Tag Archive: Britain

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


Housing Markets in Britain and Germany: like chalk and cheese

The new AngloDeutsch™ Blog theme will seek to compare and contrast the housing markets in Britain and Germany with the aim of showing that though the two have similarities, such as recent concerns with rents and prices and affordability, in reality, the two housing systems are so different as to be like chalk and cheese.

Housing is a Basic Right

The right to adequate housing and shelter is recognised in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as many national constitutions. Yet two housing issues unite British and German citizens at the moment; the perception of rapidly increasing rent levels and the fear of being unable to secure affordable housing for rent or for purchase. These issues will preoccupy the population and thus the politicians and media in both countries for the foreseeable future, hence the reason for selecting as the second main focus of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog.

Housing Crisis in Britain

In the case of Britain, the housing crisis will undoubtedly be a major talking point in the lead-up to the General Election in May 2015 and for the medium-term. The issues include low levels of housing construction compare with demand, the long waiting lists for social housing, overcrowding, security of tenure, lack of affordable housing due to soaring rents in the private renting sector and high prices of owner occupied homes, at the same time as real wages are being squeezed. It not uncommon for about 50% of net household income to be consumed by housing-related costs in certain parts of the country. The notion of housing as an investment asset, rather than as a fundamental human right is creating tensions and ill-feeling towards the older generations (especially the Baby Boomers who are perceived to be the big winners in the long asset price boom), as well as high net value investors.

Housing Issues in Germany

In Germany, there is a recent trend of increasing house prices, but this must be set alongside a long-term trend of over two decades of real decreases in house prices. The Bundesbank has been issuing warning of the dangers of an over-heating housing market. However, in reality, the recent price increases are modest compared to what has been witnessed in the UK and other EU countries in the last three decades. Nevertheless, the issue of housing affordability is becoming more of a concern, especially in cities such as Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart. The growing concerns have recently motivated the German cabinet to approve a draft law to cap rents at 10% above the regional average in areas with a “tight” housing market.

Like Chalk and Cheese

But there the similarities end; the fact is that the housing systems in the two countries are like chalk and cheese. A few points highlight the differences, though I shall not mention which countries are being referred to (in truth, it should not be hard to guess given the preamble):

  • The housing system in one country is pretty stable, whereas the other can only be described as volatile.
  • The long-term price trend is declining in one whereas it has increased sharply in the other.
  • One is a nation of house buyers, but the other is a nation of renters.
  • In one private renting is very small and only for those that cannot afford home ownership, but is widely considered to be a high quality, affordable long-term option in the other.
  • Social housing is also an affordable and good quality option in one, but is mostly seen as a last resort in the other, that is if people can actually get on to the waiting lists.
  • One has no rent control and modest tenant protection, whereas both are strong in the other.
  • In one housing construction is a key part of the economy and is mostly targeted at the mass market, whereas a significant proportion of new build, especially in the capital, is speculative and for the wealthy in the other.

Policy-makers can learn from each other

The second main theme of the AngloDeutsch™ Blog will compare and contrast the housing system in Britain and Germany. There is significant potential for policy-makers in both countries to learn from each other, despite the clear specificities and uniqueness. I plan to focus on key themes such as:

  • The differences in the housing structure in the two housing systems.
  • The variation in the house price trends and the reasons for it.
  • The differences in the housing finance system.
  • The reasons why one housing system has consistently delivered high quality, affordable homes, whereas the other has consistently failed to do so over several decades.

Part of the rationale for choosing the housing topic is to illustrate that the housing crisis has little to do with immigrants or outsiders (see my earlier posts on this topic), something which is increasingly referred to in the context of Britain being a small, high density island with supposedly no space for further housing construction. If anyone is to blame for the slow build-up of the housing problem, it is the “insiders” who have been entirely in charge of the housing system. They like nothing better than deflecting the blame to all and sundry, especially non-voters, rather than draw attention to themselves and the role they have played or rather systematically failed to play. This applies to housing, as well as other themes of concern in this Blog, including health and education, over which the other favourite target of the insiders for the blame game, namely the European Union, has little or no influence over, let alone control of.

I hope you will find the housing theme interesting in the next few weeks. At the same time, I shall continue to cover the issues of immigration and the European Union, so as to keep up a variety of posts.

Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, 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


New Year’s Eve Traditions in Britain and Germany: similarities and contrasts

Whereas an earlier post discussed the differences in Christmas traditions in Britain and Germany, this one focuses on the New Year’s Eve traditions.

Both countries certainly know how to enjoy New Year’s Eve. That is the wonderful thing about living in Europe: the more diversity the better, as far as I am concerned.

Happy New Year / Frohes Neues Jahr!

Britain: New Year’s Eve Germany: Silvester
Party Time: When the old year is about to end and the new one is about to dawn, Britons celebrate like most people around the world. Parties and fun are the order of the day, often dressed-up for the occasion (e.g. dinner jackets and bow ties for men). They often go to the local pub to celebrate. Silvester Ball: Germans celebrate the change of year just as noisily and merrily at the “Silvester Ball” with the usual eating, drinking, dancing and singing. The 31st of December is the day of the Feast of Pope Sylvester I, the day that he died, hence the reason for the name in German.
Big Ben and Auld Lang Syne: When Big Ben strikes midnight, people across the country cross arms and link hands with the nearest person, regardless of whether they are complete strangers or not, and sing “Auld Lang Syne” (by the Scottish poet Robert Burns), which refers to friendships and loves in “times gone by”. Sekt und Berliner: The focal point of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin and the midnight fireworks. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne, as well as a doughnut (Berliner).
Eating and drinking: There is much drinking, especially of Champagne to see out the year and bring in the new one. Shortbread is a feature of Hogmanay, sometimes served with cheese. Whisky of course, if also part of the tradition in Scotland. Essen und Trinken: It is common to enjoy a Feuerzangenbowle or a Punch Bowl. This is a traditional German alcoholic drink where a rum-soaked sugarloaf is set on fire, allowing it to drip into mulled wine (e.g. red wine, oranges, lemons, cinnamon and cloves). Feuerzangenbowle is also the name of a very popular film from 1944. A recent tradition is Raclette, an electric grill which is used to melt individual portions of cheese on small trays (or use a grilling area on top) and each person adds their preferred combination of seasonings, vegetables and meats. Another option is cheese fondue. Raclette and fondue are both Swiss inventions which have been gratefully taken-up.
Fireworks: Fireworks used to be seen only during Bonfire or Guy Fawkes Night but this is beginning to change with fireworks being let out at the stroke of midnight. The fireworks are thought to drive away evil spirits. Feuerwerke: The absolute highlight of the New Year’s Eve celebrations is the fireworks display at midnight. Almost every household comes out, no matter how cold, to let off fireworks, bangers and generally burn through a lot of money. It cannot be described; it has to be experienced.
Other traditions: Parts of England: at midnight, people open the back door (to let the old year out) and ask the first dark haired man to be seen to come through the front door carrying salt, coal and bread. The following year everyone will have enough to eat (bread), enough money (salt) and be warm enough (coal).Hogmanay: the celebration is derived from a kind of oat cake that was traditionally given to children on New Year’s Eve. Hogmanay can last a day or longer! There is also a tradition of “first footing” is observed. The first person to set foot in a home affects the fortunes of everyone who lives there. Strangers are thought to bring good luck.Nos Galan: the Welsh also let out the old year and bring in the new but if the first visitor is a woman and a man opens the door it is considered bad luck. The same applies if the first man to cross the threshold is a red head. Bleigießen: Bleigießen (pouring lead into cold water) involves telling fortunes by the shapes made by the molten lead.The 90th Birthday or Dinner for One: Many choose to spend “Silvester” at home watching “Dinner for One” on TV. This is a short black and white comedy sketch from the 1920s has become the number 1 New Year’s tradition in Germany. Although it was recorded in English, with British actors and has attained cult status in Germany (and elsewhere), it is largely unknown in English speaking countries. New Year’s Eve without watching Dinner for One is simply not done.
New Year’s Resolutions: New Year’s resolutions are part and parcel of the new year process. They are basically things that people have resolved to do to make their lives better or different, the most common being to lose weight, to drink less, to stop smoking, etc. Neujahrsvorsätzen: As in Britain, this is an established tradition in Germany.
Happy New Year! Frohes Neues Jahr / einen “Guten Rutsch”!

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


Mixing Apples and Pears in the Immigration Debate

The great immigration debate is becoming increasingly heated in Europe. It tends to lump all immigrants into one group, mixing apples and pears, and  making little allowance for the important differences in the type of immigrant. The differences between refuges, asylum seekers, migrants and economic migrants are sadly either misunderstood or misrepresented by the general public and the media. Furthermore, the conflation of immigration with the European Union’s (EU) “freedom of movement” principle adds to the general fuzziness of the debate. This loose approach to the differences is contributing to the growing antipathy to immigrants and to the EU itself.

Definitions

We appear to be on the threshold of a much more unrestrained debate on immigration. If so, we may as well be clear about the definitions of the main types of immigration involved, prior to looking at the perception of the level of immigration in the next post. There are four main types of individuals that the media and the politicians refer to, but which tend to be lumped together in the public discourse, despite their heterogeneity. The International Organization for Migration is the leading international organization for migration and defines the following important groups:

Asylum seeker: is a person who seeks safety from persecution or serious harm in a country other than his or her own and awaits a decision on the application for refugee status under international and national instruments. If the decision is negative, the asylum seeker must leave the country and may be expelled, as may any non-national in an irregular or unlawful situation, unless permission to stay is provided on humanitarian or other grounds.

Each country determines their own policy in relation to asylum seekers, though international conventions exist. What the media and politicians rarely acknowledge is that asylum seekers are normally a relatively small percentage of the immigration issue. Almost all Brits and Germans support a policy of supporting this group. What they do not support, is illegal immigration such as asylum seekers staying on after a negative decision. Each country determines its own asylum seeker policy and has little or nothing to do with the EU.

Refugee: is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinions, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country. Each country determines their own policy in relation to refugees, though international conventions exist. Again this is a small part of overall immigration, though the percentage does fluctuate according to crises (about 30,000 applicants in the UK but about 120,000 in Germany in 2013). In 2012 the main country of origin was Afghanistan and at the moment it is Syria. The overall number for 2014 could top 700,000, “the highest total for industrialized countries in 20 years and not seen since the 1990s conflict in former Yugoslavia” according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Nevertheless, the great majority Brits and Germans support a policy of accepting legitimate refugees.

Migrant: there is no universal definition but the term usually cover cases where the decision to migrate was taken freely by the individual for reasons of “personal convenience” and without an external compelling factor; it is applied to persons, and family members, moving to another country or region to better their material or social conditions and improve the prospect for themselves or their family.

Each country determines its policy in relation to non-EU migrants. If the numbers are perceived to be too high / low, this is a reflection of the policy priorities of each nation. The situation is different for EU nationals. One of the four “fundament freedoms” of the EU is that of freedom of movement of people (the others being capital, goods and services). These are at the core of the EU, and Brits and Germans have been among those making the extensive use of them such as buying second homes, retiring in the sun, working abroad, etc. EU nations, not least Germany, have made it clear that this freedom is non-negotiable. Britain is questioning whether this freedom can be reformed but is currently in a minority of one out of 28 EU nations. As things currently stand, Britain must decide whether to accept all four freedoms or none of them. What is clear is that it is not feasible to have an explicit immigration policy of 100,000 net migrants per year when Britain is not in a position to control its own borders in relation to non-EU immigrants and thus unable to influence the number of people entering (or leaving) the country from the EU. Moreover, it is Britain and Germany that are broadly in charge of their welfare benefit eligibility rules, not the EU.

Economic migrant: is a person leaving his or her habitual place of residence to settle outside his or her country of origin in order to improve his or her quality of life. This term is often loosely used to distinguish from asylum seekers, and is also used to refer to persons attempting to enter a country without legal permission and/or by using asylum procedures without good cause. It may equally be applied to persons leaving their country of origin for the purpose of employment.

Each country controls its own borders in relation to non-EU economic migrants. Britain and Germany have made and continue to make extensive use of this as exporters and importers of well-qualified workers. Without a work visa, which is issued by each nation-state, there can be no economic migrants from outside the EU. Britain and Germany choose to allow people to come into the county on work visas for them and their respective families because it is in their economic interest to do so.

The situation is different for EU economic migrants, since the freedom of movement applies to everything, including tourism, study, retirement and work. Inevitably, some countries will be more popular or economically dynamic than others and the economic migration trend will vary over time. It is generally understood to be a good thing that those in high unemployment regions can migrate to low unemployment regions within a country, so as to get a job. If this is so, then surely the same applies to the EU region (28 countries) as a whole.

You cannot have your freedom of movement cake and eat it at the same time: either you accept the whole package or you reject it. Britain must decide whether it wants in or not; if not, as things currently stand, the consequence is that Brexit (British exit from the EU) will occur as surely as night follows day. Either way, economic migration will continue from non-EU and EU countries because it is in the economy and society’s interest for it to do so. The flip-side of Brexit is theoretically that Britons currently living and working in other EU countries might have to return to Britain. An estimated 1.1 million Britons were living in three countries of the EU, namely Spain, France and Germany alone.

Mixing Apples and Pears

It is obviously important to distinguish these various categories, but a cursory exploration of UK and German media and politicians’ statements suggest that the distinctions do not appear to be understood, let alone respected in the popular discourse about migration.

The route of capping non-EU immigration is theoretically and practically possible; many countries do so, and it is up to the politicians to implement this if their electorates insist upon it. Having created a “target” of 100,000 for the first time in British history, the failure or otherwise to achieving it is the responsibility of the British government and theirs alone. It has nothing to do with the EU since the freedom of movement has always existed from the very beginning, something that surely must have been known to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who in his wisdom, created this particular target in the first place.

Presumably it was a political calculation because of the recent influence of Ukip in British EU and immigration politics. But by doing so, the British Government appears to have achieved little more than to create a large rod for its own back. Ukip has got firm hold of this particular rod and is gleefully availing itself of the opportunity. The Conservative-led government is simply reaping the political whirlwind of an ill-advised, but apparently populist policy. The recent bye-elections have gifted Ukip increasing power and influence, and represent evidence of the folly of such a policy. Attempting to steal the Ukip emperor’s clothes may reinforce the trend and further entrench public opinion, which is increasingly negative towards both immigrants and EU. As discussed in the last post, the two are increasingly portrayed as part and parcel of the same issue by politicians and the media.

Capping EU immigration is simply not feasible without leaving the EU and it is a case of political smoke and mirrors to suggest or pretend otherwise for short-term political gain. It leaves Britain increasingly diminished in the eyes of its other 27 partner nations. Britain and Britons must make-up their mind about whether the British Isles, the so-called special relationship with the USA and the old (and new?) Commonwealth represent a better alternative to the four freedoms offered by the EU28. The Germans are bound to the EU at the hip (and increasingly the other way around). It is inconceivable that such a debate would seriously take place there in the short or medium term, though there is certainly a growing debate about leaving the Euro, driven by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Releasing the Genie?

The UK cannot go on pretending that it can have it both ways. It is irresponsible for politicians and certain parts of the media to lump all types of immigrants together, paying little attention to the major differences between them, which also deriding immigrants in general and the EU and the European Commission in particular. Society is responding to these populist messages. Scan the comments made in response to newspaper articles, listen to live radio interviews and the views increasingly aired on TV and you will catch the general drift in respect to the twin themes of the EU and immigration. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband (and indeed Nigel Farage, who is married to a German) seem set on allowing this trend to continue in the period leading up to the UK general election. The question is: will it be easy or indeed possible to put the genie back in the bottle thereafter? Personally, I am far from convinced the everything will be back to normal after May 2015.

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


Christmas Traditions in Britain and Germany

Christmas traditions are among the things which make life worthwhile. However, although we may not realise it, there are big similarities, as well as contrasts, even among Christian countries such as Germany and Britain. Countries “borrow” from each other and traditions evolve over time.

We December, the Festive Season is in full flow and Christmas is just around the corner, so I have compiled an overview of the main Christmas traditions in Britain and Germany. I have written this post in the form of a table to illustrate the similarities and contrasts.

I am a bit surprised by the outcome. I always knew that there were many similarities but I have now realised just how much Britain has borrowed from Germany. However, each country has its own traditions, which is a wonderful thing. I enjoy Christmas and New Year regardless of which country I am celebrating in!

Britain

Germany

Advent Calendar: Advent marks the start of the Christmas season. Advent calendars allow a day by day count-down to Christmas day and are usually for children. They are usually made of cardboard and have 24 small windows or flaps, one of which is opened on each day leading up to Christmas. Although advent calendars are known, it is not much of a tradition to buy them and use them in Britain, though this may yet change in the future (see Christmas Tree below). Adventskalendar: Advent calendars are a Germany invention and are a tradition which is very much part and parcel of Christmas. It was originally designed to involve children in the festivities leading up to Christmas. All households have advent calendars in the form of cards, books and surprise boxes with numbered windows containing pictures, chocolates, toys, etc. It is not unusual children to have several advent calendars, which they open one window per day. Adults often make their own advent calendars made of little sacks and fill them with themes such as teas, chocolates, etc. All German households have them.
Advent Wreath: The advent wreath is traditionally a circle to symbolise eternal life. It is usually in the form of four red candles and sometimes a fifth, central candle is lit on Christmas day. The advent wreath is known but rarely used in Britain. AdventskranzEach household makes its own advent wreath using a ring of fir branches or buys one. The first candle is lit on the first Advent (the Sunday closest to 30th of November or St Andrew’s day) and the last candle is lit on the fourth Sunday. All German households have them.
Saint Nicholas’ Day: This is the day when Saint Nicolas comes and provides a small present for children that have been good during the year. This wonderful tradition, for children small and large, is not a tradition in Britain. I predict that this will change in the next 5-10 years. Nikolaustag: Nicholaustag is always on the 6th of December and every child cleans their shoes/boots (real ones) place them by their door during the previous evening. Der Nikolaus brings small gifts, such as sweets, chocolates and perhaps a small toy. It is a wonderful way to kick off the Festive Season and breaks up the long wait until the 24/25 of December. German households typically follow this tradition, children or no.
Christmas Tree: This is the essential decoration in all homes. The tree is usually an artificial one and they can be remarkably similar to the real thing, but obviously much easier to take out, decorate and pack-away to be reused the following year. The decorations are usually in the form of colourful fairy lights, tinsel and baubles or ornaments. The look is to make them bright, colourful and diverse. Christmas trees became popular in 1841 when Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband, a German) brought a Christmas tree over from Germany. The tradition of decorating Christmas Trees became established. The Royal Family was photographed around the tree and voila, a new Christmas tradition was established in Britain. Christmas trees are taken down on the 5th of January. The large Christmas tree on Trafalgar Square is an annual gift from the people of Oslo. Tannenbaum: Christmas Trees are extremely important in German culture and are thought to have been first used during the Middle Ages. They are almost always real fir / spruce trees and great care is taken to select a nicely shaped tree. It is often put-up and decorated on Christmas Eve, though some start earlier. They are often decorated with tinsel, glass baubles, straw ornaments and sweets. Fairly lights are almost always white. Candles are often added and lit but watched over because of the risk of fire. Families often read the Bible and/or sing Christmas songs such as “O Tannenbaum” and “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). The presents are usually placed around the tree. The Tannenbaum is taken down either on New Year’s Day or on January 6th (Three Kings’ Day).
Christmas Cards: Sending and receiving Christmas Cards is and remains a key element of Christmas in the digital age. People make the effort to send cards (traditional ones such as nativity scenes, Christmas trees, etc. or funny ones such as Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer) to friends and family. Households typically receive a large number of cards which form a key part of the Christmas decorations, usually on the walls. Weihnachtskarten: These are not very popular in Germany, though they are exchanged, for example in the business context. Unlike Britain, it is not unusual not to have cards on display in the home.
Home decorations: In addition to Christmas cards, there will often be colourful decorations, which people hang in their homes about two weeks before Christmas. The decorations are usually made of paper or foil, often in the form of long garlands or strings, bells, etc. The predominant colours used are red (symbolising blood shed by Jesus), gold (one of the gifts to Jesus from the wise men) and green (evergreens or eternal life). British homes become much colourful and cheerful overnight. Innendekoration: Germans tend to decorate their homes in a less colourful manner. The predominant colour is while (symbolising purity and peace), though this is slowly changing. The main form is in the shape of Christmas triangles (Adventsbogen), which are often visible on more or less every available window of the home. Nativity scenes, hand-carved wooden nutcrackers (Nussknacker), pyramids (Weihnachtspyramiden) and other carved and painted smokers, arches, angels, etc. are much in evidence.
Exterior decorations: The trend is towards the American style external decorations with multi-coloured fairy lights and displays. Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe are also sometimes used to decorate homes or public buildings. The nationally famous external decorations are the Christmas lights in Oxford Street, London. Außendekoration: In Germany the emphasis remains very much on homogeneous white fairy lights on trees, roofs, car ports, etc. In addition to strings, there are often fairy light nets around trees and shapes (reindeer, Father Christmas, etc.). The external decorations are increasingly more colourful over time.
Nativity play: Almost all primary schools a nativity play which is the story of Mary and Joseph as well as baby Jesus’ birth in a stable, where he was visited by the Shepherds and Wise Men. All the parts are played by the children in front of proud parents. KrippenspielThis is usually performed at Church during the services, but also in Kindergartens and Primary Schools.
Carol Singing: Caroling, singing carols (songs about the birth of Jesus such as Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, etc.) in public places is a long-standing customs going back to the Middle Ages. In the past, the poor collected money from singing carols. People still go caroling from 21 December until Christmas morning to collect money but these days it is for all sorts of good causes. Sternsinger: The tradition of Sternsinger dates back to the 16th century but has now become a fundraising custom. The participants are youngsters dressed in costumes resembling the Three Kings that visited the baby Jesus, with one carrying a star. The Star Singers go from home to home on January 6 (Epiphany) singing carols and soliciting donations for charities.
Christmas Market: Christmas markets were very popular until Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration of Christmas and the fashion died out. There has been no tradition of Christmas markets until recent years but they are rapidly growing in popularity in many cities. Weihnachtsmarkt: Christmas would simply not be Christmas without the Weihnachtsmärkte. They date back the 14th Century and that people bought decorations, candles and toys. As soon as Advent begins, Christmas markets spring up everywhere like wild mushrooms in settlements small and large. The streets and squares are bustling with activity as adults and children listen to music, drink beer or hot mulled wine (Glühwein) or eat gingerbread hearts, sugar-roasted almonds, crepes, cookies, stollen and all sorts of sweet things. Christmas tree decorations, seasonal items and handicrafts are also available.
Christmas Eve This is the time when Father Christmas (Santa) comes, so children are usually very excited. They may leave mince pies (see below) and brandy for him and a carrot for the reindeer. They hang-up large Christmas stockings or pillowcases, so that Father Christmas can fill them with presents, but only if they have been good, of course. As in Germany, many attend midnight mass. HeiligabendChristmas Eve is a workday but businesses close early for the celebration of what is the most important day of the Advent in Germany. After the traditional Christmas meal (see below), families sing Christmas carols and exchange gifts, with children the focal point. German families, including less regular church-goers attend mass. The main service traditionally takes at midnight but it is not unusual for it to be earlier. Frohe Weihnachten!
Christmas Day: This is the day when the presents are opened in Britain. When the children wake-up, they rush for their Christmas stockings or pillowcases, which hopefully were filled by Father Christmas. Normally they unwrap the presents before breakfast. Merry Christmas! Erster WeihnachtsfeiertagThis is the day to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. Over time, it has evolved into a family-oriented celebration when shops are closed and people visit the extended family.
Queen’s Christmas Message: A key feature of Christmas is the Queen’s Christmas Message to the country at 15:00. The Christmas Message is broadcast on radio, television and YouTube. It is widely anticipated and many families ensure that they listen to the Queen’s Christmas Message. Weihnachtsansprache, Neujahrsansprache: There are two equivalents in Germany, though not particularly popular. The first is the Christmas Speech by the German President and the second the New Year’s Speech by the German Chancellor. Neither is so established a tradition as the Queen’s Christmas Message.
Christmas Meal: The main meal is eaten at lunchtime/early afternoon on Christmas Day. It is nowadays roast turkey (previously roast beef or goose), and ‘all the trimmings’ such as carrots, peas and Brussel sprouts, stuffing and sometimes bacon and sausages, together with cranberry sauce and bread sauce. Weihnachtsessen: In Germany the typical Christmas meal is carp or Frankfurters with potato salad. It can also be goose, duck or some other roast accompanied by traditional fare such as apple and sausage stuffing, red cabbage and potato dumplings.
Christmas Crackers: Christmas Crackers are extremely popular part of Christmas meals and are ubiquitous on Christmas Day. It is basically a colourfully decorated paper tube, which is twisted at both ends. Two people pull on each end of the cracker until it pops. It typically contains a paper crown, a token gift and a joke. Everyone willingly wears the paper crown as part of the Christmas meal. Weihnachtsknallbonbons: There is no equivalent in Germany.
Christmas cake, pudding and mince piesChristmas pudding is a steamed brown pudding with raisins, nuts and cherries. It traditionally contained a “six pence” or a silver coin which brings good fortune to the lucky finder. Brandy may be poured over it and set alight. Mince pies are an important part of Christmas. They are small pies filled with minced fruit (e.g. raisins, cherries, citrus peel but certainly not meat!) nuts and spices (e.g. nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon). Christmas cake is a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and icing. These are rarely baked at home as part of the preparations for Christmas. Christstollen, Kipferle, Lebkuchen, etc.: Baking is a key part of Christmas, with children also involved both at school and at home. Germans often bake beautifully decorated cookies (Plätzchen). Stollen, a fruited yeast bread, is the oldest and most famous Christmas treat but there are many others. Gingerbread is baked without yeast and is sweetened with honey and spices are added. Lebkuchen also takes the form of the edible witch’s houses (Hexenhaus), also known as Hansel and Gretel’s house (from Grimm’s fairy tale). They are often made from scratch and beautifully decorated.
Boxing Day: Boxing Day is celebrated on the day after Christmas (26 December) and it is a public holiday. It is called Boxing Day because churches placed an ‘Alms Box’ on Christmas Day for gifts for the poor. These Alms boxes were opened the day after Christmas, hence Boxing Day. Sport is increasingly to the forefront on Boxing day. Zweiter WeihnachtsfeiertagThe second Christmas day, as it is known in Germany, and is typically a quieter time. It is a day for peaceful contemplation, testing out the new toys and gadgets, reading all the new books, etc. and basically relaxing.

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