 80 prominent Britons to oppose the increasing degree of anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK? Such a process might contribute to moderating society´s views in relation to immigration and the Muslim community.

I firmly believe that there are some lessons from the German anti-Pegida movement for British politicians, media and citizens. Whether these lessons are noted or acted upon remains to be seen.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu


“Angry nativism must have no part in it”: take a bow, Douglas Carswell

If you have been following the AngloDeutsch™ Blog, which was just launched in December 2014, you will be aware that the first theme reflects my growing concerns about the issue of immigration in Europe generally and Britain in particular. You will also be familiar with my concerns that the anti-immigration debate is being increasingly linked, inappropriately, with the issue of the European Union (EU). The growing anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment is something which the Ukip has been able to exploit to great effect.

There must be something about the Spirit of Christmas and the Festive Season, because this is the only way to explain what has just happened today. The Ukip’s first elected Member of Parliament, Douglas Carswell, astonished and probably alarmed many Ukip supporters, not to mention various Establishment figures in the UK, with the following comments in the Daily Mail. It is worth highlighting some quotations (emphasis added) from the article:

There has never been anything splendid about isolation. It was our interdependence that put the Great into Great Britain – and it is what sustains our living standards today. In such a world, a dislike of foreigners is not merely offensive, but absurd.”

I could not agree more with this statement. In the era of globalisation, which Britain has done so much to contribute to, as well as benefit from, the tone of recent public discourse, led by Ukip and increasingly repeated by others, has indeed been offensive to the foreigners living and working in Britain, to mention the other 27 EU countries. It would be absurd for this sort of tone to be maintained. It is only to be hoped that the rest of Ukip recognises and accepts it. As an aside, there would not be anything splendid about UK isolation from the rest of Europe either, should it choose the Brexit (a blend of the words ‘British’ and ‘exit’ which refers to the possibility of Britain leaving the EU) route.

“Far from being a party that tolerates pejorative comments about people’s heritage and background, Ukip in 2015 has to show that we have a serious internationalist agenda.”

There has been growing criticism of the “kippers” in the media last couple of weeks, with a growing body of evidence showing that, contrary to its protestations, Ukip is indeed tolerating all sorts of rather pejorative views which have no place in a political party with aspirations in local, national, EU and international politics.

“Preparing for the future means putting in place an immigration system capable of saying a cheery, welcoming ‘Yes’ to doctors from Singapore or scientists from south Asia, and a polite ‘No, thank you’ to someone with a criminal record, or an inclination towards welfare dependence. Angry nativism must have no part in it.”

No country, Britain included, should be expected to simply accept criminals from other countries or those that are only interested in claiming social and other benefits without working for them. This is precisely what all 28 countries of the EU are working towards, since it is in their common interest to stop this type of migration. Likewise, it is the practice among all EU member states, as illustrated by the EU Blue Card system, to ensure access to highly qualified labour. Douglas Carswell hits the nail on the head when he stresses that angry “nativism”, the policy of protecting the interests of native-born or established inhabitants against those of immigrants, should not be part of public discourse, especially in the context of the EU.

No Ukip candidate should ever make the mistake of blaming outsiders for the failings of political insiders in Westminster.”

Most interesting of all, he recognises that the anti-immigration (and in my view anti-EU) rhetoric may be convenient but is misplaced. The reality is that many of the issues that people in Britain, Germany and elsewhere in Europe are frustrated and angry about, such as the reduction in real wages and the state of housing, health, education, transport, etc. have little to do with outsiders / immigrants, especially those from the EU. They have been decades in the making and are the direct result of the systemic failings of the leading political parties: the insiders not the outsiders. We could substitute “Ukip” for “political” and “Westminster” for other parliaments in Europe and the rest the quotation would apply to many other EU member countries.

I never imagined I would say this to a member of Ukip, but take a well-earned bow, Mr Carswell. I disagree with the rest of your views, not least your continuing Euroscepticism (stressed in the very same article), but I do admire your moral and intellectual courage in respect to the above quotations. Let us see what the Ukip leadership and activists make of them. Indeed, although your message was mainly addressed at the Ukip, let us see how the leading political parties react to them in the months ahead.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu


The Anti-EU and Anti-Immigration Fixation: expedient politics?

This post, the first of a series of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog, focuses on the rise of anti-immigration and anti-EU and/or Euro discourse in Britain and Germany, with a focus on the role being played by both the mainstream and the populist parties such as UK Independence Party (Ukip) in Britain and Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. It argues that there is a need for a more measured approach, especially in Britain, rather than simplistic analysis which my be politically convenient but serves only to fan the flames of populist fires.

Growing Anti-immigration and Anti-Euro Sentiment in Germany

The increasingly heated immigration debate reached Germany about the same time as it started in the United Kingdom (UK). Mr Thilo Sarrazin published a book called “Germany is doing away with itself” in 2010, which incidentally became the most popular book on politics by a German-language author in a decade. Its central argument was that Germany’s post-war immigration policy has failed, thus catalysing an intense and raucous nation-wide debate about the costs and benefits of multiculturalism. Mr Sarrazin advocated a more restrictive immigration policy (except for the highly skilled) and reduction of state welfare benefits, while making strong statements about Islam and the Turkish and Arab communities. Mr Sarrazin did not shy away from predicting the Germans will eventually be outnumbered by an underclass of Muslims (see below for echoes of Enoch Powell’s views). The popularity of the book (over 1.5 million copies sold) and various surveys illustrated that his arguments struck a chord in the country, especially with male, middle-class, middle-aged and elderly, conservatives.

The book broke an unwritten rule in Germany by discussing migration, ethnicity and Islam so openly and some might say provocatively. Germans have typically trodden lightly on such topics for obvious historical reasons. The debate even affected the leading conservative sister parties, namely the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU). The Chancellor Angela Merkel, well-known for being Europe’s most accomplished politician at saying nothing that might upset anyone, even felt sufficiently emboldened to make one of her few unequivocal statements. In 2010 she stated that multiculturalism had “utterly failed” in the country. Despite concerns that it might happen, the furore of 2010 did not result in an anticipated new party to capitalise on the issue. Mr Sarazzin moved on other challenges, publishing another controversial book called “Europe doesn’t need the euro” in 2012, which once again went against the grain of national of public discourse.

Perhaps in recognition of its political value in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, the salience of the immigration debate has been increasing very fast in Germany. The CSU has been focusing on “poverty immigrants” and “benefit tourists” since 2013, causing German politicians to discuss new instruments designed to keep mainly Roma immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria out as far as possible. Last week, the CSU published a policy paper insisting that German should be spoken both in public and at home.The paper made a distinction between EU and non-EU immigrants; the requirement would apply only to the latter, not the former. There was widespread condemnation in the media that it is not for the state to determine which language people, immigrants or otherwise, choose to speak in their own homes.

In Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) initially had a very narrower focus, namely leaving the Euro (not the EU, which currently no partly currently advocates). It is not by coincidence that it started gaining much greater traction with voters when it began to broaden its policies. Like Ukip, it has brought its guns to bear on the EU (the principle of subsidiarity, rather than exiting the EU) and immigration issues (asylum, immigration law on the Canadian model, etc.). Although this may change, for the moment, neither politicians nor the media discuss the issues in quite the same strident manner as in Britain.

Immigration and EU Scepticism in British Politics

By contrast, in the UK the meteoric rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), founded in 1993 and led by their jovial, pint-guzzling, fag-smoking Mr Nigel Farage, who like Mr Sarrazin does not mince his words in relation to immigration or the EU, has been remarkable. Under his leadership, UKIP’s star has been on an apparently inexorable rise, which unlike the German situation so far, is having dramatic consequences on Britain and potentially the EU. Whereas in April 2006 the Prime Minister David Cameron felt able to described UKIP members as being “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” By 2013, its popularity and organisational capacity has increased so much that in the county council elections across England, Ukip poled an average of 23% in the wards where it stood and returned 147 elected councillors. Its biggest success was getting its first two Members of Parliament elected in Clacton and Rochester and Strood in late 2014.

Ukip has rapidly risen to prominence at the expense of a hemorrhaging of voters away principally from the Conservatives, but also from Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Its principal policy is simple but appealing, namely to withdraw from the EU and agree a free trade agreement instead. However, like the AfD it is no longer a single issue party. Ukip extols loudly and repeatedly the virtues of limited, controlled immigration and its intention to “take back control of the UK borders”. Work permits will be permitted to fill skills gaps in the UK jobs market so long as immigrants have a job to go to, speak English and have accommodation and health insurance. Immigrants will only be eligible for benefits (in work or out of work) when they have been paying tax and National Insurance for five years and will only be eligible for permanent residence after ten years.

The intention is clearly to slow down migration to “manageable” levels. Recent figures had shown a steep decline in net migration until 2014 (the subject of a forthcoming post), when they peaked once again, probably connected with a surge is Bulgarian and Romanian immigration now that the transition period is over. Ukip has coupled the anti-EU and anti-immigrant debate to remarkable effect. This double-pronged weapon is paying rich political dividends for them. However, as with many populist initiatives, while they may be superficially appealing, they would amount to a double-whammy with major long-term consequences if enacted by Britain. The fact is that there is a lot of political smoke and mirrors in the debate. The problems in Britain are long-standing and while they may well have been accentuated by immigration and the freedom of movement (though the jury is out on these), to conclude that the solution is to leave the EU in order to regain control of the borders is simply not credible.

The Ukip tail wagging the bulldog

In the UK, the “kippers” are having a dramatic effect, resulting in an increasing clamour in relation to the issue of immigration. Ukip has effectively manoeuvred the Conservative Party (along with its well-known and long-established Eurosceptic wing) into offering, should they still be in power in 2017, a straight in-out referendum as to whether to remain within the EU or not.  Furthermore, it has managed to push the Government, Liberal Democrats included, into a mooted renegotiation of the UK’s membership terms with the EU, including significant reform so as to repatriate powers to the nation-state. Most EU countries share a concern about the abuse of the subsidiarity principle and are inclined to be supportive, not least Germany. But the increasingly shrill nature of the UK position is making such reform harder to secure. Recent demands to abolish the principle of freedom of movement of workers were dismissed out of hand by the President of the European Commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as the key German politicians such as Mr Wolfgang Schäuble (unthinkable) and Mrs Angela Merkel (no tempering with the principle). The spat over the refusal to pay “anywhere near the amount requested by Brussels by December” appears to be little more than political bluster and posturing.

Also, the casual observer would be tempted to conclude that the immigration debate is increasingly histrionic in Britain. Seemingly every other day, the heat is turned up and the rhetoric becomes ever more intemperate. Mainstream politicians on all sides of the political spectrum, with the notable exception of the LibDems, have taken up the UKIP mantra of anti-EU sentiment combined with anti-immigrant rhetoric. This has become a normal part of the public discourse in the Houses of Parliament, on TV, radio and newspapers. It is hardly surprising that the public feels emboldened to express its views in an increasingly no-holds barred manner, verging on racism and xenophobia. Such discourse might well happen behind closed doors in other European countries but it not (yet) so open.

It is also not by chance that the escalation in immigration and anti-EU rhetoric in Britain has coincided with the recent bye-elections which the Conservative party has lost to Ukip in Clacton and Rochester and Strood. As the Ukip ratings went up, Ministers started banging on about the necessity to get rid of the EU’s freedom of movement principle, the PM refused to pay the additional EU tax which his government has agreed, etc. This smacks of short-term electioneering. However, a red line was crossed when the Defence Minister, Mr Michael Fallon claimed that certain towns are being “swamped” by immigrants and their residents are “under siege”. The Prime Minister’s Office reworded “swamped” with “under pressure” but the boat had already left the harbour. The escalation of emotive language being used by Government ministers is a clear trend that the rest of society takes its cue from.

This is nothing new in Britain. In 1978, Mrs Margaret Thatcher stated that large numbers of migrant workers and foreigners (from the new Commonwealth and Pakistan) meant that people were afraid that the country might be rather swamped by people of a different culture. This even before referring to Enoch Powell’s so-called “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 which is credited, at least in part, with playing a contributory role in the unexpected 1970 Conservative general election win.

While such political (and media) rhetoric is hardly new in British politics, it does mark a major new departure in the UK where the Government itself (and to some extent the Labour Party) seems to have lost a sense of moderation in relation to the political discourse on immigration and the EU. I expect this trend to intensify in the months until the General Election in May 2015.

If Ukip (and similar parties of its ilk) is indeed the driving force that is dominating the political discourse on the EU and immigration, this is bad news indeed for immigrants, for the EU and for Britain itself. By comparison the German President,Mr Joachim Gauk, frequently stressed the importance of solidarity vis-à-vis asylum seekers, stressing the virtues of immigration and integration. The German Government is paving the way for tightened asylum seeker law but also a more flexible Dual Citizenship law and strongly defending the principle of freedom of movement of people within the EU as being non-negotiable. At a recent immigration and integration event in November 2014 organised at the Headquarters of the CDU, something that would not be imaginable by the leading political parties in Britain, the Chancellor Mrs Angela Merkel stressed that “Germany has the chance to become a great integration country” and that “Islam now belongs to us.” The contrast in the political rhetoric could not be greater for countries that have more or less identical foreign-born as a percentage of the total population (12.3% and 12.4% in Britain and Germany respectively).

Austerity accentuates long standing problems

The omens are not good for the future of immigration and the EU; both are increasingly conflated and damned, especially in Britain. Ukip appears to have cornered the market of British political discourse and the Conservatives (and to a lesser extent Labour) are increasingly dancing to their tune, so as to avoid losing touch with an important segment of voters who are clearly experiencing a strong allure to these simplistic yet appealing overtures. Politicians of all hues and shades are increasingly latching on to this sentiment. The trend is reinforced by the apparent readiness of a notable portion of the media to sing along to these tunes in Britain, especially in relation to the anti-EU discourse. Without doubt increasing stresses and strains are evident in housing, education, health, transportation, etc. but these are long-term and systemic in nature. They have been greatly accentuated by the recent years of austerity, a process which is set to continue in Britain directly through government policies and indirectly in Germany through long-term wage restraint. They are not the consequence of a surge in net migration over several years cause by the EU and its freedom of movement principle. The discourse stressing these two elements at the exclusion of everything else cannot be left unchallenged.

In the next few posts I shall explore various migration themes and issues, from the perspective of Britain, Germany and the EU. I hope to contribute to a debate about this increasingly important topic before moving on to other issues such as the housing crisis and the future of the EU.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu


Launch of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog

New AngloDeutsch™ Blog Launched

Today, the AngloDeutsch™ Blog was launched. The main reason is that Britain and Germany are countries that are absolutely critical to the future of Europe and the European Union. Yet, there is currently a gap in terms of comparing and contrasting the two countries in terms of various dimensions, such as economics, housing, health, etc. within the overarching context of the EU.

It was not always so. In the same year that Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, the Anglo German Foundation (AGF) was established in recognition of the fact that the Germany and Britain could learn a good deal from each other, not least to improve mutual knowledge between the two countries and deepen understanding of modern society and its problems. The AGF undertook policy-oriented comparative research on the Britain, Germany and what is now the European Union (EU). It was valuable to compare and contrast countries that were not only the two largest in the EU, which also exhibit rather different social, political and economic traditions. They are two of the largest EU trading and exporting nations, the people respect each other and, despite the differences, or perhaps because of them, they can learn from each other’s ways of doing things.

In 2009 the Trustees decided to abolish the AGF, the main argument being: “… other organisations at both national and European levels are now carrying this work forward, and the need for a specific institution for this purpose is no longer so compelling.” (Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society,p.3).

British and German Comparisons Growing in Importance

I disagree with this conclusion. Some 40 years on, the reality is that the need for comparative analysis and discussion in relation to Britain, Germany and EU is greater than ever before and it is far from obvious which other institutions are carrying this work forward. I believe that the last Trustees of the AGF would probably be astounded at how dramatically things have evolved since their decision to end the institution.

A number of momentous developments are affecting the socio-economic dynamic in Europe:

  • The recession that started in 2009 has morphed into full-blown global financial and economic crises. The sovereign debt and the commercial banking crisis drag on and the prospect of deflation still looms large in Europe and elsewhere.
  • The Euro and the significant political and financial reform efforts connected with ensuring that it is kept alive has resulted in enormous fissures arising between Britain, Germany and the EU countries. These tensions are, if anything, increasing over time.
  • The political strains of keeping the Euro (and thus the EU) together, not least through various forms of austerity, have taken a massive toll on the credibility of the EU as well as the level of cooperation and trust between nation states, not least the German-British-French axis. This applies doubly so to the so-called „PIIGS“ (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and the north Europeans, especially Germany, Holland, Austria, Finland, etc.
  • The UK and DE play a critical role in the future of the EU. Germany has become the undisputed albeit reluctant European hegemon, though the jury is still out as to how long this status will last. The decisions and even ruminations of Europe’s preeminent politician, Angela Merkel, reverberate throughout the EU. The same cannot be said of David Cameron (and still less François Hollande) to the same extent. Still, the UK’s role in EU, influential though diminished, remains critical to the future of the EU (independent Sterling, monetary and fiscal policy, insistence on EU reform and devolving powers to the nation state, challenge to the freedom of movement principle, possible in/out referendum on whether to remain in the EU in 2017, etc.).

These stresses and strains are part and parcel of what has become a full-blown crisis of the legitimacy of the “European Project”, as understood since it was formed in 1951 by the Treaty of Rome. A process whose ambition was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”  (The Shuman Declaration, 9 May 1950) was not and could never have anything short of an economic, social and political project, even if the discourse was principally economic.

This ambition was not merely a Franco-German idea. Immediately after WWII Sir Winston Churchill was one of the first to call for a “United States of Europe” (“We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. ” 1946, p.1). The ambitions of the European Project have always been understood in its wider sense by its founder members, not least Germany, because of its particular historical specificities.  However, this ambition was and remains almost entirely an economic or trade issue in pragmatic Britain.

Longstanding concerns about the legitimacy of the EU, the steady erosion of the powers of the nation state (contrary to the principle of „subsidiarity“), the implications of principle of freedom of movement and indeed of the limits to the notion of „ever closer union“ in the EU have been forced to the foreground by the Euro crisis. These issues must be debated and tackled to maintain legitimacy with the people as well as the governments of all 28 EU nation states.

Britain and Germany at the leading edge of the EU

In this context, the British and German electorates have a critical role to play in the future of their respective countries, as well as that of the “European project”. They are at the nexus of the most important debates connected with the great issues confronting Europe, not least:

  • The future of the Euro and the EU (e.g. EU reform and in/out referendum in 2017).
  • The advent of anti-EU / Euro parties (e.g. the Ukip and AfD).
  • The solutions to the recession / depression, austerity and falling standards of living.
  • The debates on the future of housing, education, poverty, migration, health, ageing, etc.
  • But also the more fun things in life, such as sport and traditions such as Christmas.

Through the AngloDeutsch™ Blog, launched today, focuses mainly but not exclusively on Britain, Germany and the EU, it is hoped that a contribution can be made not only to better understanding in general but also to possible economic and social policy solutions and recommendations. This would be in keeping with the tradition of the now defunct AGF, even if the focus of a blog cannot be on rigorous academic research per se.

Focusing on the British and German perspectives has gained in salience. The target group of this blog is not the academic community, interest groups or indeed the politicians, though it is hoped that they too will get involved and/or be influenced by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog. The target group is anyone who has enough humility to be willing to learn about alternative ways of doing things, discuss different views and maybe implement some of the ideas, taking into consideration the uniqueness and specificity of every nation, region and locality. This aim is illustrated in the Box below.

The AngloDeutsch™ Blog aims to contribute to the policy process in Britain, Germany and the EU more generally by raising comparative economic, social and political issues and by stimulating an exchange of knowledge, views and experience between informed citizens in the two countries, as well as the EU.

 

To kick off the blog, the first few themes covered by the AngloDeutsch™ Blog will include the following:

  • The immigration debate.
  • Christmas traditions (since the blog is launched in December).
  • The housing crisis.
  • The future of the EU.

Other themes will follow as the blog evolves.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.anglodeutsch.eu