Let’s really Join the EU

Looking back over the history of the European Union I wish we had joined at the beginning in 1951 when the European Coal and Steel Community was inaugurated.  I think that Europe would have been a better place today had we done so – but there is no point crying over spilt milk.

Back then Britain still had an empire of sorts and many in Britain could or would not conceive that the British Empire was about to fall apart; so one could readily understand the reluctance of the British people to join in the European journey.

When Britain finally joined in 1971 the original member states had already designed a Europe to suit themselves.  Many of their policies were not suitable for Britain.  For example, the protectionist and grossly inefficient Common Agricultural Policy was awash with grain, butter and beef mountains and wine lakes; with its high level of food prices it did not suit the average food buyer or third world food producers.  The poorly designed Common Fisheries Policy seemed to be determined to wipe out fish stocks.  There was no single market in goods and services.  Member states used all manner of means to protect their industries against their more efficient neighbours.  All meetings were held in multilingual settings making ordinary discussions difficult if not almost impossible.  The project was basically run for the benefit of the French – and who could blame them.

But what excellent changes have occurred through British membership.  Okay the Common Agriculture Policy is still around but it is much reduced.  Britain has substantially reformed the fisheries policy.  Britain pushed though the single market and encouraged the expansion of the union to include all Europe.  Britain made Europe look outwards – to be more competitive and created Europe to be the arbiter of global standards in trade and technology.  English is now the working language of the European Union with half the 500 million people having a functional competence in spoken and written English (apparently the average Dutch-person has a higher ability in English than the average Brit).

If Britain could make such changes over the last forty years just think what could be done over the next forty.  Of course there is be more work to be done. By improving Europe we can help improve the whole world and, most importantly, make the lives of the British people better.  Britain cannot do this without getting engaged.

Britain cannot be engaged unless it adopts all European Union law – no opt outs.  In my view, the first items on the agenda are to establish the euro on a firm footing and to manage migration properly but there are medium-term to longer-term structural changes that need to be made too – like increasing democratic accountability.

Europe needs to manage its own borders. It should no longer rely on member states to do so.  Britain does not rely on Sussex to monitor our borders and nor should Europe rely on Greece or Hungary.  The processing, management and funding of non-European migrant should be entirely the responsibility of the European government.  I understand that 25% percent of recent migrants have come from Albania – nowhere near Syria.  It was pretty poor when I was there but it is not war ravaged.  Rather than let each state pass migrants onto Germany, Europe must set up border police and processing staff (where necessary a coast guard too) and these people must be directly employed by the European government – responsible to the European government using property owned, leased or rented by the European government.  I completely understand that such an approach is only a sticking plaster but Europe must get a grip.

Just like any modern country, Europe needs a currency and that currency must be backed by its government.  To properly function, among other things, there must also be an equalisation mechanism between the various member states.  Just like in Britain where funds flow from richer places like Surrey to poorer places like Northern Ireland (the average family in Surrey gives the average family in Northern Ireland £1,200 a year) so in Europe we should transfer funds from the richer part of Europe to the poorer parts.  It means that the European government provides directly to each European citizen a small monthly sum.  Very little is needed to completely stabilise the European economy.  True, European taxation would increase from the current 1% to 3% but that is nothing compared to the 40% that Westminster takes already.  The level of taxation would be limited by treaty so could not be increased without a referendum.

A further policy change that Britain would have to deal with itself would be to convert most welfare into a contributional framework.  There are two reasons for this: one because it is a good idea anyway (returning to the original basis for welfare when the Liberals invented it and Labour installed it after the war); second, because that is how virtually all the member states of the union work.  This policy would not end “welfare migration” but it would reduce it.  Welfare tourism is much lower than most people imagine it to be in any case.  A much more successful approach for Britain would be to resource the revenue staff to enable them to make sure employers are employing legal workers and paying them properly.

Britain could say to the other member states – we will join the euro and the passport area as long as the above measures are put in place and that every other member state also joins when we do.

No varied geometry, no opt-outs.  If you want to be in you are welcome to be in but the only other option is out.

Currently, Britain isn’t really in the European Union.  It is sort of semi-detached.  For example, one can drive from the Algarve, on the Atlantic, right across Europe to the Ukrainian border and you will not have to stop for passport control anywhere, or customs and euros are the currency in every country travelled though.  For nearly all Europeans, for all intents and purposes, Europe is already one country – it is just that the British, who normally fly, tunnel or take the ferry rather than drive (with all security that goes with them), rarely experience the freedom of moving around the world without borders.

We are in a time warp.

We need to vote in – really in.

Euro Results

Now that the Euro election results are in we can see the full picture.  For any new law to be passed in Europe it has to gain a majority of the votes in the upper house and a majority of votes in the lower house. In the upper house that means it has to have the support of at least two of the People’s Party, the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats.  If the Conservative Party, the Green Party and UKIP all voted together they would get less than 10% support.

Euro UH 2014-02

The upper house is not directly elected – not yet anyway.  Members of the upper house are appointed by the the member governments.  Most governments in Europe are either run by the People’s Party or by the socialist parties (Labour).  The Liberal Democrats are the lead party in two member states and are in coalition with the Conservatives in Britain.  The Conservative Party only governs in Britain as the senior coalition partner. The Green party is a junior coalition partner in a number of member states.

The lower house of the European legislature (confusingly called the Parliament) is directly elected and the recent elections have shown gains by the Eurosceptic parties at the expense of the broad range of traditional parties.  However, although significant, these gains are not sufficient to change the law making process through Europe.

Euro LH 2014-02

 

 

To pass a law in the lower house only the support of the People’s Party and the socialist parties (Labour) is required.

So despite the press coverage in Britain highlighting the landslide gains for UKIP.  The full results show that UKIP’s success in Britain does not translate into any change of power at all.

The Eurosceptic’s success in the Euro-elections have mainly affected two important member states – France and Britain.  The National Front’s gains in France and UKIP’s gain in Britain mean that Britain’s and France’s place in Europe cannot be guaranteed.  A Europe without Britain is conceivable.  A Europe without France would be an interesting development.  A Europe without Britain or France would probably change beyond all recognition.

As France’ economy is still in deep trouble the National Front will probably continue to make gains.  However a lot can happen to Britain’s economy before the national elections in 2015.

Euro Upper House

Like many countries, Europe has two chambers in its legislature. The upper house is known as the European Council (also known as the Council of the European Union) and the lower house, confusingly, is known as the European Parliament.

The members of the European Council are not elected but each EU state appoints their own members.  Decisions are usually made  by consensus.  For example in 2008, 128 out of 147 Council decisions were unanimous. Within the remaining decisions, there was a total of 32 abstentions and 8 votes against the respective decision. These opposing votes were cast twice by Luxembourg and once by each of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Netherlands, and Portugal.  The British government did not vote against any decision.

This put the lie to those who say that Europe imposes rules on Britain that the British do not want.  British politicians often tell the British public that “sorry we cannot help it but Europe is telling us to do it” when, in fact, the British government usually voted for the new rule in the first place.

The upper house meets in secret (because countries like Britain want it that way) but I think democracy would be better served if debate in the upper house were open to the public.  Then we could see clearly how both Labour and Conservative politicians have been pulling the wool over the British public’s eyes.

People’s Party wins the Euro-elections

You would think after reading, listening or reading the media that UKIP won the Euro elections.  In fact, they have come seventh. The votes have not all been counted but the clear winner is the People’s Party.  The People’s Party does not stand in Britain that is probably why the BBC and Sky did not report much about it. The present picture is this.

Parliament

Votes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the seven main parties, UKIP came last (UKIP is called EFD in the Euro parliament). As the number of seats currently stand, the pro-Europe parties have 79% of the seats and the Euro-sceptics have 21%.

EPP = European People’s Party
SOC = Labour party
LIB =  Liberal Democrats
GRN = Green party
CON = Conservative party
LEFT = Radical left party
EFD = UKIP

For the European Union to dissolve the Eurosceptic parties would have to gain over half the seats – possible but unlikely.  They would also have to gain over half the votes in the European upper house – the European Council – again possible but unlikely.

My hunch, and I could be wrong, is that the long term outcome is that Europe becomes more federal rather than breaking up.  Only time will tell.

Will Europe collapse before the remaining states have a chance to join – I do not think so.

EC-EU-enlargement_animation

 

 

 

Europe set to have cap on credit card fees

Credit Card websiteThe European lower house (European parliament) voted this month to cap credit card fees to 0.3% and debit card fees to 0.2% of the transaction value (or 6p if lower). These caps would apply across Europe.

Research has shown that a cap in fees could provide retailers with nearly £5 billion in savings and lead to lower consumer prices. However, the upper house (Council of Ministers) has to concur before such caps can become law.

Each year businesses suffer from unregulated and unjustifiably high fees when a customer chooses to pay by card.  Capping these transaction fees will mean businesses can and should be able to pass on savings to consumers, which will directly benefit households across Europe and contribute to economic growth and consumer confidence.

As the Party of In, Liberal Democrats want to strengthen and protect our vital trade links with the rest of Europe. By cutting unnecessary costs for businesses Britain can increase its competitiveness within the world’s largest single market – Europe.

наша родина

The_Pig_War

Shortly after the iron curtain fell my wife and I decided to drive east to Stalingrad.  We did not get there but we made it to Ukraine.  Ukraine is huge – it is bigger than fourteen EU member states put together*.  From west to east it is longer than from Berlin to Rome.  Apart from the Carpathian mountains, in the extreme west, it is entirely rolling plains similar to Norfolk.  The farms were also vast, we have nothing like them in England.

Let’s hope that a peaceful solution can be found between the various parties.  War – as the Ukrainians know only too well (more Ukrainians were killed in the European theatre of the Second World War than anyone else – over 10,000,000 people) is no way to solve a perceived problem.  Dialogue and understanding is our only durable course of action.

It reminds me of the Pig War of 1859 between the two most powerful countries of that time  – Britain and America.  The British and American armies faced each other from 15 June until negotiations began in October.  The British Admiral said that “two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig” was foolish. Local commanding officers on both sides had been given essentially the same orders: defend yourselves, but absolutely do not fire the first shot. For several days, the British and American soldiers exchanged insults, each side attempting to goad the other into firing the first shot, but discipline held on both sides, and thus no shots were fired.  The final settlement was in favour of America and local Canadian resentment of Britain failing to protect Canada’s interests led to self-government in 1867.

*Belgium, Cipros, Cechy, Danmark, Eesti, Hrvatska, Ireland, Latvija, Lietuva, Luxemburg, Malta, Nederland, Slovenija and Slovensko.

European Jobs

Liberal Democrats want Britain to stay in the EU because we are fighting for a stronger economy – millions of British jobs are linked to our trade with the rest of the EU, and being in Europe gives us more strength when negotiating trade deals with global players like America, China, India and Brazil.

Some people claim that even if Britain left the EU, trade would continue as normal under a free trade agreement and that jobs would not be put at risk. The EU does have preferential trade agreements with several countries who have either decided not to join the EU, such as Norway, or are long-term candidates for admission, such as Turkey.

Norway and Switzerland, which have both decided against EU membership, make substantial contributions to EU funds in return for trade concessions, while denied any part in decision-making that affects their economies and companies.

European elections

Just like the British Parliament, the European legislature has two houses – one elected by the people (the Commons) and one not (the Lords). The European unelected upper house  (the European Council – which is appointed by the member governments) and the elected lower house (the European Parliament).

At the end of May we’ll be able to vote for our representatives to the European parliament.

No law can be enacted at the European level unless the European parliament votes for it. A European civil servant can no more pass a law than a British civil servant can.

Arguably the European government is more democratic than the British government but you wouldn’t think so if you believed some of the British press.

2009_European_Parliament_Composition01

This chart shows the party affiliation in the current European Parliament

Using British party names the Labour party is light red (195 MEPs), the Liberals in yellow (85 MEPs), the Greens (58 MEPs), the Conservatives in dark blue (56 MEPs) and UKIP in orange (33 MEPs).

People's Party 2009-01

First
The largest party in parliament is the centre-right People’s Party.

Although it is the largest party it has never had a majority of MEPs. Voters from every state in Europe elect People’s party MPs to the European parliament except Britain.

As far as I can tell people in Britain are not able to vote for the People’s party because there are no candidates for it in Britain.

Socialist Party 2009-01

 

Second

The second largest party is the left of centre Socialist Party.  In Britain the Socialists stand under the Labour banner.

Not as large as the People’s party nevertheless unlike the People’s Party it has MEPs from all states in the union.

 

Liberal Party 2009-01

 

Third

The Liberals are the third largest party in the European parliament but unlike the largest two parties they do not have MEPs from every member state..

 

 

Green Party 2009-01

 

Fourth

With 58 MEPs the Greens are the fourth largest party in the European parliament.

Unlike the larger parties the Greens have not yet found significant support in eastern Europe.

 

 

Conservative Party 2009-01

Fifth

The Conservatives are the fifth largest party.  They stand under the Conservative and the Ulster Unionist banner in Britain

Nearly half their representatives come from Britain but they have no MEPs from France, Germany or Spain.

This makes them quite isolated in the parliament.

 

Left Party 2009-01

 

Sixth

As its name implies the Left Party is considered to the far left of European politics.

The Left Party has one MEP from Britain under the Sinn Fein banner.

 

 

Freedom Party 2009-01

 

Seventh

The smallest party in the European parliament is the Freedom party which is considered to be a far right party.  Over half their MEPs come from Britain and Italy.

The Freedom Party stands under the UKIP banner in Britain.