Tag Archive: Education

EU Enlargement: Lies, Damn Lies and Brexit

The European Union (EU) referendum to decide whether Britain will remain in the EU is less than a month away and the “Brexiteers” (those in favour of leaving or “British Exit”), complain that their opponents, the “Remain” campaign, are making every effort to scare the electorate (“Project Fear”) so as to get a vote to stay in the EU. The Brexiteers cannot complain, as far a I can tell, because they are busily bending the truth while also cranking-up the pressure (“Project Fear”) on the poor average British voter.

To illustrate this let us consider the way the future enlargement of the EU is being handled.

The Balkan Horde Cometh

Ms Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was the first to bring-up the issue of EU enlargement even though she is superficially in the Remain camp: “The states now negotiating to join the EU include Albania, Serbia and Turkey – countries with poor populations and serious problems with organised crime, corruption, and sometimes even terrorism.  We have to ask ourselves, is it really right that the EU should just continue to expand, conferring upon all new member states all the rights of membership?” (emphasis added)

Iain Duncan Smith formerly the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and one of the leading Brexiteers, immediately jumped on the enlargement bashing bandwagon: “The Home Secretary is right to warn of the dangers of countries like Albania and Turkey being allowed to join the EU. If these countries are let into the EU’s open border system it will only increase the pressure on our NHS, schools and housing. It will also vastly increase the risk of crime and terrorism on British streets.” (emphasis added)

Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and the most prominent of the Brexiteers, was his usual self. He said whatever came to his mind that sounded vague humorous while paying scant regard for facts. He can be relied upon to say the exact opposite at a later point in time if it suits him and can help to position him to become the next Prime Minister.

The supposedly most intellectual of the leading Brexiteers, Mr Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, then capped it all in his widely reported article about possible future enlargement: “Albania is on course to join the European Union — alongside four other countries, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The already unwieldy group of 28 is due to become a throng of 33” … When (they) join the EU, another 88 million people will soon be eligible for NHS care and school places for their children. And what will even more immigration from the EU mean for access to housing across the UK? … What will it mean for jobs and wages?” … “And allowing millions more people to come here from the Balkans and Turkey is too much.” (emphasis added)

Unusually for the Brexiteers, they went on to be very specific about the implications of a future EU enlargement connected with the five countries:

  • Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia could join the EU in 2020;
  • They forecast 3,1 to 5,2 million extra immigrants coming to the UK from the 5 countries;
  • Britain would face an influx the size of population of Scotland by 2030.

The Sun, Telegraph, Mail, Express and the other pro-Brexit newspapers widely reported the enlargement claims and forecasts. The image conjured up was one of 5,2 million extra immigrants (the population of Scotland) beating a path straight to the UK, bringing crime and terrorism to our streets, along with making all our public services unsustainable. Since the Brexiteers keep constantly suggesting that British public services are already at “breaking point” due to EU immigration, it is not hard to imagine what life would become like for the long-suffering Britons, once the Balkan hordes have descend upon the green and beautiful land in 15 years´ time. Thanks so much for the timely warning!

So I though you might be interested to read the perspective of someone who has worked in all the Central and South East European countries that are now part of the EU (e.g. Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), as well as the five current EU accession countries.

I know that the mere fact that I have worked in all those countries, including the European Commission as a client, will mean for some that I am disqualified from commenting on the issue of EU Enlargement. They will automatically dismiss me as someone who is “benefitting from EU funding” with the implication that I must be totally biased and am somehow being paid to write something in favour of the EU. I notice this particular argument frequently emanating from the Brexit camp whenever someone has the temerity to call the case for Brexit into question. I can only say that if first hand experience of EU accession is not relevant to a debate about EU accession, then that is a bit of a Catch22, right? Perhaps it is those that know absolutely nothing about the countries or the process of enlargement that are best placed to comment (like some ministers I could mention)?

A little respect goes along way

The first point is that those countries are far from perfect. There are criminals, there is corruption, there is fraud, there is terrorism and there is much else besides such as imperfect democracies and questionable treatment of human rights in the EU accession countries. All true but if that were not the case, they would probably already be part of the EU. It could be argued that a similar litany of woes applies to Britain, Greece, Poland, Hungary… indeed all 28 EU countries; it is merely a matter of degree.

The whole point of trying to join the EU is to develop rules, regulations, policies, standards, norms, etc. through adoption of the EU´s body of rules (called the acquis communautaire) that will enable those countries to become more democratic, transparent, productive, competitive and wealthy and thus developer a higher quality of life. Yes, this does indeed happen by preparing to join and then being part of the EU: it happened in Ireland, it happened in Greece (their implosion was due to joining the EU, which is why the Greeks have absolutely no desire to leave the EU) and it happened in Britain for those that remember the country prior to joining in 1973. For the citizens of the EU accession countries, the EU remains a bright beacon of hope. As a consequence they are willingly going through a painful and drawn-out process of reform and change across all elements of laws, institutions and practices, so as to approximate the EU framework.

To then be singled out for misused in a British debate which tars them with the brush of all current British public fears, is an affront for people and countries that also have their national pride. Shame on you Brexiteers, for your smug, holier than thou attitude, as well as your lack of respect towards the people of those nations. 

Not only is it offensive to project a future EU enlargement far into the future and couple it with “crime, corruption and terrorism on British streets”, it is also a wilful and malign mischaracterisation of the nature of the people concerned. I have worked with and enjoyed the company and hospitality of Turks, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians and Montenegrins (as well as Kosovars, Bosnians and others who aspire to join the EU). I feel privileged to consider many of them to be my colleagues and friends. My experiences have never been anything short of positive in those countries. (As an aside, it so happens that I am writing this post in Tirana; the UK Ministers in question will no doubt be relieved to find out that I have yet to be kidnapped, robbed or terrorised.) In contrast to the calculating Brexiteer portrayal of these people, I am reminded time and again of their warmth, friendliness and positivity in the face of their everyday challenges as they make the slow, painful transition towards alignment to the norms of the EU.

They are as European as the rest of the EU. They have the right to aspire to become part of the EU, as long they fulfil the extremely rigorous conditions connected with EU accession. That applies equally to Turkey, a small part of which is undeniably a geographical part of the Balkans and thus Europe. The EU is not forcing any country to join: those countries wish to be part of the EU and it would be wrong to deny them the opportunity, just as Charles de Gaulle was wrong in vetoing the UK´s efforts to join the EU, twice. The Balkans is undeniably the next, obvious phase of EU enlargement, even if the Turkey question remains highly politically charged.

Every European should be aware of the fractured history of the Balkans. It is totally indefensible for one Brexiteer after the other to chuck them all into one big basked and then proceed to attach to them the most negative stereotypes imaginable. As if the EU does not suffer from some of the same problems. There has always been more than enough crime, fraud and terrorism in the original EEC/EU6 and there still is in the enlarged EU28, as far a I can tell.

I doubt that the Brexiteers have been to the countries that they so disdainfully dismiss. For Europe to turn its back its Balkan neighbours (including Turkey) would be a mistake of epic proportions (let us not forget Europe twiddling its thumbs during the collapse of the ex-Yugoslav Republic and its aftermath) that would reverberate through decades to come. The EU understands this intrinsically, hence the process of Balkan enlargement. Ms May, Mr Gove, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Johnson: your cheap political points are calculated to instil a dreaded fear of those countries, those people and the process of EU enlargement. In my eyes, all of you have forfeited your status of being serious, thoughtful and responsible politicians.

Playing a different tune, again

It is important to stress that Britain is now playing a very different tune in terms of its position on EU accession. For decades the UK was one of staunchest advocates of EU enlargement. In 2004, it allowed all new EU countries (Poland, Slovakia, etc.) to have access to the UK´s labour market a full seven years before it was required by EU transition provisions to do so. This is because the British economy was booming at the time. Many EU citizens responded to the UK´s invitation and came to the UK, thus maintaining the growth of the British economy. However, when the global economy faltered badly during 2007/8, the very same people which Britain had encouraged to come, who had paid their taxes and who had contributed to our wealth generation, were suddenly persona non grata.

First there was Labour´s “British Jobs for British Workers”, then UKIP´s swift rise shuffled the cards of British politics, leading directly to the decision to hold the EU referendum. The longer this debate has gone on, the more it has become divisive, resulting in a no holds barred onslaught on EU immigrants, emboldened by the Brexiteers insistence on overcoming the deadening hand of political correctness and determination to call a spade a spade. But the simple fact is that the persistent characterisation of EU immigrants coming to the UK for benefit tourism, for social housing, for health tourism and all the rest of the claims about public services such as shortages of school places (all distorted – follow the links) amounts to scapegoating people who are hard-working, contributing to the wealth creation of the country and perfectly within their rights as EU citizens. Blaming all of Britain´s long standing public service woes upon the EU and EU citizens, apart from being untrue, lacks class, is unfair and does not reflect the values that Britain and Britons have historically stood for.

British public services have been run down by decades´ worth of neglect, underfunding and lack of political will, which is the reason why housing, education, health, transport, etc. are in the state that they are. It has something to do with the recent levels net immigration, granted, but it is primarily to do with consistent and systemic public policy failures and insufficient funding, over a period of several decades. It is politicians such as Mr Gove, Mr Duncan Smith and others in Government who were responsible for those public services. The current situation reflects long-term political neglect combined with an unprecedented degree of austerity which is squeezing British citizens beyond the point where the pips squeak. The losers in this process are first and foremost the non-working population, followed by those on low incomes, followed by the middle-income population. All are feeling the pinch, but it is the EU and the EU citizens are feeling the fall-out.

It is hypocritical to invite EU immigrants with open arms (certainly during early to mid-2000) when all boats were rising, and then promptly turn our back on the same people, once the recession came along and life becomes harder for most. This is not for the first time. Think back to when the Afro-Caribbean population was similarly invited to keep the British economy ticking over and then made to feel somewhat less welcome in the 1970s and 1980s, when the economic tide turned (as it invariably does). History is repeating itself, though it is no longer a racial matter. Indeed, because they are being squeezed hard by the economic situation combined with the effects of austerity, some of the harshest critics are some of the non-EU immigrants: irony of ironies. But the fact is that by being part of the EU, the EU immigrants who are being derided by the Brexiteers have full and equal rights to be in this country. The very same rights as the very large number of Britons living throughout the other 27 EU countries have. The issue is how to deal with the public policy issues, none of which are new, not to scapegoat some people while blithely continuing to sit on our hands, rather than responding to changing patterns of demand and supply in public services, including housing.

Get your facts right

Coming back to the main point, Ms May, Mr Duncan Smith and Mr Gove and others have also got their facts wrong about EU accession.

The five candidate countries comprise an overall population of 88 million, of which Turkey makes up 75 million. Four out of the five are a mere drop in the ocean in the scale of things. If they were to join the EU, they would add 12 million or 2.3% to the population of the EU (currently 508 million). How adding four countries would turn 28 into a “throng” is up to Mr Gove to explain. The greatest concern would undoubtedly be the possibility of adding Turkey, set to become the most populous country in Europe (but see below), potentially adding 7% to the overall population of the EU at some point in the future.  But the issue of Turkey has little to do with population and a lot to do with religion. It is not by accident that Turkey has been has been an Associate Member of the EEC/EU since 1963 – it has been waiting in the EU´s antechamber for 53 years! How the Brexiteers can suggest that Turkey will suddenly become a full member of the EU by 2020 stretches credulity. But the Brexiteers´position undoubtedly has little to do with “Project Fear” or hounding Britons into voting for Brexit by suggesting that the Balkan horde cometh. 

The EU has learned from the accession process in 2004 and especially 2007, when Bulgaria and Romania joined. The progress (or lack of it) being made by all five existing Candidate Countries is regularly assessed and widely available for all to see in the EC website. A reading of the annual progress reports makes it clear that negotiations have only started with Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, but not with Albania and Macedonia. It is clear that none of them is making particularly rapid progress and accession will take years, possibly decades, for them to be assessed as having made sufficient progress for the European Commission to recommend that they be accepted as new members of the EU.

The suggestion that they will all join the EU any time soon, such as 2020, is far-fetched, with the possible exception of Montenegro, a country of 600,000 inhabitants. Turkey´s ongoing struggles with the basics (democracy, human rights, media freedom, etc.) mean that it has an extremely long path ahead before it reaches the point of accession readiness: 2020 is completely out of the question at the current rate of progress. The suggestion that all of them, including two that have not even stated officially negotiating accession, could join the EU by 2020 is simply pie in the Brexit sky.

28 accession vetoes

The Brexiteers are ruthlessly stoking-up and exploiting people´s fears by projecting an unrealistic scenario 15 years from now. This calculated fearmongering is as manipulative as it is irresponsible for several reasons:

  1. None of the countries is making sufficient progress to be ready for accession by 2020;
  2. The European Commission has learned from previous rounds of accession and is monitoring progress much more careful than in previous rounds of EU accession;
  3. Two of the countries have not even started official negotiations;
  4. Each of the 28 EU member countries has a veto on EU enlargement (despite what Brexiteers, such as Ms Penny Mordaunt may wrongly claim);
  5. There has been a sea-change in public mood towards further enlargement, especially after Bulgaria and Romania, though Croatia´s accession is barely mentioned;
  6. Some EU counties have pledged to hold a referendum on enlargement connected with Turkey, thus adding a huge degree of further uncertainty about its future accession.

The Brexiteers´arguments are plain wrong and they are fully aware of this. The same goes for their diagnosis of the role of EU immigration in relation to the breakdown of British public services. The same applies to the claim that the EU costs Britain GBP 350 million per week. And yet the Brexiteers keep pushing the misleading buttons. They have run out of valid economic arguments and the only Joker left in the pack is the current and future EU immigration card.

7 year transition provision

The Brexiteers are wrong in their estimated scenarios of possible future immigration from the five EU accession countries. Because in addition to the arduous process of accession connected with the acquis communautaire, there is the small matter of getting 28 unanimous “yes” votes to accession, followed by the referendums that any of the 28 nations may choose to hold. These multiple barriers undermine the scaremongering.

Even if the EU accession countries, especially Turkey, get through all those hurdles, there is also the EU´s 7 year transition provision, which means that each new country that joins the EU, must wait up to 7 years before its population acquires the right to live and work in the rest of the EU countries.

Even in the extremely unlikely scenario that all five countries join the EU by 2020, it would be 2028 before any of them would have the right move, live and work in the UK, unless Britain chooses unilaterally to suspend the 7 year rule, as it did in 2004 but not in 2007. For 5,2 million additional EU immigrants to move wholesale from these five countries to the Britain is yet another stretch of the Brexiteers´ febrile imagination as the 23 of June 2016 approaches.

When it comes to EU enlargement, there are lies, damn lies and Brexit.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2016, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


To Brexit or not to Brexit: key issues for the EU Referendum

EU Referendum ahead

The British voter will soon be asked to decide on whether Britain will continue to have a future as part of the European Union (EU) or to exit it (i.e. Brexit or British Exist). The EU referendum’s date has not yet been fixed and must happen by 2017, but is widely speculated that it is going to be to be scheduled for mid-2016.

That question that will be put to the British voter is simple but fundamentally important, namely:

  • Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the EU?

The options are either to:

  • Remain a member of the European Union or
  • Leave the European Union

This is a simple question with simple options, but it nevertheless is a historic referendum that will influence the future of the UK (and that of the EU itself) for generations to come.

Brexit the obvious solution?

I am a British citizen who lived, studied and worked in Britain. My parents, sibling and my closest friends remain in Britain. Nevertheless, during the last 20 years, I have lived and worked in numerous countries of the EU and elsewhere. I am married to a German and my business takes me regularly to different parts of the EU, potential future EU countries and beyond. I understand what the feeling is about the EU and that there is frustration with the way the EU is perceived to be interfering with British sovereignty and especially about the freedom of movement of people, which is widely seen to be adding to the social pressures in the country.

If I were about to cast a vote at the forthcoming EU referendum, I would feel apprehensive about it. If I were to believe what a hostile media and populist politicians stress, my gut reaction might be to vote for Brexit and leave the EU. I might not be greatly enamoured by the current state of the UK economy, the ongoing austerity, the decreasing wages and the job insecurity. I might well be hearing about the number of laws and regulations emanating from “Brussels”, which the shorthand for the EU, with the implication that Britain no longer controls its own borders and sovereignty. I might well be tempted to conclude that the EU is indeed to blame.

Furthermore, I might also be frustrated by my inability to get on to the first rang of the housing ladder while others point to migrants from the EU are taking up the supply of housing that I or my children want to make use of in our own country. This might lead me to concur with those that point to the “uncontrolled” borders and the EU migration caused by the freedom of movement of people. A similar argument is applied to the pressures in the health and education systems, and I might also be concerned about the “swarms” of EU migrants taking-up scarce resources that we are entitled to, since we are the ones who are actually paying the taxes while the others jump the queue and coin the market for social benefits.

In short, if I were to believe all of the above, I might be well disposed to giving “Europe” a bloody nose, just as populist politicians and the media are urging me to. I might vote to leave the EU: Britain was great on its own and can be once again.

The real issues

But the British voters are fair and reasonable. Rather than follow their gut reaction, they will want to balance both sides of the equation and be fair and dispassionate in making this historic decision. They will want answers to the following questions:

  • Is the negative portrayal of the EU and all the criticism connected with it correct?
  • Is it too simplistic to say that the EU is to blame for all the challenges in Britain?
  • Is Britain indeed so tied-up by the EU that it is no longer in charge of its own destiny?
  • Are there only costs to being one of 28 member of the EU?

If something sounds too simple to be true (it’s the EU, stupid!), then perhaps it is really is too good to be true. Simple solutions to complex problems are appealing but can the EU really be the fount of all of Britain’s ills and will the country really be better off immediately upon Brexit?

Looking at it through another lens, the fair-minded British voter might ask whether it is reasonable or not to only see “Europe”, “Brussels” and the “European Union” only in a negative light? Can it really be that Britain is only paying in but getting nought out of the EU? And, if things are not quite so black and white, what exactly are those positives that are so rare to hear about? Are the benefits so abstract that the ordinary voter simply cannot grasp them or related to them?

We all instinctively know that there are two sides to every story but the media and the loudest politicians do not excel at presenting the pros and cons. As a Brit with a foot on both camps, I hear a series of populist myths being peddled again and again. I often smell a red herring when I turn a newspaper pager. I often see the EU being used and abused by those who would attack a straw man.

So in making-up my mind about how to vote at the historic EU referendum, as a Brit, I would want to understand the costs as well as the benefits connected with the most important EU issues, namely:

EU costs
  • Is EU migration a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is EU benefit tourism a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the housing crisis a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is EU health tourism a good reason for Brexit?
  • Are EU directives and regulations a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the state of the education system a good reason for Brexit?
  • Is the EU the cause of austerity, low productivity and stagnating wages in the UK?
  • Is the UK paying more than its fair share and getting little out of the EU?
EU benefits
  • Is having the Euro (one currency in 19 countries out of 28) so bad?
  • Is being able to visit, study and work in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is being able to own a second home and retire in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common trade arrangements in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common environmental standards in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is having common consumer protection in 28 countries so bad?
  • Is reducing the time, stress, cost, etc. across 28 countries so bad?
  • Is the EU undemocratic, out of touch and beyond reform?
Key issues

 

  • Is Britain better or worse off within the EU?
  • Is the EU better or worse off with Britain in the EU?
  • Are you better off with Britain in the EU or not?

Questions and Answers

If I were the average voter, I would want an answer to these questions before casting my vote.

I would also want the answers to be simple, short and to the point but backed-up by evidence.

This is exactly what the AngloDeutsch Blog will seek to do from until the referendum.

This will be a challenge, given my professional and other commitments, but I shall do my best to cover as many of these topics as I can over the next few months, starting with the EU’s freedom of movement of people.

Dr Ricardo Pinto, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU, 13 February 2016


Predicting the British General Election Result and the next few years

A humorous but apt Danish proverb is that “Prediction is difficult, especially when dealing with the future.” As the politicians finally stop pushing the merits of their policies and the British voters reflect on which way to cast their vote on 07 May 2015 general election, I will hazard some predictions about the likely general election result, as well as the political priorities that are likely to be pursued in the next few years in Britain. Most if not all of the predictions will probably come back to haunt me, but here goes nothing…

And the winner is…

My main prediction is that the Conservatives will win more seats than any other political party, even if the polls suggest that the election might be a close call. I also predict that the Conservatives will gain an overall majority, rather than a hung parliament. The main reasons for this prediction are all to do with Labour, rather than the Conservatives or their policy initiatives:

  • Labour is going to be decimated in Scotland and the other political parties will have almost no influence there. The clear winner is going to be the Scottish National Party (SNP) and with this development, the dynamics of Westminster-based politics will change dramatically, especially for the Labour Party.
  • The British public, including many traditional Labour voters, remain extremely sceptical about the final Blair / Brown years, which they blame a lot of the issues confronting society, not least being drawn into recent wars, immigration trends and the state of the economy. Many voters will switch to the SNP in Scotland and the Conservatives and/or UKIP in England.
  • Large segments of the general public neither relate to nor trust either Ed Miliband or any of the current crop of Labour leaders. In this respect, I cannot help but experience a sense of déjà vu in respect to the Michael Foot / Neil Kinnock era which bodes ill for the Labour Party.

The Conservatives will profit from the above and will form the next government. This is particularly the case because the UKIP vote, though significantly understated in the opinion polls, nevertheless does not seem to be as much of a threat to the Conservatives as previously anticipated. This is as much to do with the current electoral system as UKIP’s almost wilful self-destruction through incompetence combined with persistent gaffes by its candidates that undermine the message that it is neither anti-immigration nor racist. Despite it all, UKIP retains strong support in parts of England.

My other two predictions concern the issue of austerity and its implications on British society, as well as the future of Britain in the European Union.

EU Referendum: plus ça change…

Regarding the in-out EU referendum scheduled for 2017, the Conservative Party will finally have to break cover and clarify whether it belongs to the yes or no camp. If the Conservatives are able to form a majority Government, as the traditional party of business, it will ultimately side with remaining in the EU, whatever the pressures of UKIP or the antics of its noisy Eurosceptic wing. After all, the Conservative policy of offering an EU referendum in 2017 was a strategic move calculated to defang UKIP and yet placate the more rabid anti-EU Tories; it was not a decision to leave the EU per se.

Their shambolic position on the EU reflects the fact that David Cameron and other senior members of the Conservative Party, on balance, favour remaining in the EU.  The political price to be paid for campaigning to remain in the EU is that this will prove to be the second and final term of office for David Cameron as the Prime Minister and possibly as an MP. The SNP, LibDems and Labour will campaign in favour of remaining in the EU. Moreover, the business sector will make its views in an increasingly vocal and forcible manner and the wider pro-EU voice will be more pronounced than has been the case hitherto. Unlike the present time where few speak up, others, such as art, culture and sport personalities will do likewise as a means of counteracting what will remain, in the main, a strongly anti-EU media.

Should a coalition Government arise, the LibDems would have to perform much better than anticipated to have a chance of running the country. The other possible coalition partner to the Conservatives, despite protestations to the contrary, is UKIP. If the latter coalition government were to emerge, the political price to be paid to UKIP will be a Conservatives campaign to leave the EU and to hold the in/out referendum in 2016, rather than 2017. A combination of the Conservatives and UKIP running to leave the EU would be a disaster for Britain (as well as the remaining EU countries already battered by the travails of Greece and holding the Eurozone together), which would be very hard to counteract, especially with the majority of the British media supporting their position. Britain would come to regret the likely outcome in the medium to long-term.

Under any scenario involving a referendum, the EU will have to show flexibility and do whatever it takes in to facilitate the UK remaining in the EU. As I have previously argued, there will not be fundamental EU treaty amendments for the sake of keeping Britain in the EU boat, such as a reform of the freedom of movement or the other three fundamental freedoms of movement, namely of capital, services (which is extremely underdeveloped) and goods. However, the EC and the EU will be more flexible in areas such as benefit entitlement in the EU area, which in any case is almost entirely determined by nation states, rather than EU directives and regulations.

If the referendum were to be held today, I believe the outcome would be an outright rejection  of the EU. The great majority of British media is extremely anti-EU and anti-immigration and would contribute to a no vote. However, there could be up to two years for business, society and voters to reflect on the not insignificant advantages of being part of the EU, as well as the potential consequences of Britain going it alone in an increasingly globalised world. A re-orientation towards the old and new Commonwealth and North America is no longer adequate to guarantee current, let alone future prosperity. An emphasis on trade at the exclusion of everything else that the EU brings simply does not cut the mustard in the modern era, where problems such as environmental issues and tax agreements require regional or global responses, rather than national ones. Turning our back on 27 other next door neighbours around us in Europe is simply not sustainable in an economic, social, political or any other sense.

I retain great faith in the capacity of the British public to eventually do the right thing. The following Winston Churchill quotation springs readily to mind: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” Substitute “Brits” for “Americans” and you get the gist of what I mean. The outcome of the EU referendum will be a narrow “yes” majority to remain in the EU. The alternative does not bear thinking about.

Austerity ad nauseam

The last prediction is that the squeeze on the public sector is set to continue for the next few years and it will further transform Britain and its welfare state, resulting in a more divided and fragmented society. There will be a repeat of the pattern set in the previous Parliament, namely a dramatic public expenditure squeeze in the first two years, followed by a gradual let-up as the term of office peters out and politicians look to be re-elected.

The Conservative Party does not deny that further cuts in the order of GBP 12 billion  in social expenditure are in the pipeline, even if it is rather coy about how exactly this will be achieved. If the last Parliament was anything to go by, the brunt of the cuts will continue to be borne by the more vulnerable members of society, while corporations and the wealthy are spared.

There will continue to be a lot of talk about benefit scroungers (British and EU) to justify the cuts which will fall disproportionately on the working poor and non-working segments of British society. The austerity agenda continues to offer handy political cover for a significant reduction in the size of the state and the social and welfare infrastructure, including local government. This is set to continue, spreading more deeply to areas such as police, judiciary, military, etc. since the other options have been largely exhausted. The alternative would be to put the squeeze (e.g. means testing benefits of various sorts, higher taxes, etc.) on the middle classes, the retired and the wealthy; this will not happen if the Conservatives hope to be re-elected thereafter.

In the meantime, some of the things that Britons are most concerned about such a shelter (sufficient, affordable and good quality housing), health (NHS, access and quality) and education (primary, secondary and tertiary) will continue to experience gradual deterioration. These are simply not great priorities for the Conservatives. Their traditional supporters are capable of by-passing any current or future shortcomings in state provision and directly accessing the highest quality services that money can provide, though the phenomenon of the “squeezed middle” will ensure that political capital and financial resources will still be devoted to these fundamental themes.

Instead, the (EU and non-EU) migrants will continue to act as the lightning rod for people’s frustration with a slowly crumbling system, while those that have been running these very systems for decades or generations are largely spared the British citzens’ ire. After all, if housing is unaffordable and private renting is insecure, the normal response in a modern wealthy country would be to stimulate significant additional supply and/or ensure that appropriate protections are enacted. This will not happen. If there are not enough school places or hospital beds, then public investment should deliver greater supply while still maintaining standards. This is highly unlikely to happen either. Yet it is Westminster that is responsible for recognising, responding to and securing these changes over the medium term, not individual citizens looking to access these services, regardless of their nationality, race or creed.

We shall know the result of the general election soon enough. I sincerely hope that most of the above predictions prove to be wrong, in which case I will gladly eat my hat.

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