Posted by Jason O on May 22, 2016 in European Union
I’m writing this before the final result of the Austrian presidential election is known. In truth, the result, whatever it is, doesn’t change my question: what do the anti-immigrant hard-right voters actually want?
At the heart of their demands is, I suspect, a fundamental paradox. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that hard-right national governments across Europe will take measures to prevent immigrants entering their countries. Increased border security, fencing, more actual physical barriers to entry into their respective countries. It’ll also have the added benefit of looking good for their voters, governments finally abandoning weak-minded “liberal” policies amidst scenes of tough soldiers and border guards battling immigrants on their borders. Add to that the populist benefit of telling Brussels to f**k off. All good stuff.
But look at a map of modern Europe and see if you can spot a problem.
It doesn’t work. If every EU country decides to go its own way, and secure its border in the hope of redirecting immigrants on somewhere else, it means spending billions, yes billions, on border security. You know all that money people complain will go to housing refugees, educating them, integrating them? It all gets spent on trying to secure borders instead.
Just look at a map of Austria. Or Switzerland, or France, or Germany. We’re not talking border posts. We’re talking East Germany, with East German levels of expenditure. We’re talking thousands and thousands of patrolled alarmed fences with massively increased security forces on both sides of friendly borders turning a blind eye if someone tries to get over your border into somewhere else. Think the Italians are going to just shrug their shoulders and carry the burden for the rest of Europe? Or Greece? Why would they? Would the rest of us? This is a European problem.
That’s all assuming, by the way, that the refugees just stop at a border. What if thousands of them try to rush the borders? Are Austrian police and soldiers going to mow down women and children with machine guns? Think the Waldheim years were bad? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
That’s before, by the way, that we even consider the economic cost of what sealing every continental border to a trickle will do for cross-border trade, the life blood of this continent.
This is certified madness. The only way Europeans can secure and manage immigration, as we have a right to do, is to spend a lot of money on an external border control force, and on a secure off-continent location where we can safely house and process refugees. That is the solution, not electing a bunch of pandering populist hucksters.
The 7th May 2017 is the final date in a 12 month perfect storm of political events that threaten western stability and indeed democracy like none since the 1970s. Between now and that date, the second round of the French presidential election, we will face three major events that have the potential to upend key stability factors in our society.
The first is Brexit. As it happens, British withdrawal from the European Union itself can be managed. The European Community existed before the UK joined, and can function without it. The big fear, however, is that Brexit might trigger a domino effect of populist forces declaring exit from the EU as the Deux Ex Machina that solves all modern anxieties. Even then, it can be contained, provided that Italy, France or Germany don’t leave, with smaller countries leaving just becoming de facto non-voting satellite states of the EU.
The second is a Trump victory. As it happens, such a result would almost certainly result in the Republican party rushing to be forgiven by him in the hope of sharing in the patronage and spoils. But is it impossible for a man with an ego like Trump to decide that he is in fact above party politics and to appoint some popular Democrats to office too? That coupled with the very real difficulties of implementing the more extreme of his policies could trigger a sharp backlash in his hard-core base. Or mass rioting amongst Hispanics if he tries to implement them. Don’t forget, Hispanic-American citizens have the right to bear arms too. The sheer unpredictability of a Trump presidency, never a good thing when the control of nuclear weapons is involved, is a serious worry for us all.
The third and final is the possibility of Marine Le Pen becoming President of France. As with The Donald, “right thinking” people keep saying that it can’t or won’t happen. But we live in dangerous times, and the Le Pen plan, based on withdrawal from the euro and protectionism for French business, as well as mass deportation, would almost certainly destroy the European Union. There can be no EU with France and Germany in step.
Next month, we enter the maelstrom…
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!”