Tag Archive: Referendum

Brexit: 4.7+ million lives at stake

Brexit will directly or indirectly influence 65 million people in the UK, but it will fundamentally affect the lives of 4.7 million people: the 3.5 million European Union (EU) citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons in the 27 EU countries. This is more than the population of 9 of the 28 countries in the EU, namely Malta, Luxemburg, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland. There are a lot of lives a stake. In fact, the numbers involved are much larger. For example, I am a Briton in Germany but my family are German, so do not count among the 4.7 million. There will be many cases of mixed nationalities, so the true number of lives affected is higher.

4.7+ million is a statistic. People´s families, hopes and futures are not. Brexit puts lives at stake.

The epitome of personal freedom: gone with the wind

These people migrated to the UK/EU in good faith. There are four fundamental rights at the heart of the EU. Of those, the freedom of movement of people to work, travel, study, retire, etc. anywhere within the 28 countries of the EU is fundamentally important. 4.7+ million EU/UK citizens migrated in good faith, created new lives for themselves and put down roots. In doing so, they automatically acquiring the same rights as their fellow citizens in the countries that they are living in.

It is the epitome of personal freedom across 28 nations. 508 million people currently have this right and nothing of the sort exists anywhere in the world. But a year ago, 52% of eligible British voters voted to unilaterally turn their back on this and the other fundamental freedoms of the EU (i.e. freedom of moment of goods, services and capital).  To be fair, only 37% of eligible voters voted Leave, which means that 63% of eligible voters did not vote to leave the EU. It is a pity that the government chose a simple majority, rather than setting a higher threshold for a decision with enormous implications. I was not one of the voters and many other adult Brits living in other EU countries were similarly denied a vote because of the so-called “15-year rule”. As I have previously written, “Britain has taken away my right to vote (and I want it back).”

Is it fair and reasonable to simply cut-off 4.7+ million from all the rights and benefits that they are currently entitled to because of a margin of 2% of the eligible British voters decided that they “wanted their country back” and were willing to play fast and loose with the rights that the EU confers? Can we reasonably expect people to simply pack-up and “go home”? What about the uncertainty, stress and distress involved for them, some of whom have been informed by the Home Office to prepare to go home at the same time as it makes it as difficult and complicated as possible to apply for UK citizenship?

We are talking about ordinary people who legally took-up their rights and who are now uncertain about their homes, jobs, education, pensions, health provision, families and indeed their futures.

Brexit before People

Small wonder then, that the EU has prioritised sorting out the future of these 4.7+ million people who are caught in the cross-fire of Britain´s decision to leave the EU supposedly in order to control their own border, laws and destiny.

Only, it is not just its own destiny that is affected by Brexit.

It is also the destiny of people who had no vote (both EU nationals in the UK and Britons like myself) and no say on their own future. A Conservative government called an unnecessary EU Referendum primarily in a calculated and cynical effort to save its political skin from the threat of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Its gamble backfired, delivering political chaos and threatening the long-term economic decline of the UK. This humongous miscalculation has the potential to divide the Conservative party and consign it to the dustbin of history. It has already split the country asunder at multiple levels and a very uncertain future awaits the country as a result.

The EU has made it clear that it has three absolute priorities before it is anywhere near being ready to negotiate the only thing that really seems to matter to the UK government, namely a trade deal. These include the Brexit financial settlement, the Republic of Ireland / Northern Ireland border and the rights of EU/UK citizens. The EU Guidelines for Brexit Negotiations makes it clear that the rights of citizens matter above all else:

“The right for every EU citizen, and of his or her family members, to live, to work or to study in any EU Member State is a fundamental aspect of the European Union. Along with other rights provided under EU law, it has shaped the lives and choices of millions of people.  Agreeing reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal of EU and UK citizens, and their families, affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union will be the first priority for the negotiations. Such guarantees must be effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.”

The nationalities most affected are Britons (about 1.2 million) and Poles (about 900,000). Needless-to-say, it should be the UK´s absolute priority to regulate the situation of so many British lives living in EU countries ASAP. Only it is not.

Theresa May and her merry band of Europhobic Brexiteers have chosen to play fast and loose with people´s lives. For over a year, they have made a point of perpetuating the uncertainties. They have chosen to play a coy game of waiting and seeing, using the lives of 4.7+ million people like so many pawns to be positioned and/or sacrificed in their callous and atrociously incompetent game of Brexit chess. Shameful is the word that readily springs to mind.

Interestingly, Mr George Osborne, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and now Editor of the Evening Standard, has just alleged that, in fact, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, had tried to settle the issue of EU citizens’ rights unilaterally immediately after the EU Referendum. However, this was vetoed by one member of the cabinet. This person was none other than the ex-Home Secretary, as it enhanced her prospects of becoming Prime Minister. We are, of course, talking about none other than Mrs Theresa May. If true, this indicates that she thought nothing of toying with people´s lives in order to better position herself to become Prime Minister. The list of wooden, robotic, crude, calculating, incompetent and downright cruel decisions keeps growing. At some point, bad luck or circumstance can no longer account for the black marks. They cast an increasingly unflattering light on her past, present and future legacy as a politician, if not as a person.

The official Brexit negotiations finally got going on the 19 June 2017, though the emphasis was on “talks about talks” and the UK´s wishful thinking was immediately exposed. On the 23 of June 2017, Mrs May travelled to an EU summit in Brussels and presented her opening offer on EU citizen rights, having let the issue hang for so long. What did she come-up with? Was it perhaps to do the simplest thing to put an end to the uncertainty for 4.7+ million lives by matching the EU offer? Not on your nelly. Why would the British government immediately end the uncertainties hanging over the future of 4.7+ million people, 25% of whom are Britons, in one fell swoop when it can continue to play politics with so many people´s lives?

Unfair and Unserious

Our beloved Maybot chose instead to continue to play the immigration card and prolong the uncertainty for short term political gain: at least she is strong and stable in this respect. She presented her vision of a “fair and serious” offer to protect EU citizen rights by offering them a new “UK settled status” for EU migrants who had lived in the UK for five years with rights to stay and access health, education and other unspecified benefits, subject to the EU27 states guaranteeing Britons the same rights. Rather than determining whether these would also apply to dependents and setting the date at which the 5 years qualifying starts, she chose to be vague about this (sometime between March 2017, when Article 50 was triggered and March 2019, when the 2-year period of Brexit ends), thereby creating another source of uncertainty for many people who have been in the country for less than the qualifying period. Furthermore, she circumvented the EU´s position that EU citizens´ rights be enforceable by the European Court of Justice, which is a sticking point among Europhobes.

This falls well short of the EU´s negotiating position which is basically that EU citizens living in the UK should retain all EU rights in perpetuity, with the same applying to Britons living in the EU27. This is a simple, transparent and fair position that people can relate to. This is what fair and serious looks like as compared a British government persisting in using EU citizen as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations.

The EU was quick to point out that EU summits are not the place to initiate negotiations. The British Prime Minister does not appear to understand that two teams have been selected with the mandate to negotiate the terms of Brexit. Various EU, German and French politicians have stressed that the so-called fair and serious offer was “below expectation”, but a “good start” even if “no breakthrough” and that “there was a long way to go.” In other words, the offer was not taken to be either fair or serious and crashed like a lead balloon. It could have been predicted, had Mrs May and the Europhobes not been so isolated and deluded. The official UK offer will be presented on 26 June 2017; we all await it with bated breath.

Grown-up Politics Overdue

The Maybot and the Europhobes continue to try to be “bloody awkward”, rather to focus on normalising the lives of 4.7+ million people. So here are three questions for the UK government:

  • What is so difficult about understanding that millions of people are fearing for their homes, families, livelihoods, education, health arrangements, pensions, etc.?
  • Are you blind to the stress, frustration, disappointment, resentment and anger caused by the uncertainty?
  • Are you incapable of feeling empathy for such people 12 months after the Brexit vote?

4.7+ million lives are not so many bargaining chips to be used to try to extract EU concessions.

4.7+ million lives call for adult politics and truly fair and serious solutions.

Tomorrow, I expect my government to stop mucking about and sort it out.

By that, I do not mean begrudging, half-hearted solutions but the real deal.

We and our families are entitled for the rest of our lives to whatever rights existed before the EU Referendum unilaterally threatened to take them away from us.

We entitled to no more and certainly no less.

© Ricardo Pinto, 2017, AngloDeutsch™ Blog, www.AngloDeutsch.EU


The Brexiteers vs The Establishment: a very tall tale

And so, with less than a week to go before the EU Referendum scheduled of the 23 June 2016, the Leave (or Brexit for British Exit) campaign took a lead in the opinion polls for the first time, quickly followed by other polls showing that everything is to play for. Such polls are not an exact science: they have not known for their accuracy in the UK. In the last referendum they were predicting that Scotland would choose to divorce from the UK. More recently they did not predict a majority for the Conservatives in the last General Election. Still something is happening which might result in the unimaginable: Britain could soon find itself heading out of the European Union (EU).

A theme which becomes more and more apparent in recent polling is that a shift has occurred and it is connected with particular social groups representing the working population pushing for Brexit. The reason has probably little to do with the EU itself, which is generally not that well known (in itself is an on-going problem and not just in the UK). Rather this seems to reflect be a groundswell of concerns, anxieties and fear which go beyond EU immigration:

“… the EU referendum debate has opened up a Pandora’s box of working-class anger and frustration… I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear … For them, talking about immigration and being afraid of immigration is about the precarity of being working class, when people’s basic needs are no longer secure and they want change. The referendum has opened up a chasm of inequality in the UK and the monsters of a deeply divided and unfair society are crawling out. They will not easily go away no matter what the referendum result.”

This analysis rings true to me and hence my fear that the EU Referendum could swinging towards Brexit, whatever the merits of the Remain case. The Leave campaign has detected and tapped into this sentiment, and is now milk it for all it is worth. By contrast, the utter failure of the Remain campaign to articulate a strong case for remaining, as opposed sketching gloom and doom Brexit scenarios, has an alarmist and thus false ring to it.

Instead, the Brexiteers have positioned themselves to pander to these fears and anxieties, while at the same time offering them a golden opportunity to giving a bloody nose to the toffs representing the British Establishment / Elites that would preserve the status quo (i.e. remain in the EU) at all costs and against the best interests of ordinary Britons.

Austerity has  undoubtedly intensified the sense of precarity in British society and this is being exploited by the Brexiteers. However, the issue is what exactly is the motivation of the leading Brexiteers and their backers? Should Brexit occur, would they prioritise dealing with these legitimate concerns upon Brexit or are the Brexiteers spinning a very long tale?

The Noes

The “Noes” camp is led by Boris Johnson and his band of merry men such as Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel, etc. (all Conservatives). Nigel Farage (UKIP) is ploughing his own furrow. The others consider him to be “toxic” to the Brexit because of his focus on the issue of EU immigration,  most recently demonstrated in UKIP´s intemperate use of the refugee crisis, though in reality the immigration theme is one which the rest of the leading Brexiteers have increasingly latched on to.

They are joined by those well-known supporters of democracy and transparency who only wish Britain well for the future, such as Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. All are encouraging Britons to Brexit, thus freeing the UK from the clutches, if not shackles, of the EU.

They all stress the need to regain control of the borders (i.e. stop EU immigration), stop EU benefit tourism, stop EU heath tourism, stop housing being taken up by EU foreigners, stop school places being taken-up by EU migrants´ children,  stop the loss of British sovereignty, stop EU enlargement, stop payments flowing to the EU, etc. (follow the links for an alternative analysis of the causes and the solutions). The grand plan is to stop anything and everything emanating from the EU because it is self-evident (to them) that all of Britain’s problems stem from being in the EU. This has the simplistic ring of pure populism and we all know what that has led to in the past.

The Brexiteers have few ideas about what they would do upon Brexit. The plan is basically to stop the EU, regain full sovereignty, regain control of the borders, reduce immigration through an Austria style points system, sign-up new trade deals and plough Britain´s EU financial contribution into public services. Britain will soon thrive upon Brexit. Apparently.

The possibility that most of the key problems in Britain (housing, health, education, low productivity, infrastructure, massive public and private sector debt, etc.) are the direct result of Britain´s own systemic policy failures and would cost a few zillion pounds more that the EU annual contribution seemingly does not cross their mind.

The EU is to blame for everything and the British Establishment / Elites (i.e. pretty much anyone daring to challenge the Leave arguments, especially experts) with it.

The Ayes

On the other side of the fence is a very long list of those calling for Britain to Remain in the EU because it is in Britain´s present and future interest to do so, including:

  • The majority of the Conservative Party, including the Prime Minister and Chancellor:
  • The majority of the Labour Party, including the leader of the opposition (officially);
  • The Social Democrats;
  • The Scottish National Party;
  • The Greens;
  • Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton;
  • The Treasury;
  • The Institute of Fiscal Affairs;
  • The Federal Reserve;
  • The World Bank;
  • The World Trade Organisation (WTO);
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD);
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF);
  • The other 27 EU nations;
  • The trades unions;
  • The great majority of established businesses;
  • The great majority of health professionals, NGOs and similar;
  • Almost all economists (since there are almost as many differences of opinion as there are economists, the fact that about 600 have united behind Remain is remarkable).

This is an overwhelming group of institutions that favour Remaining in the EU.

Such an incredible array of opinion would normally sway public opinion.

But the reality is that they are cutting little or no ice with the social groups previously discussed.

Instead, the Brexiteers have gained momentum and could well win the day.

The Anti Establishment Band?

The Brexiteers are putting-up a fight – an increasingly bitter one at that (as was the previous Brexit referendum in 1975).

They stress that they are fighting the British Establishment / Elite, pointedly alluding to the wealthy toffs such as David Cameron and George Osborne.

They emphasise that the Establishment prefers the status quo, rather than what is right for Britain.

They maintain that the Establishment from abroad (USA, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, etc.) should butt-off and allow Britons to get on it, as if we are not all interconnected in this globalised world where whatever Britons decided affects all other EU national, as well other countries.

They dismiss international organisations for being stuffed full of overpaid and under-taxed bureaucrats that simply trot out what the EU and the Establishment wants to hear. They do the same with any other experts, Britons or not, for all being in the EU´s pocket.

Since the economic and trade case for Brexit is non-existent, except in their own imagination, they increasingly contrast themselves with the Elites / Establishment, while they uphold the interests of ordinary working class Britons by braving political correctness and speaking out against current EU immigration as well as immigration from future accession countries such as Turkey and Albania.

They point out that, unlike them, the Establishment has lost contact with ordinary, working class voters, who are suffering from the consequences of the EU.

And they insist that they are not racists, they are not nativists, they are not isolationists and they are not Little Englanders. They just want what is in the best long-term best interests of the UK.

There is an element of truth in some of the above; there has to be a veneer of it in order to connect with people.

But there is a very tall tale at the core of it too, which is what I would like to emphasis in this post.

Question: when is the Establishment not the Establishment?

Answer: when you belong to the leading Band of Brexiteers

Maybe it is possible that all the British and other institutions previously listed are not in cahoots in a someMachiavellian national, European and global  conspiracy to get Britons to vote for something that would be detrimental to their own future.

Maybe ending EU membership will not miraculously cure Britain´s structural problems, which are the main reason that the key British public services are in their current state.

Maybe Britain´s austerity, which has nothing to do with the EU, is the driver of all the angst.

Maybe Brexit might actually accentuate the problems, not least the massive and growing public sector deficit, in the short, medium and long-term.

And maybe, just maybe, the Brexiteers are themselves deeply embedded in the very bedrock of the Establishment / Elite which they are so dismissive of.

Consider the following:

  • Boris Johnson: Eton, Oxford University, ex-Mayor of London, Cabinet Member;
  • Michael Gove: Robert Gordon´s School, Oxford University, Cabinet Member
  • Iain Duncan Smith: St. Peter´s RC Secondary School, Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, ex-Cabinet Member;
  • Nigel Farage: Dulwich College, ex-city trader, Member of European Parliament.

Put in these terms, and not even alluding to their likely personal wealth, the band of leading Brexiteers dismissing everyone else for being the British Establishment / Elite could be construed as a good case of “the pot calling the kettle black,” to use a quaint but fitting British saying.

The most prominent Brexiteers did not exactly grow-up in a council housing estate, attend a public school, let alone go around waving a flag of St George or driving a white van, to use some of the usual terminology which the media and politicians now use to denote the white, working class social groups in England (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland remain solidly for staying in the EU).

I doubt that Boris Johnson and his band of merry Brexiteers are to be regularly found at the local pub, quaffing a celebratory pint of ale after a football match to wash down their bacon butties (unless TV crews are present, of course). I exaggerate, but the point is that all the leading figures of the vote Leave campaign appear to have done rather well out of being an integral part of the British Establishment /Elite. You can be confident that their children and grandchildren are likely to do well out of being part of the same social group.

Therefore, for this set of people to be tapping into the palpable angst among working class Britons in order to further their own political ambitions grates with me. They are seeking to mobilise working class sentiment to achieve an ideological objective which, in the long-term, may very well work against those same voters while, at the same time, propelling BoJo and his band of merry Brexiteers ever further up the greasy pole of British politics and Establishment positions.

The fact is that the leading Brexiteers are not exactly committed to protecting the average person.

In a recent televised debate, Boris Johnson said that the Leave side is determined to protect the workers after Nicola Sturgeon quoted something he once wrote: “The weight of employment regulation is backbreaking. We should get rid of the collective redundancies directive, the workers’ directive, the working time directive and 1,000 more.”

Yet these are the very things which are protecting British employees from having their rights undermined by such British developments as “zero hour contracts”.

Nigel Farage has been widely reported for calling for a move away from a state-funded NHS.

Gove is the architect of educational academies that is not only flawed but may well be damaging education while also increasing inequality.

Iain Duncan Smith is the author-in-chief of the austerity drive which has cut out billions from the welfare state, thus impoverishing the lives of the non-working population of the UK, while also dismantling various parts of social security safety net for low income workers.

The sad fact is that the leading Brexiteers and Brexit, which is definitely on the cards likely, may actually accentuate the fear, insecurity and precarity that is driving the recent trends in voting intentions in relation to the forthcoming EU referendum. When they no longer need to take the EU into consideration, further deregulation and labour market flexibility will lead to even more winners and losers. Your guess about who is likely to be on the losing side is as good as mine: the very people that might vote for Brexit as the outlet of their frustration and anxieties?

The EU Bashers

The band of Brexiteers is far from being alone in the aggressive fight for Brexit.

There is a strong anti-EU bias at the core of the British Establishment. A recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the British press coverage of the EU Referendum is “heavily skewed in favour of Brexit”. It is not just any newspapers that are anti “Europe” but specifically the ones which just happen to be most influential in terms of the social groups turning towards Brexit, as well as having massive circulation compared with the pro-remain newspapers, as illustrated below.

Pro Leave Circulation Pro Remain Circulation
Sun 1.800,000 Mirror 809,000
Mail 1.700,000 Financial Times 198,000
Telegraph 472,000 Guardian 164,000
Express 408,000 Independent 55,000
Times 404,000
Total 4,784,000 Total 1,226,000

 

In other words, much of the British reporting (printed and online coverage) has a strong anti-EU spin and they are not particularly concerned about such trivialities as balanced argument and truthful reporting. The fact is that the Brexiteers are not exactly in their own: they are strongly and systematically aided and abetted by the most influential newspapers in terms of circulation and readership by social groups which are turning against remaining in the EU. The “drip drip” effect clearly works.

Billionaire Brexit Backers (BBB)

The Brexit backers are not restricted to a few billionaire newspaper tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch, Barclay Brothers, Lord Rothermere, Richard Desmond, etc. A simple internet search of the backers of the UKIP / Leave campaigns reveals that quite a few multi-millionaires / billionaires are bankrolling Brexit. These are mainly financiers of various sorts, as well as property tycoons, ICT and retail magnets.

This is not to suggest that the Remain campaign does not have über-wealthy supporters but to illustrate the sort of people that are funding the Brexit campaigns. If these über-wealthy individuals are not, like the leading Brexiteers, and much of the British media, not part and parcel of the very essence of Elite / Establishment, then I do not know who is. If these sorts of individuals not extremely well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities that might arise post-Brexit, not least from the turmoil that might be caused in the property and financial markets, then I do not know who is.

These are not the sort of individuals who are likely to take much notice of the concerns of working people in relation to jobs, wages, housing, social services, etc. It is a safe bet to suggest that protecting British workers´ rights upon Brexit and thus counteracting the drivers of the recent referendum polling trends is not likely to be at the top of their post-Brexit agenda. Take an illustrative quotation from one of the billionaires bankrolling Brexit. Peter Hargreaves has acknowledged the insecurity that would result from Brexit and stressed that: “It would be the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had” … “We will get out there and we will be become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.” Maybe a billionaire stockbroker truly believes this but I doubt that the average Briton will see perceive insecurity in quite the same manner. This very insecurity is what is driving part of the trend in the possible Brexit vote.

Picking-up on the earlier quotation, for once BoJo is correct: the fact is that millions of the currently working-class people are actually protected by the common rules applied throughout the EU designed to create a single market. The protections include:

  • Anti-discrimination rights;
  • Written terms and conditions;
  • Maximum 48 hour working week, rest periods/breaks;
  • Paid annual leave;
  • Improved health and safety protection;
  • Maternity rights;
  • Parental leave rights;
  • Equal pay for equal work between men and women;
  • Fair treatment of part time, fixed term and agency workers;
  • Rights for outsourced workers;
  • Collective rights such as human rights, collective bargaining, information and consultation, etc.

Source: UK employment rights and the EU

These are not the sort of things to give-up lightly… unless you are so well-off that you do not need them. The people that are feeling the consequences of austerity most certainly do benefit from these labour market protections.

Wolves in Sheep´s Clothing?

 

Don´t be fooled by the über-rich advocating for Brexit on behalf of the ordinary working (and non-working) class British citizen. The great majority of the journalists / media advocating for Brexit stem from the same privately educated, Oxbridge elites. Whatever they may imply, protecting the average working (and non-working) person in Britain from the angst that plagues many of them is not their beer.

What many of them seek is a future where Britain can continue unimpeded down the path of deregulation and maximum labour market “flexibility” such as zero hour contracts.

A lot of Britons are anxious and angry. They have seen a few do very well indeed while austerity and the poor economic performance since 2007 has taken a chunk off their disposable. They know that we are certainly “not all in it together”. They have seen politicians such as David Cameron saying one thing to them and doing another himself. They have seen public services steadily deteriorating and that the future for people that depend on them is anything but rosy. This the result of decades of lack of investment in public services due to lack of political prioritisation. But during the EU Referendum the media and the Brexiteers point to the EU and EU immigrants and ordinary Britons fear that there will be even greater competition for a perceived smaller share of the social and economic pie.

But Britons are nothing if not fair and sensible: they know that when things appear to be too good or too simple to be true, they usually are. They know that pointing to the EU and EU immigrants (and who else post-Brexit?) is a simplistic solution to a complex set of British problems which will not be solved overnight and may well be accentuated by Brexit, especially if the economy takes a turn for the worse. The EU budget will not make much of a dent on the needs.

I grew-up in a council housing state in inner London.

I went to a low achieving secondary school and I was in the tiny minority that lucky enough to get to university.

I worked my way up my profession without the benefit of old boy networks.

I stumbled into an international career which has taken me throughout the EU member countries, as well as all the Candidate Countries knocking at the EU door.

My friends and family count among the people that are suffering from the angst that afflicts Britons.

So I feel able to say this: by tapping into the anxieties and frustrations of ordinary working Britons, the leading Brexiteers, their Oxbridge educated journalist buddies and their billionaire backers are spinning a very tall tale so as to tap into the legitimate concerns of ordinary Britons.

They are doing this knowingly, manipulatively and without the least intention of doing something about those concerns, should Brexit occur. Quite the opposite: their privileges and advantages are likely to be reinforced once they no longer have to look over their shoulder or deal with the bright glare of the other 27 countries of the EU.

Brexit will undoubtedly lead to winners and losers.

You can be certain of which side the leading Brexiteers, their über-wealthy and well-connected friends funding the campaigns and writing the misleading newspaper articles will be on.

But can you be so certain that your employment rights, wage levels, social benefits, etc. will be protected, let alone improved, upon Brexit?

I´m not. Not in the least.

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


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


The crisis in school places: is Brexit the quick fix?

With about a month to go before the EU referendum scheduled to take place on 23 June 2016, high-profile Brexiteers keep pushing the line or argument that it is because of the European Union´s (EU) freedom of movement of people that Britain has major problems with its public services, not least health (EU health tourism), housing (being priced out by EU migrants), benefits (EU benefit tourism), education (too few places due to EU immigrant families), etc.

I have already discussed some of the arguments (see links above), so now attention turns to another major public policy concern in the Brexit: education. If it true that the education system is under pressure specifically because of immigration from the EU, then this could be a reason for considering leaving Brexit from the EU.

On the other hand, if the pressures for educational places predate 2004, when the EU immigration to the UK started in earnest, or if EU migration is only one factor among others that are causing the particular problem of pressures for school places, then it is also reasonable to discuss those other issues, thus putting EU immigration in context.

After all, everyone knows that government has ultimate responsibility for securing public goods which the market cannot deliver on its own: where an important public policy gap is diagnosed, it is for government to devote the necessary public funds to correct the market failure. No one is suggesting that Brussels is responsible for education (or housing construction, funding hospitals and clinics, etc.), not even the Brexiteers.

My kingdom for a school place!

In a clear echo of their diagnosis of the nature of the crisis in the health sector (i.e. the NHS is at breaking point because of EU health tourism and similar), the Brexiteers they are once again pressing the crisis button and pointing in the direction of Brussels: the school system is under “huge and unsustainable pressure” from a dramatic rise in the number of children from European migrants’ families. Ms Priti Patel, the pro Leave Employment Minister, echoing her now familiar anti-EU immigration refrain, keeps making comments such as: „These figures show how the EU’s open borders policies, and the uncontrolled immigration that stems from that, is leading to huge and unsustainable pressures on our schools.“

This possibility is deeply troubling for the average British family, so let us try to unpack this issue.

First of all, it is clear that Ms Patel and her bedfellows are not making allegations about the performance of the school system. There, it is clear that educational performance is a long running concern that cannot be pinned on the EU: Britain is responsible for the national curriculum, the schools and the teachers, not the EU. In any case, Britain has a long and proud history of accepting children whose mother tongue is not English and turning them into integrated citizens. Furthermore, the experience of EU migrant’s children has generally been positive in pushing up standards, especially in the urban areas where EU and other migrants tend to concentrate. So instead, the Brexiteers are focusing on the issue of insufficient school places (i.e. the unsustainable pressure bit) and pointing to EU immigration as the reason for the crisis.

So the central question to be asked is: are there sufficient places for school age children in the UK?

The answer is a clear and unequivocal “yes”. At the national level there is a notable surplus of both primary and secondary school places.

While Ms Patel and other Brexiteers are pointing the accusing finger of blame in the direction of EU immigrants, even Migration Watch, an initiative that maintains that immigration is neither properly managed nor sustainable and thus has an impeccable Brexit pedigree, says otherwise:

“There are currently 4.416 million primary school places in England and 4.011 million pupils on school rolls which means there are 434,000 unfilled places. At the moment the number of unfilled places as a percentage of total places is 9.8%…  The current number of secondary school places in England is 3.637 million while the current number of pupils is 3.191 million. This means that there are over 450,000 places currently unfilled. The number of unfilled place as a percentage of total places is currently 12.9%.” (emphasis added, 2014 data).

The real issue is that Britain’s fertility rate combined with immigration has resulted in a projected increase in school age children, which will feed into the school system from 2018 to 2020, as illustrated in the chart below.

So the point is not that there are currently unsustainable pressures but that in the future there might be unsustainable pressures if the British government fails to act. Perhaps this is what Ms Patel actually means, as opposed to what she and the rest of the Leave campaign are implying. Either way, the effect on the average voter can be imagined.

Responding to present or future school place demand is categorically not the responsibility of the EU or of EU citizens who choose lo live in Britain, as is their right to do.

It would be absurd to blame the large numbers of Britons living in France and Spain for causing unsustainable health / housing / education, etc. pressures there. Relatively little of the projected increase in demand for UK school places can possibly be attributed to EU immigrants. Generally speaking, they tend to be younger, better educated and single, factors which tend not to be correlated with large families and thus disproportionate number of school age children. As far as I can tell Britons, including Ms Priti Patel and Mr Nigel Farage, as well non-EU migrants who make-up the majority of the annual immigration to the UK, also find the time to make babies. British children clearly and unequivocally make-up vast majority of the children taking-up places in the schools.

When it comes to forecasts about future school places, it is the responsibility of Ms Priti Patel, Mr Boris Johnson, Mr Michael Gove (former Secretary of State for Education (2010-2014) and previously Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (2007 – 2010)), Mr David Cameron, Mr David Osborne, etc. to ensure that resources are allocated to meet those needs. Since politicians keep on about our children being our future, one would expect them to get on with funding the necessary school places, so as to avoid any future unsustainable pressure from a well-documented surge in school age children. Is this too much to expect of a responsible government and its leading ministers?

Bread today, not tomorrow

It would not be appropriate to suggest that the problem of school places is only about the future: it is also about today. The point is that demand for school places varies from location to location. Some schools are much more attractive than others for the simple reason that some perform much better academically than others. Most parents want to send their children not just to the nearest local school but to the best performing nearest school, since this is likely to affect their educational performance and thus their chances of getting to university and land a good job. That is a perfectly rational desire on their part.

But the result is that in high demand locations/schools, the parents’ first choice of school may or may not work out. The issue is thus not one of not getting a school place, whatever the Brexiteers may imply (though it may come to that in the future), but of getting a place in the school that the parents would prefer their child to attend. The better schools will always attract more demand for school places than they can possibly satisfy. In this context, available primary and secondary school places may not match demand for specific schools in particular parts of the country, especially in urban areas. In some places, it is possible that simply not enough school places are available to cope with demand.

None of this is new, unusual or driven by EU immigration.

Since demand and supply vary across time and space, it is up to central and local government to meet that future demand (based on population projections), as well as current demand in hot spots. This is at the core of governance, which includes taking into account the fact that EU migration not only happens, but has been happening since even before the UK joined in 1973. Nothing new there, though the scale of EU immigration has increased since 2004.  That is nothing new either, so the responsible individuals have had more than enough time to factor it into their planning.

It is up to each local authority not only to ensure that there are sufficient school places, but also to promote parental choice, diversity and fair access.

If there are access hot spots in particular locations, would you blame the parents for choosing to live in those parts of the country or wanting to send their kids to be best possible schools? If there are particular areas with insufficient school places, would you blame people for still wanting and expecting their children to get a school place? If there are problems, I would point to central and local government for failing to act according to the population forecasts and patterns of demand. There is absolutely no rocket science and there are no sudden unexpected factors involved. The nationality of the children or parents involved is irrelevant, except if some choose to make a political issue out of it.

The Department for Education is tasked with making capital funding available to establish new schools and maintain existing ones. For their part, local authorities argue that they cannot cope with the funding pressures: in 2014, 3 out of 4 claimed that capital funding for new places was insufficient. The National Union of Teachers argues that where there is a school places crisis, it is caused by the curtailment of local authorities’ powers and the centralisation of decisions over where to build new schools.

I can see that a problem exists in the policy nexus between the Department of Education, local authorities and the National Union of Teachers. What I fail to see is how Ms Priti Patel can attribute blame to EU immigrants when she and her fellow Brexiteers, such as Mr Gove, have systematically failed to perform their day job. It is British politicians and ministers who are paid to assess, plan and fund school places (and housing and health services and infrastructure and all the rest of public goods that only government policy can deliver) according to changing patterns of national, regional, local and micro demand. This applies equally to all public services.

Surely Ms Patel and Mr Gove can understand this point and their own role in the future availability or otherwise of primary and secondary school places? But fear not, it is not too late. There are still a few years before the looming school place crisis hits the school system (see chart above), so they may as well just get on with building the necessary schools, rather than blaming all and sundry for national and local politicians’ own policy failings. It is not just a bit too convenient to push the blame for public policy failures to someone else?

Scapegoating immigrants is never a pretty sight and can be downright dangerous.

With her background, Ms Priti Patel should understand this point much better than most even if the EU referendum, so dear to her ideological heart, may be at stake. I acknowledge that for someone with an immigration background in theReferendum Party and now the Conservative Party, talking tough about EU immigration may be some sort of mark of distinction, but she has to be  fair and reasonable in apportioning blame for the problem. As far as I am concerned, that particular bar is set even higher for senior members of the British government with constant access to the media. With power should come at least a sense of proportion, if not responsibility. The longer the Brexit debate goes on and the more the polls shift slowly towards Remaining, the more shrill the Brexit case become. The same could be said about the Remain campaign to some extent, though the focus is different.

One is tenuous and based on the premise that EU immigrants are to blame for almost all the public policy problems (housing, education, health, etc.). The other talks principally about the economic consequences of leaving on taxes, wages, pensions, house prices, jobs, etc.  This claim and counter claims muddy the waters and confuse the public prior to what will undoubtedly be the most important vote for a generation. However, this decision cannot possibly be reduced to just the issue of EU immigration, no matter how emotive it may be. Apart from anything else, British people returning home to the UK, together with non-EU immigration, constitute a larger portion of annual net migration than does EU immigration.

Returning to the issues of school places, let us keep things simple: any way you choose to look at it, Brexit cannot possibly be a quick fix for the forthcoming crisis in school places at primary and secondary school level. The surge in school age children is coming because of fertility rates: that means first and foremost Britons, as well as non-EU immigrants and EU immigrants. Why single out the least important contributing factor that is dwarfed by the impact of Britons themselves? Leaving the EU will change little in this respect, not least because EU migrants are attracted by work, are younger, are better educated and are more mobile, all of which tend to reduce fertility levels compared to the UK average.

Neither will Brexit affect well-established and long-standing local patterns of demand for the better performing schools. That is, unless Brexit is to be combined with forcing non-native Britons back to the other EU-27 countries. This is something which has been ruled out by everyone, even UKIP, since it would prompt a retaliatory reverse flow of almost as many Britons back to the UK. Apart from unleashing unpredictable forces in Europe (there are enough of those around at the moment) for very little gain, it would be one heck of a mess to sort out.

Blaming is easy, solving is not

So if Brexit is not the answer to the coming surge in school age children, as well as the high local demand for certain schools in particular locations, what would improve matters? There no prizes for guessing the answers:

  • The UK government (Department of Education and Chancellor of the Exchequer) should take its responsibility seriously and allocate the capital funding today in order to create the necessary new school places tomorrow and relieve localised pressure for school places.
  • Local government should ensure that public funds result in schools being built in the right locations, especially in high demand urban areas, while also ensuring fair access in demand hot spots so as to avoid accentuating social segregation.
  • Ms Priti Patel and the rest of the Brexiteers, not least Mr Michael Gove, should acquire a bit of humility and refrain from pinning their and their fellow British politicians’ own long-standing public policy failings (e.g. housing provision, NHS funding, capital funding for school, etc.) on the EU and scapegoating EU immigrants at the same time.

Now that would be a nice start in actually trying to solve at least one of Britain´s public policy challenges.

Will it happen? Fat chance.

It is much easier and politically rewarding to keep pointing the finger at EU immigrants. In the past, that finger was pointed at any old immigrant. These days, in the lead-up to the EU referendum, it is no coincidence that it is EU immigrants that are singled out.

And what happens after the 23rd of June 2016, when it has become normal and acceptable to blame Britain´s long-standing public policy ills (e.g. access to housing, access to education, access to health, benefits abuse, etc.) on foreigners, rather than the Britons who are responsible for policy-making, planning and funding? Will Britons wake-up and find that those public services have miraculously improved? Scapegoating is far too easy; trying to understand the problems and then solving them is much, much harder.

“It’s too easy to criticize a man when he’s out of favour, and to make him shoulder the blame for everybody else’s mistakes.” ― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

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


The Big Brexit Risk? It’s the trade, stupid!

When I have discussions with my fellow Britons about the Britain, the European Union (EU) and Brexit, sooner or later, I hear a complaint that runs along the following lines:

“We thought we were joining for trade reasons, but it has evolved into something completely different. We did not agree to that.”

The implication of course is that in making the decision to join in the mid-1970s, the British public had somehow misled about the true nature of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC) and is now the European Union (EU). There is also a strong sense that the main reason for joining, trade and commerce, has become less important over time.

The simple answer is that all institutions, the EU included, must evolve or become irrelevant. This applies to NATO, the UN and this certainly applies to the EU. Still, there is a sense of Britons having being “sold a pig in a poke”. That somehow they got into something without knowing its true nature. This sense of Britons having got in bed with an EEC trading relationship in 1973 and waking up in 2016 with the EU, with all its imperfections, is important to the outcome of the EU referendum to be held in Britain on the 23 June 2016.

Therefore, this post delves into history to examine the debates that were held in Britain in the mid-1970s and to unpack whether joining the EU was just about trade. It also addresses the extent to which trade remains important to any decision about whether to remain in the EU or not.

Brexit Referendums I and II

To put it bluntly, the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 without the British voter being asked. The Labour Party’s general election manifesto of October 1974 committed Labour to allow Britons the opportunity to decide whether Britain should remain in the Common Market on renegotiated terms or leave it entirely. In 1975, the first referendum covering the whole of Britain was held. One could say that 2 years after joining the EEC, the first Brexit referendum took place. The result was clear-cut: 67% of voters supported the campaign to stay in the EEC.

If the clear result was meant to put an end the debate about Britain in the EU, it failed. On 23 June 2016, we shall have the second Brexit debate, 43 years after joining the EEC. You can be sure that it will still not end the debate either, regardless of which way the vote goes.

A reading of what took place then shows that commerce/trade was a focus of the debate on the pros and cons of remaining in the EEC or, put another way, an evident desire to ensure that Britain´s relative economic decline compared with its EEC neighbours was put to an end. It is not unusual for a particular topic to predominate in elections and referendums. But it would not be correct to suggest that commerce/trade was the only topic of discussion at the time or indeed that the political nature of the EU project was not clear to Britons at the time. Labour figures of the day, such as Simon Jenkins, Michael Foot and Barbara Castle, as well as Enoch Powell on the Conservative side engaged in a debate about the possible effects on British sovereignty, among other issues. The deep fissures that were created in the Conservative Party (and to some degree the Labour Party) were not the result of a simply a debate on the commercial/trade pros and cons of Brexit. At the core of the heated difference of opinion was a possible loss of sovereignty and Britain´s place in the world, be it at the side of our European neighbours or facing towards the Anglophone / Commonwealth world. Today, there is an equally fractious debate where immigration is the leitmotif, connected with a discourse about health tourism, benefit tourism, access to housing, trade prospects and loss of sovereignty to Brussels.

The polling in the mid-1970s illustrated voters’ wider concerns, including defence, Britain’s voice, avoiding future wars, etc., though trade/commerce/economy was undoubtedly a major issue. By then, Britain had lost the empire and replaced it with the Commonwealth. The “special relationship” with the USA was stronger, not least because the Cold War was still raging. The Anglosphere relations in general (USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, etc.) was in much better shape than today.

And yet, in 1973 the British Government under the Conservative Party still decided that it was in UK’s best interests to join the EEC after a decade of persistently trying to join the club and being vetoed by the French under Charles de Gaulle on two separate occasions. This was no spur of the moment decision on the part of the British government, but a clear recognition that it was in the country’s long term interest to do so. On 5 June 1975, a clear majority (over 67% of voters) reinforced the situation by voting to remain in the EEC, rather than going it alone again.

Those decisions were made at a time when Britain was much more dominant in global trade, prior to the rise of China and India, and before the dawn of full on globalisation. If it was the right decision then, there is no obvious reason for presuming that Britain would be better off on its own today, when the world is so much more interconnected. This is especially so because regional trade aggregations are increasingly common so as to maximise negotiation power, rather than bilateral arrangements. Examples of such regional trade blocs, apart from the EU itself, include the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), perhaps soon the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), etc.

I do not subscribe to the view that a future outside the EU will be bleak for Britain. This argument is overdone by the Remain campaign and backfires because Britons do not believe it and resent those seeing to make use of the fear factor to “bounce” them into voting accordingly. Britain has an amazing economy, with dense infrastructure and packed with exceptional human capital. This is a fantastic foundation for future competitiveness. Britain is and will remain a key international economy and will continue to be a wealthy nation with quality of life and standards of living for the foreseeable future, regardless of the Brexit outcome.

So the real issue is: will Brexit help or hinder Britain´s future prosperity, since trade will play a key role in its future development.

EU and UK after Brexit: lose — lose

The EU area is the largest trade block by a considerable margin. Although trade patterns do shift over time, the simple fact is that the EU is by far the UK´s largest market: around 44% of exports went to the EU in 2014. British firms sold around £500 billion worth of goods and services to foreign buyers, according to the Office for National Statistics, and almost half (£230 billion) of those earnings came from the EU. The EU´s dominant role in the UK trade position is hardly surprising: our 27 EU trading partners are geographically close, there are no tariffs, close proximity means low transportation cost, etc. To reinforce the point, exports to the faster growing BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) accounted for only 10% of exports in 2014 according to Full Fact.

Furthermore, Britain´s trade balance is directly connected with the 50 trade agreements which the EU has signed with approximately 120 countries around the world. It is hard to foresee exactly what will happen immediately upon Brexit. What is clear for starters though is that Britain will have to negotiate a new trade deal with the 27 countries of the EU. It is wishful thinking to imagine that the EU will be willing to agree a trade agreement with the UK on a comparable basis to what pertains now. Furthermore, a trade agreement similar to the one that applies to the European Economic Area (EEA) is also extremely unlikely, since this would require Britain to accept the EU’s freedom of movement of people, paying into the EU budget and other concessions which would be impossible to justify. Such concessions would cause the British public (and everyone else) to question why they were asked to vote for Brexit in the first place.

Whatever trade agreement is reached with the EU, you can be certain that it will not be as advantageous to Britain as the above two scenarios (EU or EEA). It is also certain that the trade negotiations will take years to reach a conclusion — they always do. Moreover, it is unavoidable that the costs of export will increase for British firms. Several years to negotiation means uncertainty which in turn increases risk and thus raises the costs for British firms. This third scenario cannot possibly be an advantage to the British economy and the same applies to the remainder of the EU: Brexit will be a “lose — lose” scenario. Both the EU and Britain itself will lose in the short-term. The medium to long-term effect could go either way, including a continuation of the “lose — lose” scenario. This cannot possibly be good for the UK’s economy. After all, the Britain´s trade balance has been in deficit more or less permanently since 1990. This will only make things worse since the EU accounts for 44% of the current exports.

The Anglophone Zone: hopes dashed

The Brexiteers are well aware that in the short-term both Britain and the EU will lose out. This is precisely the reason why they have emphasised that it is in the EU´s own interest to negotiate a good deal with Britain. Perhaps, but I would not hold my breath on that account. What sounds too good to be true, usually is. There will be a price to pay for Britain undermining the “European project”. There is such a thing as vindictiveness in human nature and the leaders of the EU nation states are only too human.

Whatever they may say in public, the Brexiteers are also aware of this, which is why their pin their main hopes and expectations on other countries, not least the key Anglophone ones, to step into the breech and sign-up bilateral trade agreements with Britain.

So it came as a bitter blow to them when Barack Obama came to the UK and highlighted a few points, including:

  • The priority for the USA is the EU as it covers 28 countries and 500+ million people;
  • Britain will need to go to the “back of the queue” for a trade agreement;
  • It will take years for a trade agreement to be negotiated with Britain;
  • Being part of the EU does not moderate British influence in the world, it magnifies it.

With this, the Brexiteer Emperors (Boris Johnston, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, etc.) were left without any trade clothes. They went ballistic in their attempts to discredit the President´s statement of fact, for that is exactly what it is. Any country would prioritize trade negotiation with the largest trade block in the world over a nation of 65 million people. The Brexiteers´ fragile trade hopes were dashed and predictably there was an unprecedented outpouring of vitriol, verging on racism, against the outgoing President of the USA, the country that Britain stresses it has a long-standing “special relationship” with. But obviously this does not extend to trade matters.

Should Brexit occur in June 2016, Britain would need to negotiate some or all of the EU´s 50 trade agreements with 120 countries, not counting the EU and EEA countries, if it expects to continue trading with them on a similar basis to today. Since it is impossible to negotiate all of those trade agreements in parallel, it will take decades to go through the trade negotiations just to end-up with the same situation as is currently the case within the EU. The UK does not have a Department of Trade but you rest assured that not only will one be created immediately upon Brexit, since the current trade competences lie with the EU. The institutional needs would arise in other areas where the EU currently has competences. The future Department of Trade will be large, it will be costly and it will be under tremendous pressure to get bilateral trade agreements done, and sharpish. When pressure exists to get things done quickly, bad deals are struck. Ask any salesman.

There is no evidence that either the Anglosphere (USA, India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) or other major countries such as China, Japan, Brazil, etc. will be willing to negotiate trade deals with Britain as quickly or as favourably as with the EU: the size and potential EU market is so much larger. Britain only constitutes 13% of the EU´s population but will be under pressure from enterprises to negotiate the new trade deals, pronto. Consequently, there is absolutely no reason for the future bilateral trade agreements to be as generous to the UK as to the regional block of EU countries.

If we accept the assumption that delays, uncertainty and risk add to the costs to doing business, then British exporting firms will experience higher costs for the years and/or decades that the negotiation process will last in replacing the existing EU trade agreements. The firms´ higher cost base will affect the level of British exports, probably negatively, though the magnitude and duration are not possible to predict without economic modelling.

The likely post-Brexit trade scenario does not look rosy for Britain… but the bad news is that it is probably the best case scenario.

A worse scenario is that the EU will not rush and/or wish to punish the UK for Brexit. The worst case scenario though is that, in addition, some of the 120+ countries covered by the EU agreements that Britain is currently part of, may close their markets to British enterprises until bilateral trade agreements are negotiated and signed. If this were to happen to any extent, British firms will automatically lose market share. In this scenario, British exporting enterprises would almost certainly suffer a major contraction until they are able to replace the (hopefully) temporarily lost markets.

It does not take genius to work out the possible consequences for British firms and thus for the British economy, in terms of the loss in competitiveness, export, employment, wages, tax revenue, public expenditure, etc. There are other interpretations though, such as by those bankrolling the Brexit campaign. Peter Hargreaves has acknowledged the insecurity that would result from Brexit and stressed that “It would be the biggest stimulus to get our butts in gear that we have ever had”“We will get out there and we will be become incredibly successful because we will be insecure again. And insecurity is fantastic.” Maybe so for a billionaire stockbroker but I am doubtful that the average Briton will see perceive insecurity in quite the same manner.

Is the Brexit trade risk worth it?

The above analysis is not based on economic modelling or other statistical analysis: it is based on the application of logic to the likely consequences of British exit from the EU and thus no longer being part of the Single Market. Voters must make a decision about whether the risk of Brexit is worth it. The facts relating to trade are not complex, even if the exact process, duration and impacts are:

  • Brexit means Britain turning its back on (in the sense of no longer being part of) the largest single trading block in the world in terms of population (500 million) and/or purchasing power;
  • British withdrawal from the EU means no longer being part of the 50+ trade agreements with 120+ countries;
  • EU countries are extremely unlikely to react immediately and offer Britain the same trade terms as the current one, which means uncertainly, risk and greater cost for British enterprises, rendering them, all other things being equal, less competitive in terms of export;
  • Britain will also have to negotiate new trade deals with non-EU countries, all of which will take years or probably decades to achieve;
  • Britain already has advantageous trade relations with the Commonwealth countries dating back to 1949, so cannot expect to greatly expand in its traditional markets;
  • The Anglosphere will not necessarily offer the UK preferential treatment. The USA has stated that Britain will “go to the back of the queue” in trade negotiations. None of the other Anglophone or any other countries has offered Britain accelerated trade agreements for the simple reason that they are complex and take a long time to negotiate to mutual satisfaction;
  • Even if the UK goes through a process of negotiating the current 50+ trade agreements with 120+ countries on its own (it lacks people and skills since it has relied on the EU to perform this role for decades), it will take years or decades to achieve and a nation of 65 million cannot negotiate trade agreements on a comparable let alone more advantageous basis than the EU;
  • Whether the Brexiteers care to admit it or not, Brexit will not be good for Britain´s trade in the short term. It will be bad for the EU too but it is not as reliant on the UK market as the UK is dependent on its market (44%of exports in 2014). On the other hand, Brexit could have catastrophic economic consequences if key countries refuse to make their markets accessible during the period until bilateral trade agreements are signed, which could last quite a while.

Is Brexit a risk worth taking in terms of the possible consequences for trade, export and potentially unemployment and wages? To paraphrase the well/known USA electoral saying, “It´s still the trade, stupid!”

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


The British housing crisis: is EU migration also responsible?

Let us get down to brass tacks: Britain has a serious housing crisis. When demand for housing (people wanting to rent or buy) exceeds supply (the stock of housing) the effects are not good for society. House prices and rents rise, making it difficult for people to pay for their accommodation. This reduces the net income available for other things, makes people anxious and directly affects their quality of life.

If people migrate to the UK or wealthy foreigners invest in the housing market, this reduces the housing supply for the domestic population unless construction goes up. This drives-up house prices and the levels of frustration, especially when people have to share their homes with their parents/children, are priced out of living in their communities or see empty houses that are investments, rather than homes. This is especially so in Britain, a nation of home owners and this state of affairs leads some to conclude that the housing crisis is caused by the EU and its freedom of movement principle. It leads to a perception that perhaps EU mobility results in a lack of housing for the native population. This is powerful argument during the period leading up to the EU referendum in June 2016; it connects with the EU immigration and EU benefit tourism, topics I have previously written about, and is presented as another reason for Britons to vote to Leave the EU (i.e. Brexit). So it is important to address the nature of the British housing crisis and the EU’s role in it.

The first thing to be said is that there is no shortage of analysis of either the housing problems or the possible solutions, but the latter basically boil down to balancing housing demand and supply, together with the political will to solve the crisis.

My home is my castle: demand for housing

Numerous factors influence housing demand. A critical factor is price: at higher prices, real incomes fall and people will reduce their demand while alternatives to owning a property, such as renting, become more attractive. There is a multitude of other factors that are important, such as population dynamics (population size, migration, birth and death rates, age structure, etc.), incomes of households (some may shift from renting to buying, move to a bigger property, buy a second property, a holiday home, etc.), social and lifestyle trends (e.g. late marriages, divorce rates, decisions to remain single, etc. all increase single households and thus demand), availability of credit and interest rates (higher rates make ownership less affordable while lower ones achieve the opposite and restriction in the supply of credit reduces demand for housing and can lead to a fall in house prices) and other influences such as government incentives (to buy, to rent or to buy to rent) and expectations in terms of house /land price developments (speculation).

Since all the above influence housing demand, estimating future demand is a complex process. What is simple though is that immigration, whether from the EU or elsewhere, is only one factor among many others, the majority of which are more influential in terms of stimulating demand for housing in the UK.

Nevertheless, as far as the EU’s freedom of movement of people is concerned, there are two further issues to consider:

  • EU migrants are a sub-set of the migrants to the UK. In a separate post, I showed that of the 498,040 people who migrated to Britain in 2012, 80,196 or 16.1% were Brits returning home, 157,554 (31.6%) were from the EU and 260,290 (52.2%) were from the Commonwealth and other countries that Britain is entirely responsible for, rather than the EU;
  • EU migration is not a one way street and not all roads lead to London and the South East. In the same year, 321,000 people left the UK, a proportion of which migrated to other countries in the EU.

Consequently, even if EU migration was the only issue affecting demand for housing, which is clearly far from being the case, EU migrants do not constitute the majority of immigrants to the UK. Furthermore, the same process is happening in other EU countries that receive Britons.

A number of housing demand studies demonstrate the same trend in the UK: housing demand is increasing significantly and the government and the rest of the housing system, not least the planning system and the construction industry, need to respond in order to ensure that the supply covers the future demand. After all, it is not unusual for populations to increase and housing policy and system must respond in order to deliver affordable, quality housing. The public has the right to expect this irrespective of the particular set of factors that may drive housing demand (i.e. whether immigration is an issue or indeed whether it is from the EU or elsewhere) at a particular point in time.

A comprehensive estimate of housing need and demand in England was published by the Town and Country Planning Association. It estimated that England alone required 240,000 – 245,000 additional homes each year until 2031 in order to meet rising demand. Many similar projections have been made long before EU migration to the UK became an issue of debate post-2007.

Housing supply: decades of neglect = housing crisis

The issue then is how much housing is being built and is it sufficient to meet the demand for 245,000 new units per annum? The UK housing construction data (supply) are presented in the Table below.

Table 1 UK Housing Construction

Source: Gov.uk, Live tables on house building, Table 209

A few points are worth noting based on the Table:

  • Housing construction (permanent dwellings completed) in England have fluctuated between a peak of 170,610 in 2007/8 and 108,870 in 2011/11;
  • The point during which it was perceived that there was an acute housing crisis was around 2005 but since then, the trend in terms of housing supply, albeit fluctuating slightly, has actually been downwards;
  • By definition if the target for England is 245,000 new units per annum, the equivalent for the UK will be much higher. The last year of housing construction data (2014-5) shows a gap of 93,000 even against the lower target for England;
  • In a well-functioning housing market where the citizens, planning authorities, construction industry and the government jointly perceive a housing crisis, the normal response would be for housing supply to increase to reach the target of 245,000 new housing units per annum for England. If this does not happen, it adds to the affordability pressures experienced;
  • If here is such a systematic lack of construction, then surely the respective people in charge of housing policy, finance, planning, construction, etc. are responsible.

To Scapegoat or not to scapegoat (or holding a mirror to British policy makers)

A considerate British voter in the forthcoming EU referendum might reflect on the following issues:

  • The EU has no control in the housing sphere: this is exclusively the remit of national governments, in this case successive UK governments;
  • There are many factors affecting demand for housing, of which EU migration is only a secondary factor;
  • The EU related migration accounted for 31.6% of the migrants to the UK in 2012, but the UK also sent its migrants to EU countries – the EU freedom of movement cuts both ways;
  • The UK has systematically produced fewer housing units than it needs for a period of decades despite projections of massive unmet demand for housing ;
  • The UK, including its politicians, its construction industry and its planning system (local authorities) are responsible for ensuring that supply keeps-up with demand and that housing is affordable. This requires responding to changes in housing circumstances, regardless of what is driving them (e.g. prices, birth rates, speculation, constrained land release, immigration, interest rates, tax incentives, etc.);
  • Despite mounting pressure, regular public outcries, evidence of shortage and affordability problems, etc., the UK only managed to build a paltry 150,000 housing units in 2014-5. This is a damning indictment of Britain, not least its politicians, policy-makers and industry.

It is up to each individual to form their own opinion of where the blame for Britain’s chronic housing crisis should rest. Scapegoating EU migration (which took off from 2004) for problems which have been systematically neglected in the UK amounts to a disgraceful attempt to blame others for issues which Britons have failed to tackle over and over again and are still doing a miserably bad job with.

In this context, it is worth addressing two issues which policy-makers, politicians and the Leave the EU campaign will almost certainly raise in defence of the indefensible: the lack of adequate and affordable housing in the UK, which is a basic human right.

Clutching at straws 1: the crowded island myth

Many, if not most, Britons appear to be convinced that the UK is a very crowded island and that there is simply no space left for housing construction, let alone to accommodate migrants from the EU or anyone else. Certain segments of the media that are biased against the EU, as well as the general Leave campaign, including populist political parties, are keen to emphasize this argument, so let us examine the claim.

The most comprehensive analysis of this issue (UK National Ecosystem Assessment) concluded that only 6.8% of the total land area of the UK is urban (10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales). But being urban does not necessarily mean that it is built upon since such areas also contain gardens, lakes, etc. The most detailed analysis ever conducted found that only 2.3% of England is built upon, the rest is natural. Elsewhere in the UK, the figure is less than 1%. Contrary to popular misconception, only a tiny fraction of Britain has been concreted over. Britain is not a crowded island. It can and must build more housing for the benefit of its citizens.

Clutching at straws 2: EU preferential treatment in accessing social housing myth

Another common perception is that EU citizens are benefit tourists, and that they strain the welfare state by having a higher demand for social housing. But the data show that about 17% of UK-born and 18% of foreign-born individuals live in social housing. That means that foreigners are on par with native Britons when it comes to access to social housing. However, when it comes specifically to EU migrants, the popular perception is even more incorrect. Studies demonstrate that citizens of EU-8 countries who arrived in the UK after accession are 57% less likely to live in social housing than native residents. More recent studies indicate that over 90% of immigrants in the UK are in households that are eligible to apply for social housing (p.3) and confirm that EU (and EEA) citizens are less likely to be in social housing than Britons.  The research also shows that, once factors like the demographic structure, location and economic circumstances are taken into consideration, immigrant households are significantly less likely to be in social housing than equivalent native households. Another popular myth bites the dust.

Build, Build, Build

The housing crisis is fundamentally a matter of demand and supply and the policy choices each country makes about how to prioritize public investment and other policy decisions. For decades Britain has emphasized home ownership as the one and only housing policy priority. It has constrained social housing construction for ideological and financial reasons, while at the same time forcing social housing to be sold at discount. Its recent policies have stimulated a boom in buy-to-rent, which has increased private renting but also boosted house prices and exacerbated the affordability problem.  At the same time, policy makers have not stimulated the planning system to release sufficient land for housing construction, mainly due to the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome. In the meant time, the construction industry has shown much more readiness to speculate in order to accumulate, rather than increase construction efficiency, productivity and quality. None of this has stimulated housing supply greatly while housing affordability has declined.

Housing is a matter for each of the 28 nation states of the EU. Some countries, like Germany, build enough housing to meet the needs of their citizens whose quality of life is significantly improved by having sufficient, high quality, affordable homes to rent and/or buy (the recent refugee crisis could not have been planned for in advance. By definition, a surge of 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015 was not part of the housing forecast). Others, like Britain, do not build enough housing. This is not because of insufficient land, EU freedom of movement of people or other handy excuses for systemic failures on the part of British politicians and their policies, the British planning system and the British construction industry. Any such interpretation amounts to the politics of scapegoating others for one’s own glaring failures and I, for one, will have no truck with it.

  • Is the EU responsible for the British housing crisis: The British housing crisis has been decades in the making. Strong EU immigration is a relatively recent phenomenon.
  • Is the British government responsible for the state of British housing: Its policies have focused almost entirely on housing ownership (tenure), rather than housing construction.
  • Should I vote to leave the EU because of the state of British housing: Britain alone is responsible for regulating demand and supply to deliver sufficient and affordable housing.

© 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


If #ThisIsACoup then #MoneyGrowsOnTrees

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

It seems as if a great number of people, and not just in the Eurozone and the European Union (EU); have taken to Twitter to express their view that Greece has been bullied and coerced into an unjust and undemocratic agreement by the other Eurozone members and by Germany in particular.

Prominent bloggers and commentators such as Paul Krugman, the Nobel-winning economist, have helped to legitimate and propel the hashtag #ThisIsACoup to the global audience. He wrote in his New York Times blog that:

“The trending hashtag #ThisIsACoup is exactly right. This goes beyond harsh into pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.”

Partly as a result, the hashtag #ThisIsACoup, was trending in Greece, France, Germany, Britain and indeed globally as Twitters claimed that Greece was being stripped of its sovereignty as illustrated below.

#ThisIsACoupGLobalTrend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it is worth examining what the hashtag #ThisIsACoup really means.

There are two meanings of the word “coup” according to Dictionary.com, with a third connected with the word:

  1. a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment.
  2. (among the Plains Indians of North America) a brave or reckless deed performed in battle by a single warrior, as touching or striking an enemy warrior without sustaining injury oneself.
  3. coup d’état.

Strictly speaking, it would appear as if the hashtag #ThisIsACoup is actually praising the bailout agreement that Greece and the Eurozone have come up with as “a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment.” However, if you read the thread, it is clear that the vast majority of people on have actually understood the Twitter hashtag #ThisIsACoup as the exact opposite. And took the opportunity to engage in a bit of Germany bashing while they were about it.

As an aside, what is not being reported is that there is also a hashtag #ThisIsNOTaCoup where quite a few people are arguing the opposite. Although I do agree with this particular hashtag, they are also missing the point.

This takes us to the third meaning, namely of a “coup d’état” which is, of course, what the hashtag #ThisIsACoup does not say but presumably actually meant to say.

So let us examine this option. The same source (Dictionary.com) defines a coup d’état as: “a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force.” Furthermore, it identifies various synonyms for coup d’état, including “overthrow, rebellion, revolution, uprising.”

It seems as if the vast majority of people actually were talking about the hashtag #ThisIsACoupD’état rather than #ThisIsACoup. But let us examine if this makes any sense, despite its obvious popularity:

  1. A sudden and decisive action in politics: really? I could have sworn that what has happened is the very opposite of this. The Greek crisis has been at least five long years in the making, there have been two bail outs already and an excruciatingly drawn out process of six months since Syriza came to power. Sorry, but the Twitters seem to be backing the wrong horse again, Nobel Laureate included.
  2. Resulting in a change of government illegally or by force: Really? Again, I could have sworn that the process has been the opposite of this. It seems to me as if the people of Greece have not only elected the political party (Syriza) which the “Eurocrats” did not want but also reinforced the point by offering up the referendum result that the Eurozone was hoping to avoid. Has there been a change in Government in Greece since the January general election? Has anything been done illegally or by force? I don´t think so. In fact, if anything is being done illegally it is that many of the other 18 members of the Eurozone, Germany included, are actually doing somersaults to keep Greece in the Euro despite the sentiment of their own electorates. There are 19 countries and democracies to take into consideration in the Eurozone, not just Greece. And this is before even mentioning the fact that transfer union is illegal, as are debt write offs and permanent bailouts in the Eurozone. Yet effectively all three are being done in one way or another in order to assist Greece.
  3. As for the synonyms “overthrow, rebellion, revolution, uprising,” do these really apply? I am not convinced. There has not been an overthrow or revolution of any kind and the Greek parliament will have its chance to reject the whole potential bailout package if they so wish. If there has been a rebellion/uprising, it is on the part of Syriza in relation to its approach to austerity, its debts and the conditionality which previous Greek governments have signed up to  and unorthodox manner by which it has carried out the negotiations with the rest of the Eurozone countries. This is not something that has been done to the Greeks, except for the Eurozone´s insistence that they deliver on their reform commitments (this time around) before getting their hands on the bailout cash. After all, money does not grow on trees. As I have previously argued, the Greeks have had two general elections and one referendum to leave the Euro and/or the EU. They have resolutely stuck to the current path of remaining in the Euro and the EU. If anyone is advocating a coup d’état, it is the commentators that are shrilly insisting that the Greek government rejects its electorate´s views in two general elections and leave the Euro as soon as possible. If the same wish to argue that the Greek Referendum was a vote to leave the Euro, let them try to make that case but they will get nowhere since the question was so convoluted as to be meaningless. It could not possibly be construed as a desire to leave the Euro and no one is claiming that.

So please, you Twitters out there, do get your facts right instead of blindly following the herd instinct.

If you meant that “this is a coup”, then you have actually been lavishing praise on the Eurozone members and the agreement that was reached at the eleventh hour.

I think it is a flawed agreement but better than none.

And it you actually meant that “this is a coup d’état” (which is clearly not what the hashtag actually says), you have also  got it completely wrong.

Either way the hashtag #ThisIsACoup that has been globally trending is misleading to put it mildly.


To Grexit, or not to Grexit, that is the question

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

And so, amazingly and beyond most Europeans’ wildest imagination, it has come to the single most important Referendum since the beginning of the Eurozone, indeed since the very beginning of the European Union (EU) “project”. The Greek nation is voting in a historic referendum that will shape its future, as well as that of the 18 other nations of the Eurozone and the 28 nations on the EU.

As a Briton, I belong to one of the 9 countries that are not part to the Eurozone, but I live and am based in Germany, so I am contributing to the various bailouts. My views of the historic vote the Greeks are casting are shaped by both sets of experiences, which is valuable, since Greece may soon be one of the 9, following a probable default, probable exit from the Euro and possible exist from the EU, the so-called Grexit.

Let me start by saying that I fully understand the Greek’s anger and frustration with the current situation. Unemployment of around 25%, youth unemployment of 60%, wage reductions, pension reductions, poverty reaching unprecedented levels, pensioners desperate to get some money and all the rest of it. Whatever you may think about Germany and the Germans, you will surely be aware of the suffering of the German civilian population after two world wars, hyperinflation, devaluation, two periods of devastation in the last century. The Britons have also gone through traumas. So have the Irish, Portuguese, Spaniards and Cypriots to varying degrees at the same time as the Greeks. No one wants to see this whole sorry situation drag on endlessly.

I am tired of and increasingly frustrated with all the accusations, bickering, tantrums and all the rest that all our politicians have been guilty of since January 2015, reaching a crescendo in the last two weeks. At a historical turning point in European history, it is sad and worrying to see just how divided Europe is. This does not bode well for Greece, the other 18 countries in the Euro or the 28 nations of the EU, not mention the large number of countries that aspire to join the EU in the future. Only one country will be quietly satisfied observing that is going on: Russia.

There have been all sorts of claims and arguments from politicians and economists, many of them totally contradictory. I am just an interested observer who is contributing through my taxes to the bailouts, who may be affected by a possible Euro collapse and who will be affected by the future shape of Europe resulting from today’s referendum. I would like to highlight some issues that Greeks may or may not be considering in casting their vote, but which are probably impossible to pay adequate attention to. given the chaotic and febrile situation, as well as the compressed timescale for this critical referendum:

  1. Europe is not to blame for Greece’s woes. This is first and foremost Greece’s own responsibility.
  2. The EU is not to blame for the Greeks’ troubles. Greek governments have consistently promised more than they could deliver and its citizens have knowingly voted them in one after the other, including the current Syriza. If what politicians are offering sounds too good to be true, it probably is and in other countries, the electorate generally acts accordingly.
  3. The Euro is not the reason why Greece needs bailouts. Greek government, Greek businesses and Greeks individually have lived beyond their means for decades and then used the historically low interest rates generated by (fraudulently) joining the Eurozone to over-borrow even more than previously. But we know full well that what is borrowed must eventually be repaid – and so do they.
  4. Greece has systematically lost competitiveness through its own actions and inactions. Generation upon generation of politician has borrowed too much, created too many public sector jobs, feathered the nests of their supporters through unaffordable perks such as early retirement, failed to collect the taxes due from certain segments of society, refused to implement needed reforms and again and again paid itself too much. In the 10 years until the crisis, the Greeks awarded themselves a 100% increase in wages, not to mention anything about early retirement or other perks. The loss of Greek competitiveness is not due to the EU, the Euro, the banks, the capitalists, the oligarchs, the politicians etc. They have collectively failed to maintain or improve their own competitiveness. The last 5 years have reinforced an entrenched the pattern and austerity has made the pre-existing situtation a lot worse, which is the main criticism which is justifiable. But the last five years were not the cause.
  5. The German, French and other banks are not to blame for the Greeks´ ills. These and other banks saw the opportunity to expand their business in this and other similar countries (as have Greek banks in the whole of the Balkans region) and lent according to the regulatory principles of the Greek Central Bank, according to the contracts that the Greek government, businesses and individuals signed. All three took the money that was lent and did not concern themselves unduly about its origin, though this has become an issue when it comes to payback. The banks naturally want to be repaid the huge sums involved otherwise they go bust, meaning losses for all the individuals that save with them, businesses that bank with them, shareholders that invest in them and others. They are no different from the Greek banks operating in Greece, the Balkans and elsewhere. If the banks (including Greek ones) had not been rescued or propped up, the consequences for the Greeks and for us in the Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries would have been disastrous. The Eurozone has acted correctly in avoiding this scenario. All the talk of paying French and German banks but failing to mention all the others, including Greek banks is hypocrisy. This has happened in all countries where it had to happen, including Britain, Ireland and the United States. If push comes to shove and governments have to make a similar choice again, the same pattern will be repeated because the alternative is worse.
  6. Greece has been the whipping boy for the Eurozone, but not the only one. The fact is that the Eurozone could easily have suffered “contagion” if Greece had defaulted at the time of the first and second bailouts. Furthermore the vast majority (around 90%) of the bailout has gone to the banks rather than the people of Greece. However, this was neither premeditated nor designed to impoverish, punish or humiliate the Greek people. I have already discussed the likely consequences of allowing a Lehman-style ”letting go” of the commercial banking sector. The failsafe mechanisms were simply not in place at the time (who knows if they really are this time around). The Eurozone was doing whatever was necessary to stop a doomsday scenario in Greece and potentially the other weak countries, as well as the whole of the Eurozone area. They succeeded, but at an even greater cost to Greece. But Greece chose to remain in the EU and the Euro. It did not have to.
  7. The Eurozone is not responsible for past, present or future Greek prosperity. There is no transfer union in the EU and it is not possible to have permanent bail outs of one nation by any other nation. Therefore Greece does not have an automatic right to be bailed out by anyone and certainly not on an on-going basis. Solidarity stretches only so far and cuts both ways. The Greeks should reflect on the fact that many of the nations bailing them out are notably poorer than them. If Greece is being bailing out, it is not to create a long-term dependency culture, but to help it to help itself and to be economically sustainable as soon as possible. Greece is entirely responsible for its present and future prosperity, not others.
  8. Greece has chosen so far to remain in the EU and Euro and must live with the consequences. Greece has held two national elections at which its electorate has categorically insisted upon remaining in the EU and the Eurozone. There is a price to be paid for this decision on their part and that price is called “internal devaluation”. The way that the Greek nation can regain competitiveness and eventually stand on its own two feet, is to reduce wages and other costs to levels which are compatible with their economic performance. The other option is to leave the Euro, but this is exactly what Greeks have insisted upon avoiding so far. The decision today enables the country to choose its own path for the third time. If they choose the same path as the rest of the Eurozone countries, then they have to abide by the implications. Please, let us not have any more accusation of blackmail, terrorism, humiliation of the Greek nation and all the rest of it.
  9. No one is taking sovereignty away from the Greeks. The Eurozone does not owe Greece anything and certainly not on a permanent basis (which is actually illegal in the EU and rightly so). So far Greece has chosen to remain in the Euro and swallow the bitter pill of internal devaluation that goes with the bailouts. The bailouts involve clear conditionality and the other Eurozone governments will only provide further tranches of funds if they accept the conditions/reforms connected with the bailouts. No one can or should get money for nothing. The conditionality is designed to enable Greece to get back on its own two feet as soon as possible, including priority reforms which previous Greek governments have systematically failed to implement over decades. Most people are totally unwilling to pay for a free Greek (Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Maltese) lunch and certainly not for ever. And the same applies to these countries in reverse. Greece has a duty and responsibility, to itself as well as the Eurozone countries, to reform and regain its competitiveness as soon as possible. The conditionality is not for the benefit of the other countries, except in the sense that they and their electorates / taxpayers wish fervently not have to have to continue to bail out other countries.
  10. No one has twisted Greece’s arm and forced it to take the bailouts and accept the associated conditionality. Greece asked for the bailouts arising directly from its own actions over decades. Its politicians signed-up to the money and the conditionality. If it takes the cash but fails to deliver on the conditionality, shit happens. But as the popular saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” EU voters in other countries will not allow further bailouts that fail to deliver the promises of reform for ever. Our politicians know this and they are not suicidal. They have a responsibility towards the Greek citizen by virtue of Greece being part of the Eurozone. However, they have a much greater responsibility towards their own electorates and to fulfil their own mandates. This will always trump Greece in a democratic environment comprising 28 nation states, and rightly so.
  11. The last general election resulted in a Syriza majority despite the electorate knowing full well that its programme was both contradictory and unaffordable without continuing bailouts from the Eurozone countries, debt relief and a cancellation of numerous conditions attached with the present bailout agreement. The nightmarish last five months have been the direct consequence of the mandate that the Greek people have given Syriza to end austerity. This is pie in the sky. This will not happen for a decade, regardless of whether Syriza is able to extract all the concessions it wants and certainly regardless of whether Greece remains part of Euro/EU or not. The mandate to end austerity in Greece is pure political opportunism on the part of Syriza: it amounts to a populist policy that cannot be delivered. Messrs Tsipras and Varoufakis know this full well and so does the Greek electorate.
  12. Mr Tsipras and Mr Varoufakis cannot deliver the mandate they have asked for. They have assumed that the risk arising from Greek default is so high that the Eurozone countries would agree to whatever they demanded and have acted accordingly. They have deliberately and consistently gambled over the last five months with the future of Greece, as well as that of the rest of the Eurozone (and beyond – Britain, take note). I resent this stratagem on the part of the Greek government and I feel indignant about it both on the part of the ordinary Greeks and other Eurozone citizens. Game theory is all very well when it comes to econometric modelling, but not when the future wellbeing of 19 countries is at stake. Newsflash for Mr Varoufakis: we are not a mathematical model comprising 10 million Greek voters and a further 325 million rest-of-Eurozone variables to be number crunched until your previously desired statistical outcome is eventually delivered. The sad reality is that all that the Fine Your Radicals have manage to achieve so far, other than plunging Greece into unneeded and unwanted chaos, it to manage to rename the hated “Troika” to the equally detested “Institutions.” Game theory at its best? We are real people, not some gigantic theoretical experiment. The Greeks are facing enormous stress which goes well beyond any spurious mandate that Syriza believes it has managed to extract from a deeply traumatised nation.
  13. Greece has broken the EU way of doing things and the current state of the country is the result. The only way that it is possible for 19 counties to make decisions on such issues as the future of Greece and the Euro (and possibly the EU) is through compromise. Neither Mr Varoufakis nor Mr Tsipras have proved to be willing or able to play the game according to the established rules. The game theory assumption is that when push comes to shove, the Eurozone countries will back down and agree to more or less whatever Greece wishes. Newsflash for Mr Varoufakis: this hardball strategy, which plays fast and loose with the lives of 350 million people, not just that of the Greeks, has failed. The resulting fall-out is a complete and utter lack of trust on a scale never previously witnessed in Europe (not even during Margaret Thatcher’s period as British Prime Minister) since the end of the Cold War period. It does not serve Greece’s interests. It does not serve Eurozone interests. It does not serve EU interests. And it does not serve global interests.
  14. The current chaos in Greece only serves Russian interests. The geographers out there would agree that Greece is undoubted located at a pivotal geo-political position in Europe. The USA, EU and Greece know this, and so does Russia. Mr Tsipras´ attentive and persistent courting of Russia has been deliberate and has not failed to grab our attention. Europe is at a turning point and Russia, despite the ongoing economic weaknesses due primarily to low petrochemical prices, is resurgent. This is game theory with serious global implications which go potentially beyond mere economics and finance. The obvious and explicit threat is that Greece will turn its back on Europe and fall straight into the arms of mother Russian. Good luck with that. Greece is part of the European Union and Greeks feel European. There is nothing in the mandate that the Greek that citizens have given to Syriza to justify this approach and it can only entrench feelings against Syriza in the first instance and the Greek nation thereafter.
  15. Austerity cannot and will not be stopped tomorrow or any time soon. What the Greek or any other politicians imply, say or promise count for nothing as far as austerity is concerned. Not much will change, regardless of whether Greece votes Oxi (yes) or Nai (no). The choice is between “shock therapy” by defaulting and leaving the Euro or “muddling through” with EU bailouts. Neither option is quick nor palatable, though the shock therapy route does offer the promise of regaining competitiveness faster than the “muddle through” option, since Greece would then be totally in charge of its own currency and its own monetary policy, instead of the Euro straitjacket. However, there is no guarantee that its politicians will be able to agree, implement or maintain the long-term reforms necessary to achieve greater and faster economic dynamism than the current path. Presumably this lack of confidence in their own politicians is the reason why the Greeks are bending over backwards to remain in the Euro and the EU, rather than to entrust their own leaders with their future. The chaotic last 6 months are not a good omen: who can blame them?
  16. A flip-flopping government has run out of credibility, friends and trust. The negotiating position of Greece fluctuated over time but unilaterally pulling out of negotiations at a critical time, calling a snap referendum, the decision by Messrs Tsipras and Varoufakis to solicit a “no” vote, not to mention the increasingly bellicose language used, means that there is no longer any trust in the current Greek government. How Messrs Tsipras and Varoufakis can imagine that Greece’s negotiating position will be strengthened by a “no” vote is beyond me but this must obviously be the conclusion that their game theorising has led them to. The main counterparts in the whole process, not least IMF, EC and the principal contributor to the bailouts, Germany, have stated that they will not be able to work with Mr Varoufakis while remaining a vague about whether the same applies to Syriza.
  17. The EU cannot achieve regime change, only the Greek people can. The Institutions/Troika can say whatever they like (and they are, presumably because of their exasperation) but only the Greek people can decide on their own future and which party will lead them. The rest of Europe will have to like or lump it: that is the nature of democracy. But what exactly are the Greeks deciding on in this referendum? Do the people understand the convoluted question? Do they have enough time to consider the options properly? Even if the answer is “yes” twice over, is there an EU bailout on offer to vote on? The answer is “no”. The only thing that the voters are deciding on is whether they want to be part of the Euro or not. Already, with funds running low, there are chaotic and heart-rending scenes that are nothing to be proud of, either in Greece, the Eurozone or the rest of the EU. If this goes on, whatever the announcements by the Syriza government that they have stock-piled food and medicines (when did they do this and why did they do so, unless they did not expect their negotiations to succeed?), we shall all be diminished and the Greek people will indeed be desperate. Who knows what kind of chaos will break out? Has this really been factored in by Syriza? I very much doubt it. I suspect that they are just winging it.
  18. Neither option will be palatable to Greek people: it is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. A yes vote could mean easier negotiations with Syriza since they will then have another mandate (but they already have the mandate of remaining in the Eurozone) to negotiate the terms of the bailouts. This will be awkward but not impossible to roll up the sleeves and find a workable compromise this time around. We expect no less from our politicians. But a resignation by Syriza is the more likely outcome based on their intransigent approach in the last five months. There would be another general election, with the possibility of an even more radical government coming to power and the crisis being drawn-out even longer. Or it could mean a “traditional” government that will agree debt relief, combined with an acceptable bailout programme and conditionality. Either way, the Greeks cannot expect higher minimum wages, pensions, etc. than exist in the various countries that are contributing to keeping their economy afloat but do not enjoy the same level of benefits. This is not feasible and will not be agreed to. Living within their means has to be the way forward, even with the significant debt relief combined with serious investment for growth and development that I sincerely hope will be hammered out next time round.
  19. The present is bleak, but the future could be worse. No European, indeed no human being, can look upon the scenes in Greece with aloofness. My parents are pensioners and I would not wish this sort of thing upon them or any other person. However, should the Greeks choose the “no” path, followed by default and introduction of a new Drachma, they will have delivered themselves into an unpredictable roller-coaster ride which will test the nation well beyond the limits of anything they have endured so far. There is plenty of not-so-distant experience of “shock therapy” in most of Central and Eastern Europe, including Russia. Whatever the alluring promises on the part of duplicitous politicians or contradictory prize-winning economists, the bloody reality will result in economic and human carnage in the short-term. This will, hopefully, quickly be followed by much more rapid recovery and prosperity than possible under the current “muddling through” option within the Euro. But don’t bet on it: economic theory and reality are usually out of sync, as the last five years should have once gain proved.
  20. A last word on the matter. Good luck to the Greeks today. I would not like to be in their shoes and I can only hope that they will make the right decision for Greece, as well as for the rest of us.

 

 


The Queen of the Referendum: Elizabeth II in Germany

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

Queen Elizabeth II has just completed a four-day state visit to Germany, included a visit to the Bergen-Belsen prisoner of war and concentration camps (where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary and died shortly before liberation), met the President Joachim Gauk and the Chancellor Angela Merkel, and visited Berlin and Frankfurt. The German people went bananas about the state visit – it was almost as if Germany had become the 54th member of the Commonwealth!

The Royal Family is very popular among ordinary Germans despite the recent history of two World Wars. Royal marriages, divorces and births are followed closely and there is an obvious affection for the Queen. The pomp and ceremony, including the flag waving, are just not part of the culture in modern Germany, though it is noticeable that they have become a lot more at ease about waving the German flag since the football World Cup was staged in Germany in 2006. Partly because the Germans are much more buttoned-up about the whole concept of patriotism, the Royal visit was an occasion to dress up, go mad and just enjoy the state visit. English flags were still a lot more visible than German ones.

Queen Elizabeth in Germany 2015

Picture: John MacDougall/Pool Photo via Associated Press

Of course, there are strong connections between the British Royal Family and Germany, going back quite some time. But even in terms of the present, few realise that Prince Philip is a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg and that he was partly educated in Germany. But at the end of the day what matters is quite simply that Germans admire the Queen’s charm and sheer will-power; it is a rare sight for an 89 going 90 year-old to perform her role so competently. A rapidly ageing nation such as Germany certainly knows how to appreciate this.

The royal couple’s first visit to Germany was actually back in 1965. It was an important state occasion, involving a marathon 11 cities and it is a generally acknowledged that it helped heal the wounds of World War II. As in the case of the first visit, the fifth and quite possibly last one, also drew large, enthusiastic crowds and generated significant media coverage.

Rex

Rex

Picture: Rex

Neither Mr David Cameron nor Mrs Angela Merkel would have had one-tenth of the pulling power of the Queen, let alone one-hundredth of her influence in terms of building positive international relations between the people of Germany and the UK citizens. And, let us face it, after the on-going centrifugal forces generated by a possible Grexit, not to mention a possible Brexit, as well as the austerity drive which, rightly or wrongly, is associated with the EU and Germany, Europe can certainly do with a lot more of this sort of thing – it is a precious glue binding two nations together.

However, what has been the most significant aspect of the official state visit is actually the speech she gave, which is not normally reported (other than the Opening of Parliament Speech). The Queen’s speech was widely discussed and reported in the British media. What she said was:

“The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent… Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe.”

Blink and you would have missed what all the fuss is about, not least because the crucial word uttered only contained three letters, namely the reference to the UK and “its” continent. The Queen could easily have chosen the word which would normally have been used in the sentence, namely “the” rather than “its”, but for whatever reason chose to do otherwise.

It is very easy, indeed dangerous, to over- or mis-interpret the supposed meaning of a single word. Nevertheless, given the febrile discussions in the UK about the forthcoming referendum on whether to remain or exit the EU, the Queen’s speech is being widely regarded as an indication that the Queen favours continuing UK membership of the EU.

But the greater controversy concerned the speech delivered in Berlin on Wednesday, where she warned of the “dangers” of division in Europe and the need to “guard against it”. What she said was:

“We have witnessed how quickly things can change for the better. But we know that we must work hard to maintain the benefits of the postwar world… We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west as well as in the east of our continent.”

This part of the speech, which could be read at different levels, is what has caused consternation among Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party as well as UKIP. The main reason is that it could be interpreted as being for the EU status quo and such speeches are normally done in conjunction with government officials. In other words, the suggestion is that the Queen is uttering that which Mr Cameron shirks saying himself.

Despite the protestations emanating from Buckingham Palace and Downing Street that the Queen was not setting out a position in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, the speech resonates. The sentences chosen by the Queen made it clear that Britain is part of the European continent, that it is not a matter of “us and them”, as some would wish to portray things and that Europe (EU?) should remain united (though the Greeks appear to be doing their best to do the opposite).

The Queen is supposed to be above politics but this is clearly nonsense. After all, she opens parliament. She appoints the Prime Minister and meets with him or her on a weekly basis. Not only does the Queen have a mostly ceremonial role in the Parliament of the whole of the UK, she also has formal responsibilities within the devolved assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is therefore naive to maintain that she is a neutral observer and that and the Royal Family is above politics.

Yet this is precisely what Buckingham Palace maintains and the average Brit is happy to believe, despite the recent “Black Spider” memo letters written by Charles, Prince of Wales, to the British government ministers and politicians over the years. Despite the British monarchy being supposedly politically neutral, the letters sent by Charles may be interpreted as an attempt to exert influence over British government ministers on a wide-ranging set of issues including farming, genetic modification, global warming, social deprivation, planning and architecture. If this is the case with Charles’ private letters, surely the Queen is able to influence politics, not to mention her subjects.

If she is really trying to influence British voters to vote in favour of remaining in the EU in the forthcoming referendum on the matter, I would agree fully with her instincts. But the fact remains that she would not be politically neutral and neither should Bucking Palace, Downing Street nor anyone else pretend otherwise.

Besides, this would not be the first time that the Queen has waded into referendums and possibly influenced their outcome. The most recent example of this was in September 2014. Shortly before the voting day on the Scottish referendum, the English Establishment, not least Downing Street, was panicked by the exit polls suggesting that there would be a majority in favour of Scotland becoming independent, into using every means possible to sway the vote in favour of Union.

By all accounts, the Queen was encouraged by Downing Street to speak out on the issue. Her views on the matter had been made clear in her silver jubilee address to a joint session of parliament in 1977, when she said:

“I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Perhaps this jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom.”

In the end, the plea issued by Buckingham Palace, with perfect timing, was to urge voters in Scotland to “think very carefully” about the referendum in an apparently spontaneous response to someone in the crowd. Needless-to-say, this too was widely reported by the media shortly before the vote.

Like the words “its continent,” dangers of “division in Europe” and the need to “guard against it”, small things can make a significant difference in a country where her subjects revere the Queen. It is widely assumed that the urge to “think very carefully” was sufficient to influence swing voters during the Scottish referendum, resulting in a last-minute surge in favour of retaining the Union. That said, it is far from clear that the outcome of that particular referendum in favour of of retaining the Union will be the last word on the matter, as far as the Scottish National Party and the Scottish people are concerned.

When it comes to the most profound issues facing the UK and its future, I believe that the Queen is not quite as politically impartial and Buckingham Palace would suggest. I suspect that Elizabeth II may well turn out to be, among other things, the Queen of the Referendum.