Memorandum to the Federal Chancellor from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin.
Subject: British withdrawal from the European Union.
As part of our preparation process with regard to the upcoming decision of the British people, I’d like to take this opportunity to put an alternative viewpoint.
As you are aware, it is the stated policy of the federal republic that Britain should remain in the European Union, both for her own benefit but also to avoid the disruption and possible “copycat” moves by other member states to leave the union.
I would like to suggest that a decision of the British to “Brexit” the EU does, in fact, open up a number of options for us which may be of great usefulness.
1. Britain has been, as you are aware, the key obstacle to many initiatives with regard to further integration. In particular with regard to greater defence cooperation and a super return on European defence spending, the so-called “bigger bang for our buck” issue. Even with British withdrawal, EU defence spending is significant, and removing the British ability to constantly veto defence integration may allow us to make progress on common defence and possibly even a common defence force. Our friends in Washington have voiced support discreetly for such an option.
In short, “Brexit” may allow us to achieve something that hundreds of years of British foreign policy has prevented: the emergence of a single unified European superpower right on Britain’s border.
2. The so-called “domino effect”, where a low drama British departure may encourage others such as the Dutch, the Swedes, the Danes, the Czechs and the Hungarians to depart the union could be problematic, but not without possible merits. Let us bear in mind that all those countries will still be major trading partners with us, and will desire to continue. Only under a new arrangement (possibly EEA?) they won’t have seats, votes, or veto powers at EU level. But they will still be effected by decisions we make at EU level through sheer economic geography. In short, we end up with a leaner European Union decision making structure but a de facto same single market size. It’s true, the EU budget will have to be trimmed, but that was going to have to happen anyway as expectations exceeded resources.
3. Finally, the Scottish question. Whilst we must be hesitant about yet more members joining the union, with Turkey and Serbia both bringing their own problems, we should be willing to make an exception for Scotland as a developed effective existing member which also allows us to have two land borders with the UK. I would suggest that if “Brexit” occurs the EU should move to embrace the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, with the Scottish First Minister being accorded head of state status on her visits to EU institutions, and with an invitation to her to attend, as an observer, the next European council meeting.
I look forward to your comments.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 27, 2016 in European Union
These are dark, painful days for the European Union. The union is battling for its very existence, and with it the concept of European unity itself. If the euro were to collapse, for example, the union could in theory continue, but one suspects that the huge pressures on members caused by currency appreciation (Germany) or depreciation (everyone else) could force the German government into a nakedly Germany First policy to protect jobs.
The curious thing is that British or Irish or Danish eurosceptics would, of course, react with delight at the end of the EU. But I wonder what sort of Europe they would expect to emerge from it? Presumably, they picture a Europe of nation states that they vaguely remember from their youth, or assume existed, in the 1950s and 1960s, peacefully trading with each other. Of course, this is quite possible, after all, a Europe without the EU would still be a Europe of free democracies, bound together by NATO.
But they forget the German question. Read more…
Posted by Jason O on Apr 26, 2016 in European Union
- The EU: Not yet a state but more than a mere international organisation.
Many visitors to Ireland, particularly American ones, can not fathom one issue. How was it that a country like Ireland, that took such pride in achieving its freedom from the British Empire, could be so comfortable with ceding sovereignty to a European Court, Council of Ministers and Parliament on so many issues?
How can the Irish take a handful of Euro out of their pockets, and amidst the Irish harps, see German Eagles, Dutch queens and Spanish kings and feel perfectly comfortable and no less Irish than the day before?
Ireland has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1973, the year I was born. For my generation, European integration is a way of life. It’s perfectly normal for our ministers to sit down on a weekly basis with the other 26 member states and debate and pass laws governing Europe. It’s a run of the mill thing for Irish or French or German people to appeal the decisions of their national courts to the European Court of Justice.
One reason Americans have such difficulty understanding the EU is because they keep trying to compare it to something that already exists. It’s not the UN, because it has actual power in the lives of people. Yet it’s not the Soviet Union either (As the more psychotic and/or drunk eurosceptics allege) because power is held by democratically elected national leaders. Consider it, instead, this way: Supposing Canada, the US and Mexico were economically comparable, and had been to war with each other three times in seventy years, and US troops had goose stepped through Ottawa, or Mexican troops had occupied half of New York City. Then you might get it. France borders seven countries. Germany borders nine. And there are 500 million of us. Culturally, the US is like a load of Old Wild West homesteaders, all wanting to do their own under the sweat of their own brow. The EU, on the other hand, is like 27 people sharing a tightly packed apartment block: If we don’t cooperate on a daily basis, it would be hell, to the extent that if you attempt to burn down your disagreeable neighbour’s apartment, you may well burn down your own and everybody else’s in the process.
Now, it isn’t all happy-clappy: Europeans get irritated about the EU in the same way many Americans get irritated about the federal government, and we have a Brussels (the capital of the EU) mentality in the same way Americans complain about the Washington beltway bubble. But there’s nothing new or particularly European about bureaucracy. After all, I’ll bet that when the first caveman carefully caressed the first spark off a flint onto a nest of dry leaves, and gently blew that smoking fragment into a flame, you can be sure that just behind him, another caveman stepped forward, looked sternly at him, and asked: “Have you got a permit for that?”
Posted by Jason O on Apr 24, 2016 in British Politics
, European Union
One of the key tenets of the last 200 years of British foreign policy has been to prevent the emergence of a single powerful force on the European continent. It’s been a very successful policy. Yet for the last 15 years, the insular nature of British politics has effectively called that policy into question. British withdrawal is now a serious proposition, but what’s more is that other member states are now beginning to wonder as to whether the cost of keeping Britain is actually worth it?
What would be the actual consequences of British withdrawal for the rest of the EU? Trade would continue, after all, it’s in no one’s interest that it doesn’t. Brussels would still set many product rules that UK manufacturers would have to obey anyway, only without a UK voice at the table. Reform of the EU would lose a champion, that’s true, but bear in mind that Downing Street’s obsession with placating the Daily Mail means that Britain has been pretty ineffectual in pushing through reforms at EU level anyway, despite the fact that Britain has allies. British withdrawal would almost certainly trigger withdrawal by one or two other countries, but the reality is that most member states, even with their own gripes about Brussels, see being at the table as the least worst option.
Secondly, whilst the days of the overt federalist United States of Europe are probably over, the gradual subtle process of integration, through technical methods such as the Fiscal Treaty, could probably speed up with British or Danish or even Irish withdrawal. The end outcome would be a European confederation of sorts, orbited by a number of nominally independent states who have to make nominally sovereign decisions whilst paying attention to the vast economic gravity of the politically united Eurozone.
After all, to take one random issue: the UK has been a major obstacle to progress on combined European defence. Despite Nigel Farage’s warnings, it has been Britain IN the EU that has prevented a European Army. Once Britain was out the EU could work on transforming NATO into a binary US/EU alliance with a few junior partners like Britain and Iceland. And all without worrying what the Daily Mail thinks about British soldiers wearing EU cap badges. I’m not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.
Posted by Jason O on Apr 23, 2016 in Books
, eNovels & Writing
, European Union
So, I wrote a short novella over Christmas about Europe, the refugee crisis, the Russians and perhaps even about the rise of fascism in its many forms.
It’s set in a Europe of the near future. Britain, Ireland and others have left the European Union, and Europe is in the middle of a crisis from a mass influx of refugees and a wave of extremist terrorist attacks.
Then the Russians invade Finland, the Baltic states and Poland…
You can download a PDF of “Fulcum” below. Enjoy!
Posted by Jason O on Apr 10, 2016 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Europe: not as much a place as a way of life.
Written three years ago. For some reason, this is one of my most popular posts. Have no idea why.
As debate currently rages (why do debates always rage, and never, say, saunter?) over Britain’s future in the EU, some UK eurosceptics are quick to point to the Commonwealth as a potential alternative. This got me thinking: never mind the Brits, why are we in the EU not trying to get Australia, New Zealand and Canada to join up? Now, before you go off shouting, hear me out.
There are good reasons:
1. Firstly, it’s true, None of them are actually in Europe. Meh. A minor detail at best. French Guyana is in the EU, and it’s not even in the same hemisphere. That’s the thing about Europeans: we’re very bendy. All three have European histories, and large sections of their population have direct links to the Old Continent. So we might have to change the name from the European Union to, say, the Democratic Union. Big deal.
2. Their head of state is half-German (and lives in Europe), and her husband is Greek. Australia’s prime minister was actually born in England. The previous one but one was Welsh. Seriously? They’re probably entitled to an EU passport already.
3. Admittedly, it would mean being in a political union with France, who exploded the odd atomic bomb near two of them. But the Brits exploded them IN Australia, and they were forgiven. And don’t say the Brits didn’t know what they were doing at the time. They didn’t explode them in Scotland, and hardly anyone lives there. Anyway, it’s not like Canada has no experience in dealing with stroppy French people anyway. Might even calm Quebec down.
4. Every single Aussie, Kiwi and Canadian would be entitled to live, work, study and vote in the EU. No visas, no nothing. They’d also get free emergency healthcare, and of course, tariff free access to the single European market and the upcoming EU-US free trade area. Europe would get access to Canada’s oil, Australia’s uranium, and New Zealand’s dwarves.
5. Australia and Canada would be the seventh largest countries of the 27 countries of the EU. They’d be big cheeses. New Zealand would be like Ireland without kiddie fiddling priests and banker-terrorists.
6. They wouldn’t be negotiating with the Chinese, a couple of million to one billion, but over 500 million to one billion. And with the US one-to-one. When George Bush threatened to put a tariff on European steel before the 2004 election, the EU threatened a tariff on Florida oranges. He backed down. That’s what having a single market of 500 million gets you.
7. All three share our values on everything from gun control to the death penalty to gay rights to social healthcare to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, stability, and a solid economy. And they are not run by people who are mad. Or at least no more mad than our ones.
8. Every fourteen years, they’d get to run the whole of Europe for six months. Including Britain. Assuming they stay.
9. They’d be entitled to a European commissioner, seats on the European Council of Ministers and the European Court, and about 80 seats in the European Parliament between them. Think about that: they could make 80 of their pols live in Belgium for months at a time. Offer that up front and they start drawing up the list in their heads.
10. No reason why an Australian, Canadian or Kiwi could not end up as President of Europe. After all, Canada has cultural and liguistic links with Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium. Australia and New Zealand with Ireland and the UK. And here’s the thing: no natural enemies. Europe is full of countries with grudges going back years: No one has a grudge against Canada, New Zealand or Australia, which makes them ideal for appointment to the top jobs.
11. Finally, and this is the best reason of all: imagine the fury amongst British eurosceptics if the three started negotiating to join, against the wishes of their betters.
Is it plausible? Who knows? I’m just saying, don’t be too hasty. At least have a browse through the brochure.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 23, 2016 in European Union
We all know how we feel about the attacks on Brussels. Like Paris, London, Madrid, Ankara, there’s the temptation to lash out. Bomb them into the stone age. Wipe ‘em out. Kill ‘em all. #stopislam.
But we also know that’s not the solution, because it won’t work and it isn’t who we are.
We can scrap Schengen, close our borders, tag Muslims, waterboard suspects, drone strike suspects in the Middle East. It might make us feel better, but even just for a little while. Then we watch Muslim children on our streets, fear in their eyes, their parents telling them that they’re hated, other children not wanting to play with them.
That’s not the Europe I want to live in, nor do I want these bastards to decide what sort of continent Europe will be.
This fascist death cult that attacks our cities is small, flexible, and yes, has some support amongst Muslim communities. But the way to fight it is through intelligence, surveillance, cross-border cooperation, and hand-in-hand with moderate European Muslims who regard these guys with as much disdain as non-Muslims. Well-resourced, targeted, nuanced. We could start by ensuring that there are EU resources available to EU countries like Belgium who are struggling to contain the internal threat. Maybe it is time for Europol to get teeth.
I remember being in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s when many didn’t see a difference between being Irish and being a terrorist. Treating me as a potential terrorist would not have made me more anti-terrorist, but would have pushed me towards the terrorists. The British discovered this in Northern Ireland. Having said that, it’s time to take a hardline on Europeans who go to fight for radical Islam and also on (particularly) Saudi funding of conservative Madrassas in Europe. Neither should be welcome in Europe.
Finally, and this sounds counter-intuitive, but Europe should shake off these attacks as mere pinpricks on an elephant. We’re 500 million people. They’re never going to defeat us, no matter how many attacks they carry out. Instead, they want to provoke us into overreacting against Islam. That’s their aim. They want us to be less tolerant, less open, less European.
Let them go to hell. To quote Father Damo from “Father Ted”, perhaps unusually in these dark days, but relevant all the same: They’re not the boss of us.
When the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)
For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.
With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.
Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.
Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.
*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”
Watching the British debate over Brexit one would be forgiven for regarding both sides of the argument as slightly hysterical. One side say that Brexit will destroy the British economy. The other that Brexit will unleash a new Elizabethan age, setting Britain free to sail off towards Asia.
You could spend months, as we probably will, arguing the details.
But for me, here’s the single biggest reason that Britain should remain.
The European room isn’t going away.
European integration is often painted in the UK (and Ireland) as a bit of a cult obsession, about building a superstate. There are, no doubt, some who believe in that goal, but that is not the reason why many moderate and mainstream continental office-holders continue to support the EU.
The first time I realised why continental Europe views European integration so differently was standing in a railway station in Paris, and seeing destinations on it that in Ireland you’d only see in an airport. It made me understand how on top of each other European countries actually are, and not just for trade, but shopping, work and school.
So many Europeans think nothing of crossing the border every day.
That mentality forces their elected leaders to work together. To respect each other’s workers and products. To want each other’s cars and trucks and drivers to obey the same laws. To want to ensure that other countries care for your people when they are visiting. To help each other’s police chase terrorists and sex traffickers across Europe.
These issues are all resolved in the European room, by ministers sitting and meeting and discussing and arguing and finally agreeing.
They will continue to be discussed post-Brexit and they will continue to affect Britain. Britain has been affected by events and decisions made in Europe for thousands of years, from the Vikings to Napoleon to Hitler. Why on Earth will that suddenly stop post-Brexit?
And here’s where it gets tricky: once the 27 members have decided a position, it becomes much more difficult for Britain from outside to get that position changed.
That’s not hyperbole, it’s simple logic. Imagine being a member of any club where one member refuses to attend meetings and then demands later that whatever everybody who attended the meeting decided be over turned. The rest simply won’t agree, especially not for a member who deliberately chose to vacate their place at the original meeting. British demands will require the other 27 countries still in the room to return to the room and carefully unpick agreed deals with each other to suit a country not in the room. Really? It’s like giving Canada a veto over anything decided in Westminster.
This is the issue at the heart of Brexit that eurosceptics choose to ignore. That there will be a place were most of Britain’s closest allies will meet and decide issues that affect Britain and Britain won’t be there.
It is, quite simply, odd.
If anyone advocated the same logic for NATO, the WTO, the WHO, the IMF, the G8 or the UN eyes would roll.
Eurosceptics keep pushing a vague idea that Britain will still somehow have some form of say over what the rest of Europe decides and debates. But that is also the logic for Britain withdrawing its ambassadors from across the world on the basis that “if it’s important I’m sure they’ll give us a call.”
Britain is important to the rest of Europe. But the idea that other countries in a room will put Britain’s interest ahead of their own is very courageous. Best case scenario will have British diplomats hanging around the wheelie bins outside the European Council building hoping to buttonhole the Swedish or Irish foreign minister to stop a directive that will inadvertently hurt Britain. This is how Britain sees itself? Hanging around the bins at summits?
Finally, on a non-technical point, how weird is it that Britain decides to walk off the pitch because it’s too hard and the other players are just too rough? The idea that Britain can handle the Chinese but not the Belgians? Please.
Britain has legitimate complaints about the EU. But if anything, it has been the hesitating by the door that has prevented the UK’s leaders from going full throttle in Brussels to get what Britain wants. Perhaps, after a clear yes, a British prime minister could go into the council without worrying about what the Daily Mail says and get a better deal? Just look at Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Britain was powerful enough to do a deal with France and Germany and block JCJ. But only if it had a serious candidate it would support. That’s the problem: even if David Cameron had nominated a serious British candidate the right-wing press would have called him a traitor rather than hailing it as a huge success. No serious candidate would have been insulting enough to the rest of Europe.
That’s the post-Brexit challenge: a British PM with a mandate to face down those who would sabotage Britain leading Europe.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 2, 2016 in European Union
1. Europeans don’t really want a load of dead bodies washing up on their beaches, nor do they not want to not help. Yeah, it’s that convoluted, but we are Europe.
2. Despite wanting to do the right thing, we don’t want a sudden surge of millions of immigrants arriving in Europe. Especially Islamic immigrants because of, you know, the thing.
3. We also know that by letting loads of immigrants arrive we will bring out the Inner Nazi in many of our citizens, and with that destroy the beautiful border-free continent we have built since 1957 instead of marching across each others borders with pointy helmets and questionable facial hair in the traditional manner.
4. As with every European problem, we know we have to solve it but don’t want to go far enough to actually solve it, which would involve either:
A) amassing a Vast European Army to invade Syria, shoot everybody who doesn’t look like they at least tolerate Guardian readers, and appoint a Pro-Consul like Paddy Ashdown or Nicolas Sarkozy to run the place and continue to mow down every IS nut in a bulging jacket and possibly the odd Russian “little green man” trying to stir up trouble,
B) annex part of North Africa, turn it into initially a vast refugee safezone to redirect everybody who tries to get into Europe, and eventually A Little Piece Of Europe where refugees could build a life for themselves under the watchful eyes of the above Vast European Army and said Pro-Consul.
6. Instead, we’re more likely to pass laws that we won’t enforce, shout at each other as the Russians prise away their former colonial underlings with the support of various hard-right traitors pretending to be patriots, and watch as this, the greatest, most free, most peaceful, most prosperous Europe ever falls apart in petty nationalist bickering as China looms over The West. Oh, did I mention make deals with would-be Turkish tyrants and abandon the Greeks and Italians who rightly point out that this is a European problem and it’s grossly unfair that they be dumped with it?