Democracy and the EU

The European Union is an impressively democratic organisation which has found an effective way to balance a directly-elected European Parliament and the democratically-elected governments of the nation states. This is the opposite of what the supporters of Brexit are claiming.

European parliament in session
European parliament in session

The basic structure of the EU can be traced back to the formation of the Coal and Steel Community in 1951. What has grown up is a very balanced and highly democratic process which balances the democratic voice of the peoples of Europe in a nuanced and effective way.

Law-making involves the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, and consultation with the Committee of the Regions. Of these:

The 751-member European Parliament is directly elected by the citizens of the EU.

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Distorted claims about Turkey

My eye’s recently been caught by a string of stories from Vote Leave, blatantly scaremongering about Turkey. Yet Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell were both founder-members of Conservative Friends of Turkey, whose aims include to “Lobby in favour of Turkish membership of the EU”: have they had a politically-convenient change of heart?

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, which has been a church, a mosque, and is now a museum

The messaging has been blunt. The front page of Vote Leave’s web site currently (29 May 2016) leads with “Turkey joining the EU means even more stress on our country”. There have been posters from them saying Turkey is joining the EU, and an infographic on facebook showing a map of Europe with showing the population of Turkey as 77 Million, and an arrow from there to the UK, as if the entire population of Turkey is coming here. That makes UKIP’s wildly exaggerated claims about migration from Romania and Bulgaria a few years back seem moderate.

This is scaremongering, and grossly irresponsible.
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The fishing industry and the EU

Resentment at EU restrictions on fishing is leading many in the fishing industry to want to vote out. Their resentment is real, but their conclusion is wrong…

A Newlyn trawler
A Newlyn trawler

It is a sadly familiar story. The once-thriving British fishing industry now greatly reduced owing to EU fishing quotas, and, adding insult to injury, there are even regulations that require some fish to be thrown back into the sea. A news spot on Radio 4 recently showed Newlyn fishermen firmly behind Brexit. But this is the wrong conclusion: it attacks the EU at the time when the EU is acting to help the situation.

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It’s not £350 Million a week to Brussels, and we could learn from Norway

There’s been a persistent claim that EU membership costs the UK £350 Million per week. The snag is that it doesn’t, and the experience of Norway highlights the fact that there would be no big savings to spend elsewhere if we left the EU, but there would be big losses.

Vote Leave getting it very wrong about the money we send to the EU
Vote Leave getting it very wrong about the money we send to the EU

The “£350 Million a week” figure for the cost of EU membership has been very persistent. It is even on the livery of the Vote.Leave battlebus (which just happens to be made in Germany). There have been claims that this could be spent on all sorts of things, such as the NHS or British farming. But things are not quite what they seem.

It is funny how they focus on the NHS: it is a great British achievement and something to be proud of, but it is a cynical ploy to suggest that leaving the EU would help, when the numbers don’t stack up. Continue reading “It’s not £350 Million a week to Brussels, and we could learn from Norway”

The EU and security: why Boris Johnson is so wrong

On 9 May, Boris Johnson sought to challenge the idea that the EU has contributed to peace in Europe, laying the credit for that instead at the feet of NATO. He has had a change of heart, and it is worth looking at the real security story.

BoJo_security

StrongerIN have rightly seized on his words: his actions smack of political opportunism, and sound as if his support for leaving the EU and his personal ambition to become Prime Minister are closely linked.

An immediate riposte is that the mechanisms of the EU do limit the ability of Maverick politicians to play opportunistic games of rabble-rousing. This is no bad thing. People might claim it as undemocratic, but democracy does assume that voters are well-informed and rational: manipulative games also undermine democracy.

But Johnson’s narrative gets the whole thing horribly wrong.

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Migrants not affecting low wages…

Research at the London School of Economics is suggesting that downward pressure on low wages has come from the fallout of the economic difficulties of 2008 rather than immigration. Although migrants are being blamed, they suggest that migrants have actually helped the situation.

Migrants work in a field of daffodils at Nocton farm in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers
Migrants work in a field of daffodils at Nocton farm in Lincolnshire. Photograph: Bruce Adams/Associated Newspapers

The LSE study, written about in The Guardian is a stark challenge to the view that migrants have been pushing down wages. It shows the Brexit argument against migrants to be very wide of the mark. My reading of this is that the fear is real, but we are in danger of making things worse by reacting out of that fear.

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European and local

A querk of the timing of EU referendum is that, now in late April 2016, I am campaigning both for election to Cambridge City Council and for a vote for the UK to remain in the EU. My election literature is clear that I am campaigning for both. How do they link?

Members of the Committee of the Regions standing in tribute to victims of the Brussels attacks
Members of the Committee of the Regions standing in tribute to victims of the Brussels attacks

My Independent opponent made a comment in a recent leaflet that we should keep Cambridge City Council elections local and that he was not going to talk publicly about his views in the EU. That set me thinking. I can see his point, but things are much more interconnected than that. At the very least, the stability brought by the EU means local councils don’t have to think about “the war effort” (or the war memorial) as they did in the twentieth century.

On the doorsteps we are a week away from the local elections and the EU referendum is two months away. Support for the Liberal Democrats and for EU membership are (mostly) going together, and there is a phalanx who clearly say they are voting “Independent and out”.

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Yanis Varoufakis: a Greek supporting the EU

One of the Eurosceptic comments I have been hearing on the doorsteps recently is the argument that the EU is bad because of its treatment of Greece. I’m fascinated to year Yanis Varoufakis, formerly finance minister in the Syriza party argue strongly for the EU.

Yanis Varoufakis
Yanis Varoufakis

When people present this argument against the EU I’ve tended to respond by looking at ways to help in the regeneration of Greece. This is not to say a tough approach is always best, and there have been raw feelings among the Greeks going back to the second world war, but I’ve tended to argue that the route the EU took is probably the fastest to re-stabilise Greece.

In an interview with Owen Jones in The Guardian Varoufakis begins by pointing out that Brexit would leave the UK much more exposed to TTIP. At the moment (April 2016) it is not clear what the final text of TTIP will be, but Varoufakis is clearly right that, within the EU, we have the capacity to influence things, where outside we could do little more than accept what we are offered. He continues:

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Immigration and low pay

At first sight it can seem obvious that immigration undermines wages, at least in low-paid work. One of the rallying cries of the Eurosceptic right is about “foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs”. But is this true?

Migrant workers in East Anglia
Migrant workers in East Anglia

In an earlier post, I commented that “people at the bottom of the pile, resentful at the opportunities they feel they don’t have, are the ones who would lose most if these migrants stopped coming (or ‘went home’)”. I’d like to unpack this.

At first sight, challenging this seems counter-intuitive. In 2013, UKIP were spreading stories of 350,000-400,000 likely migrants from Romania and Bulgaria when restrictions on emigration were lifted. In reality, the number of EU migrants employed in the UK actually fell in the subsequent few months.

It’s hard to measure the effect of immigrants on wages, Continue reading “Immigration and low pay”

The other side of migration

ImmigrantSpirit.com home page
ImmigrantSpirit.com home page

Today’s tranche of emails included one from Immigrant Spirit, which highlights the other side of this. It quotes Andreas Meyer-Falcke, Commissioner of Human Resources for the City of Düsseldorf, saying that in the next five years one third of his employees will retire. Thousands of jobs will become available. It asks: “How could expatriates benefit?”

The free movement of people means that, provided we vote to remain in the EU, I could respond to this by applying for one of those jobs in Düsseldorf, or anywhere else in the EU.

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