What does Brexit mean for the future of Welsh universities?

By Joe Crombie

The 21st century has seen Welsh universities flourish as student enrolment and campuses grew seemingly without limit. The higher education sector in Wales now directly contributes around £1.4 billion to the economy and indirectly powers around £1.4 billion through dependent industries. This growth was in part facilitated by the European Union, through funding grants or loans to Welsh institutions or through the student mobility and research collaboration that freedom of movement allowed. Brexit will have profound effects on Wales, but the higher education sector will feel particularly exposed as an industry heavily linked to the EU.

In recent years, British universities have embarked on a building binge. At the end of 2014, annual capital expenditure by British universities had reached £2.5 billion, with 500,000 square metres of new space being added. The rough equivalent area of around five new universities. european-union-155207_960_720

Welsh universities were no exception and saw major expansion. Swansea University recently opened its Bay Campus, which has allowed the university to double in size and further act as an engine of economic growth for the region. The funding for this huge expansion came from three chief sources: the Welsh Government, EU and European Investment Bank. Indeed, the funding from the EU amounted to £95 million. To the east, the opening of the prestigious Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre was made possible in part by £4.5 million of European funding. Welsh universities have been expanding dramatically and while the rise in student fees has resulted in a drive to energise facilities to improve student satisfaction, the money to turn proposals into reality has often come in contribution from EU institutions and there is no certainty that an alternative funding stream will be created after Brexit.

Funding for campus expansion is not the only place that Welsh universities have benefited from European cash. Funding for research to British institutions from the EU amounts to around £1 billion a year. In Wales the EU contributes around £35 million annually towards research or about 16% of the total Welsh institutions receive. In the rest of the UK the private sector is responsible for around 45% of total research funding but in Wales this drops to around 10% highlighting a greater dependence by Welsh institutions on European money compared to their British peers. The quality of research an institution puts out is a key barometer for its quality and any loss of research funding could detrimentally effect the quality and global standing of our universities.

While the financial connection of Welsh institutions to the EU is clear, the human link is just as valuable. Around a sixth of researchers at British universities come from elsewhere in the EU and any change in visa arrangements could make Wales look less attractive and result in a drain of academic talent and a difficulty to cooperate on future European wide projects. Around 17% of Cardiff Universities academic staff are EU nationals and the presence of academic talent from across Europe has been vital to the success of Welsh institutions. Student applications have already seen a decline, with an over 8% decrease in applications to Welsh universities from EU students. A fall in EU students has the potential of reducing the roughly £130 million they put into Welsh universities and their local economies. Indeed, the onset of Brexit is a factor that Prof Colin Riordan, Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University has acknowledged will “probably” lead to a decline in applications.

The support Welsh universities will receive post-Brexit is unclear and this situation is likely to continue in the short term. But what is clear is that the expansion of universities in Wales has in part been driven by the financial and human input of the European Union. If higher education in Wales is to continue to thrive, it needs the support of a state that recognises the huge impact it plays in contributing to the prosperity of Wales and its people.

Annual Law Lecture: How global trading rules are contributing to Africa’s deindustrialization and what we can do about it

By Georgia Marks

On the 21st November 2016, the WCIA, in partnership with Centre for Law and Society/ Law and Global Justice Programme, Cardiff University, held the fifth annual law lecture by Professor James Thuo Gathii at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. John Harrington, the chairman of the Board of Justice for the WCIA, chaired the event. He introduced the speaker and the discussant, Celine Tan. Overall, the event was insightful and gave the audience a range of solutions to think about in terms of global trade.

Professor Gathii began by defining deindustrialization as the movement of workers from industry and then went on to give a brief context. He stated that Africa’s economy has been growing, but this has brought deindustrialization. In the 1970s, the governments had policies focusing on agriculture, but wanted to be like the West so produced industrialised economies, with structural adjustment programmes set up to reduce the role of the state in the economy. In 1990, the World Bank and the IMF drove for reform which the speaker says had a debilitating effect on industries. For example, in Senegal, the manufacturing and processing of sugar decreased in the past 20 years.

Next, Gathii highlighted the problems behind deindustrialization. He said that bad economic governments contributed. Many governments are corrupt, as well as the fact that the African elite have been able to source products, that can be made in Africa, outside of the continent at the expense of local producers. He then went on to use the supply of palm oil to reinforce his point. He then went on to talk about the phenomenon of consumption cities where workers are moving from manufacturing as there is less work. This is exacerbated by the lack of sustainable effort to create work in industry, and thus the problem grows. This seems to be a valid problem in these countries which in turn create a variety of different problems, particularly to local businesses.

The speaker continued by proposing solutions which he referred to as ‘big ideas.’ Firstly, he suggested making technology transfers a key component of the trade system, for example with Japan and China. Emphasis was placed on Africa’s need to go for innovation seeking investments and utilise other countries’ need for resources. He also gave importance to the fact that the availability of these contracts allows the transfer of knowledge between countries. I think that this is important as it allows for African countries to develop which will hopefully enhance their position within trade. Gathii stated that there is a lot of potential in this idea as exemplified in South Korea doing business with Britain over the manufacturing of rail cars. Countries can gain leverage in order to get what they want instead of just selling off resources. In his belief, African countries have the capacity to do this. This idea is a good one as it encourages African countries to be more assertive in trade which appeared to be one of the main themes in the talk, but it is also interactive for Western countries as they will participate in this trade.

The next proposed solution was improved regional trade among African countries. This is perhaps one of the strongest solutions as it promotes self-sufficiency in Africa. Gathii expressed that there is currently an unequal system in international trade as the ways trading rules are interpreted are consistent with bias because big countries will make sure that their view prevails. This solution is within Africa itself, so does not address part of the talk which askes what we can do about it, but despite this, it is still a strong solution. The speaker gave the shocking statistic that inter-African trade is only 9% of their overall trade, with Africa importing $35 billion worth of food each year. What is worse, according to Gathii, is that it is the sort of food that Africa grows! He went on to say that famines in African countries were because of no trade, not because of lack of food. This stresses the importance of inter-African trade. He stated that commitments to reduce the trade barriers are all there. If there have been things put in place for this solution then there is no reason why it should not be successful. A member of the audience from Cardiff University asked how we could focus on south-south cooperation to reduce dependence on the western world. In response, Gathii expressed that southern countries were doing a bad job of trading with themselves. In order to improve this we could make evident these blind spots as there is a possibility to build a vibrant market in rural Africa with the right policies. How we could make them see the blind spots was not made clear, however the speaker is right in the fact that good policy making will help to boost trade.

Third, Gathii suggests productivity enhancing initiatives, which could be done without the other two proposals. He goes on to recommend basic processing of natural produce and simple but critical farming technology. All of this centres on product development, but also ensures that the changes are realistic and work for regionalists. Whilst this proposal is the simplest of all the solutions, it is a positive that it can work independently of the others given, and may also be the most realistic recommendation.

Overall, the proposals made by Professor Gathii were good as they would be effective if carried out properly. However, the emphasis is not on what the West can do about it. Yet, I do not think that is a bad thing, as a lot of discussions have the tendency to be too focussed on the West, which can sometimes mean that the issue at hand can get forgotten. So I think the fact that the main subjects are the African countries strengthens the proposals given by the speaker, but also gives a more innovative perspective to these solutions.

The discussant, Celine Tan, then analysed the proposals made by Professor Gathii, stating that they were excellent. This I totally agree with. She took on an Asian perspective as a child of Malaysian industrialisation. She spoke of the lack of regulation which made industrialisation problematic in Malaysia, however despite this it is undeniable that industrialisation was the driver in the country’s economic growth. The discussant claimed that in Africa, external factors are constraining the continent’s industrial development, and expressed that Gathii was too generous to the external sources. The main question surrounding Tan’s talk was how much of Gathii’s proposals does he think is achievable? Particularly in terms of current constraints. She went on to say that external factors were not barriers to other countries such as Malaysia, particularly that they did not have pressures from external places to get funds. Malaysia’s transition from agriculture to industry was gradual because they had the policy space to do so. However, according to Tan, African countries have lost their autonomy of the constraints, whereas Malaysia maintains their scope for determining what to do with their economy. I think this highlights one of the key constraints on Africa which is unique to them, and emphasizes that as a continent they need to try and address these limits. Also, bringing in a different perspective on industrialisation made for a really effective comparison, so that the audience could see the realistic limits on African countries.

Tan highlights three key issues that Gathii’s proposals may encounter. Firstly, there is the issue of Africa’s dependence on external finance, as some of the speakers’ proposals were predicated on public finance. But where is this finance going to come from? I think that this is a really crucial question to ask, as how can we see any of these solutions put into place if there is nothing to fund them. Secondly, there is a question of international regulation as it hinders the finance available. She stated that multi-national firms threaten countries’ revenue. This is the downside to processes with foreign investors as how can we ensure that African countries keep onto the revenue. Again, I think that this is a point worth addressing as there is a risk of exploitation here. In the Q&A session after the talks, a representative from Fair Trade Wales asked what the solutions can be provided to support farmers and ensure that they have a choice a choice on a global scale. Gathii responded by saying that we shouldn’t leave things the way they are if they are corrupt. Investment programmes are the solution. The speaker acknowledged the limits as inevitable, but everyone says that this is the right thing to do. On basic necessities trade could be improved, but the time scales need to be more visible. There are interesting policies already existing. He went on to express that if trade does not benefit the people then there is no point. Western ideas do not truly know about African issues, so aid is not going to help as much as trade. I think this makes a good point in that instead of the West attempting to help, we should be taking a step back and let Africa retain control of their own policies so that they have more influence in trade as Africa knows what will benefit them the most.

Lastly, Tan emphasised the constraints of investment rules in global trade. These trade rules mean that countries like the UK generate value from raw materials. Additionally, the discussant also highlighted the constraints that treaties bring to African countries, such limits are not faced by countries in south-east Asia. She continued by saying that the rules are so stacked against African countries, it is doubtful as to whether the proposals given by Gathii will work. This is point is very valid as it shows the problems as exclusive to African countries, which only emphasizes the problems of trade in these countries. It is also an important aspect to consider when asking whether the proposals would realistically work.

Ms Tan concluded by saying that a more holistic outlook was needed. Overall, her rebuttals to Professor Gathii’s proposals were all persuasive and acted for a good academic discussion. These proposals appear to be an ideal, but more thought needs to go into how these could be developed in practice, linking to the context of the current situation in African countries.

Gathii then summarised his stance, addressing the points made by Tan. In terms of the last point, he stated that the discussant was right in that there were huge barriers imposed by the West that prevent many of his proposals. He claimed that this problem was escalated by the fact that African countries fail to negotiate and end up settling with deals that do not benefit them. This is reinforced by the point that the Southern African Customs Union is the only region to reject a template for trade. He continued by stating that the systems often favour developed countries and that he wishes that African leaders were more proactive in deciding not to participate in trade with challenging affluent countries. In the Q&A session, a practicing lawyer in the audience questioned the retaliation system in terms of compensation. Gathii responded with the statement that the treaties are a reflection of interests of the people who wrote them which is unfair as it is favour of developed countries. Developing countries as a collective have the opportunity to take trade into a different direction. This, again focuses on what Africa can do rather than how the West can contribute. Yet the point made that African countries should take power into their own hands is still a strong one and promotes self-sufficiency.

John Harrington concluded with the idea of ‘aid vs trade.’ The current Secretary of State suggested that we should increase aid to promote trade, but this is only to improve British trade. From a Welsh context, Wales is to act in a globally responsible manner. This is a strong conclusion as to be responsible and aware of how are actions affect other countries in terms of global trade is significant in order to ensure that we do not hinder Africa’s development by rigid rules and bias policies. So, a sense of being conscious about the problems of non-western countries is one of the most important things that we can do in order to improve industry in Africa.

A Welsh spanner in the works? Brexit: the story so far

By Rosa Brown 

Today the Supreme Court has revealed that Mrs May’s government will face another hurdle in their quest for Brexit. This comes after Gina Miller and her team won a legal challenge against the government’s formal exit negotiations without the presence of a parliamentary vote.

The national media has only just recovered from the legal development in the Brexit story- attentions were turned further afield and questions were asked whether civilization would even exist under a Trump presidency. But now the Supreme Court has been at it again, with the revelation that both Scottish and Welsh governments will be allowed to have their say over the triggering of Article 50 and its notice period.

Neither Nicola Sturgeon nor the Scottish people have held back on their Brexit opinions. All 32 Scottish councils voted in favour of remaining in the EU, as Sturgeon has promised to do all in her power to ensure the voice of the Scottish people is heard in Westminster.

However the picture in Wales has been slightly more convoluted. Despite receiving an annual net benefit of £245m as a result of the UK’s current relationship with the EU, 52.5% of the Welsh electorate voted to exit the EU. In the aftermath of result, attention was drawn towards the political disillusionment in Wales along with the proximity of the Welsh assembly election to the referendum and the consequent lack of campaigning.

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The Debating Chamber of the Senedd. Image: Julian Nitzsche.

The impact of Brexit on the Welsh economy has been made startlingly clear from very early on. The question of Welsh funding and the gaping hole that will be left by that EU support remain unanswered, whilst Welsh universities have also felt the effects of Brexit. Aberystwyth University revealed 100 prospective European students withdrew applications from the university, over half of which occurred the day after the referendum.

A poll conducted by ITV Wales/ Cardiff University YouGov in July 2016 revealed a swing in Welsh opinion, with 53 percent voting to Remain whilst 47 percent voting to Leave. Though we all know that polls should not be overvalued or taken for granted, especially when there is so little in it. Time and time again people have felt unable to share their true voting intentions, which is a problem in itself.

At the time of writing, First Minister for Wales Carwyn Jones has yet to comment on the Welsh involvement in the Supreme Court ruling. The First Minister has implored May’s government to take more of an interest in the Welsh steel industry and securing transitional trade arrangements for Brexit. Whether Mr Jones’ message will ring clear given Wales’ role in the Brexit legal debacle remains to be foreseen. This is an exciting time for Welsh politics and offers an intriguing twist in the Brexit tale.

If you are interested in hearing more about Brexit and its impact for Wales, Cardiff University and the WCIA are hosting the following events:

The Devaluation of European Values After Brexit’, Tuesday 29th November 2016, 1-4.30pm.  

What Does Brexit Mean For…?’, Wednesday 30th November 2016, 7-9pm.

 

 

 

The EU Referendum – A Welsh Debate

Georgia Marks

The rapidly approaching  EU Referendum is a highly discussed topic in the UK, currently dividing our public. On 8th June the WCIA held an event in the old library to aid the understanding of what it would mean for Britain both if we choose to leave or remain in the European Union. The insightful event featured three panels which consisted of three speakers. Although I came to the event with the view that we should remain in the EU, it was overall, a well-informed debate that will prove helpful for those whose minds are still undecided.

The first panel of the evening discussed society and law. Dr Jo Hunt established the framework for EU laws, expressing that they could be seen as both a straitjacket in terms of the restrictions put in place, but also that there is value in these laws such as the communication that we have with other countries. She then established that EU law is made by EU treaties which set out the scope for those institutions that have been given competence to act. The member states work together to make the legislation. In my opinion, surely this legislation is fair to the EU member states if they all participate in the creation of these laws. The European Commission proposes the legislation and it must gain approval from elected members of European Parliament. There is also increased involvement of our national parliament which has been strengthened slightly by February agreements. In terms of how this affects Wales, Dr Hunt stated that the Welsh Assembly have some say in relation to these laws and can be involved in the enactment of indirect legislation if it is relevant to the devolved nation. EU law is supreme, so national laws must not run contrary to EU law. For Wales, Hunt expressed that EU law could be seen as holding restrictions, however the framework provides for expansion.

Dr Hywel Ceri Jones put forward the case to remain in the European Union. He stated that the UK is safer and more through membership, particularly with the threats of terrorism currently plaguing society. He highlighted the importance of standing together to increase peace and reconciliation. Although our membership in the EU means that our sovereignty is to be sacrificed, Jones emphasised that this sacrifice was for the greater good. Those, like Jones, who want to remain in the EU, have an interest in being a full and active member in a strategic security membership. This a sound view, to be part of a group greater than just the United Kingdom will ensure higher levels of security, as we are part of a collective that are able to fight threats to our safety together by sharing strategy. Jones also discussed the unprecedented challenges to security, stating that the EU is a huge institution and it would be foolish to throw our membership away as we are not strong enough without it; British power has an added weight because of our membership in the EU. I completely agree with the statements made, as although the UK wields a lot of power, to stand alone would be detrimental, when we do not have enough influence to stand alone. Jones emphasised the point above by providing examples of how the EU affects Wales. Firstly, in terms of climate change, the global agreement last year was strongly led by the European Union and we need to be in the EU to implement these policies. This is a very strong example due to the increase in concern we have collectively as a society to the horror of climate change. Secondly, the EU provides protection for people of disabilities. To leave the EU, as Jones highlighted, will lead to higher debts and higher cuts in public spending. The leave vision was expressed as a “go it alone” vision, which may potentially ‘do away’ with the European Convention on Human Rights. This may create a Britain that would regard issues and rights for disabled people as unimportant. For example, the 2000 EU directive provides protection for disabled people in terms of employment. Jones concluded by stating that we are safer and more secure in the European Union, as we have a stronger voice and are better equipped to tackle global problems. In my opinion this is one of the most important reasons why we should stay in the EU.

David Rowlands for the leave campaign established that we have had basic rights and freedoms before our membership in the EU, most notably because of the frameworks laid by the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. In terms of our justice system, Rowlands stated that in the past thirty years there have been far-reaching changes. The Supreme Court is not its namesake at all, also European arrest warrants are not observed in all EU countries. Jones also emphasised that EU law sacrifices the supremacy of UK law, further reducing British sovereignty. As the EU is a higher power, surely this is an appropriate measure as it seeks to bring all member states in line with one another. Rowlands went on to express that Britain protects human rights and not the EU, so if we were to leave, there would be no question as to the preservation of our human rights. Rowlands concluded by stating that if our presence in the European Union means that we are losing sovereignty, to swap national law for EU law, simply put, would be foolish.

Within the Q&A session, Dr Jones questioned Rowlands regarding his stance on the Paris climate change deal. Rowlands responded by stating that he thought that climate change is cyclical and that the world was not warming. This of course shocked the audience and also the other leave campaigners on the other two panels as climate change ought not to be lightly dismissed.

The next panel looked at internal and international relationships. Dr Rachel Minto put forward the neutral argument in terms of the referendum. Firstly, she established that there are many different internal relationships that will be affected by the referendum. Additionally, she expressed that it may have an effect on the internal dynamics of the UK. Northern Ireland and Scotland are pro EU whereas Wales is split, so the nations may not vote in the same way, offering an uncertain narrative to the future of the UK.  Minto elaborated on this uncertain narrative, stating that if Scotland is pulled out of the EU against their will then this could constitute a second independence referendum. This could lead to Wales becoming the junior partner in the UK. Secondly, Dr Minto established that internationally there is both public and political discussion surrounding security and global issues in which Wales is under the “UK umbrella.” She concluded by saying that the referendum brings two big constitutional debates in which the EU and devolution are intertwined.

Baroness Julie Smith introduced her remain argument by stating that those who want to leave are under the illusion that the EU is undemocratic and that Westminster is the model we should look too. Understandably if we are to stay in the EU then there is room for improvement, it would be wrong to see Westminster as the ideal. Smith continued. saying that internal relations would be affected in the medium to long-term and that we should not exaggerate an immediate Scottish referendum. However, an immediate effect of Brexit would be a hard EU border for Northern Ireland, so free movement across the UK would likely end. Smith also highlighted that the potential for a second Scottish referendum could result in Wales also initiating an independence referendum. Although this is not guaranteed, I agree that it ought not to be lightly dismissed as it could drastically alter the continuation of the UK as we now know it. Baroness Smith expressed that it is better to be a part of the UK with the European Union. Internationally, Smith emphasised that the EU give the UK major influence, with issues concerning our importance if we are to leave. Smith noted Obama and Clinton have claimed that British influence in the world will diminish if we are to leave the EU and that we would have to re-establish relations for trading and for our place in the world. This is a very important reason as to why we should stay in the EU as losing our international influence will result in spending a lot of time and resources in order to regain our power in which we already have as a member of the EU. Could such time and resources not be better spent in initiating further reform within the EU itself?

Alex Moscovici provided the audience with what he described as a “less conventional” leave argument; the EU pushes an austerity agenda. Although he believes that there are some benefits to stay in the EU, he feels that the benefits of leaving are greater. One of his main points was about accountability; if we leave the EU, we will be able to hold our politicians to account without them trying to blame the EU. In terms of the continuation of the UK, Moscovici expressed that the UK will never survive out of fear of what the Scottish believe, yet the SNP are losing influence so could this help the UK to thrive. In terms of the UK and Ireland, he thinks that we do not need the EU to stop the violence, but we may need them for the borders. In my opinion this a fair point of view as we do not need a great institution to stop violence if we are a collective within UK, but the issues of borders will increase if we leave. He concluded by stating that the EU should be about making our own laws while still being amicable with our neighbours and that to say that either result is perfect would be silly. Moscovi’s argument is the most convincing of the leave arguments, perhaps because it is not one that is regularly put forward, so is more insightful.

In the Q&A session, a member of the audience asked whether the result of the referendum will be damaging to relations between the UK and other countries. Dr Minto stated that the G7 summit established that relations will be something that Britain will need to look into. Moscovici expressed the view that relations have already been damaged due to dishonest information, also in terms of the comments of the USA. Smith appeared to be in agreement by highlighting that the referendum has been unenlightening in that there is insufficient trust and respect. She also expressed that if we are to remain then we need to work on these relations. I agree with the statement that the referendum has been damaging on an international scale, but I also think on an internal scale in terms of the public and politicians due to dishonest information being published. How is the public expected to be properly educated on the referendum if we do not have enough information to guide us?

The final panel reviewed the effect on jobs and the economy. Ed Poole provided the audience with a neutral context, stating that the 2014-2020 EU budget saw a reduction for the first time in its history. The UK have always contributed to the EU, with our contribution being the second largest, yet our share is one of the smallest, with the UK making £9.8 billion in 2014 in the EU. Poole stated that the position of Wales is divergent. Wales receives a net beneficiary of £245 million per year, but Brexit will have a significant impact on Welsh policy.

Lord Dafydd Wigley started off his remain argument by stating that if we pull down the building blocks of the EU then it will be detrimental. He supported his statement with the example that companies from the USA and Japan are in the UK to export to the EU and the benefits of this type of business would decrease if we leave. In terms of agriculture, 90% of our exports will go to the EU and if we leave the EU we would face a tariff barrier between 40% and 70%. According to Brexit, European funding will be made up by Westminster, but Wigley was told that was going to keep the money instead, so we cannot trust Westminster with these funds. Economically, some things have to be done on a European level, in which we should play a positive part according to Lord Wigley. Lord Wigley provides a sound and well-informed argument, particularly looking at how leaving will affect Wales. So I think to remain, will be healthier for our economy, particularly in terms of trade.

Berwyn Davies provided us with the leave argument. He started off by stating that there is no such thing as European money and that it is simply the taxpayer’s money. This is a fair statement to make, but we have to make some sort of contribution to be a part of such a large institution; however, that should mean that we get more back from the EU if we contribute so much. He went on to say that the EU takes a large proportion of our exports and that this trade will not go away if we leave as we will go via the world trade rules where there is no critical difference in rate. Davies highlighted a key issue that the EU and UK do not want the same things. Personally I find this hard to swallow as if we did not share common goals then why would we have joined the EU? Davies continued by stating that the UK has created more jobs than the rest of the EU combined over the years of its membership. This is a fair point however, as we could use this to help other countries as we provide an example of a prosperous European country, and if we help other countries to improve then this will no longer be an issue. Davies concluded that it is better to take control of ourselves.

Within the Q&A session, a member of the audience questioned the uncertainty that either result will bring. Davies expressed the view that there will be a risk of increasing strangulation of the economy and that if we want a free trade agreement then we should not be under the weight of European regulations. However, Lord Wigley rebutted these points by stating that the term ‘strangulation of regulations’ is false as some regulations ensure that unscrupulous employers do not undercut employees and that these regulations are creating the emergence of a social Europe. These regulations are improving other countries more than the UK in some cases, but we should not be so quick to criticise the fact that we live in a society with fair employment law. Another member of the audience questioned how remaining will benefit entrepreneurs. Lord Wigley stated that entrepreneurs already have the opportunity to export to other countries and that the frustration due to the regulations is understandable. He stated that he is aware of the challenges but it is better to trade in a level playing field provided by the EU. Poole shared agreement with Wigley and stated that there is a reason for a level playing field so that trading can compete, but also expressed that it is burdensome.  Davies stated that he thought that leaving the EU will provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to pay the living wage as well as being able to trade freely.

The debates were, overall well-informed throughout the event, however, it is the belief of the author that we should remain in the EU for safety within society and in order to uphold our international influence. Although the EU is not all rainbows and sunshine, the referendum should push the UK into becoming an active player in its reform. To leave the EU would be foolish when it provides us with a level playing field in terms of trade. Regardless of my opinion, I urge you to vote. The referendum on Brexit is likely to be a once in a generation opportunity. Take control. Let your voice be heard. On Thursday June 23rd, vote.

Africa 2050: trends, hopes and fears for the future

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Event at the Temple of Peace, organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs

Roundtable discussion with:
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB
Ambreena Manji, Professor of Land Law and Development at Cardiff University
Martha Musonza Holman, Founder of Love Zimbabwe
Chaired by: Fadhili Maghiya, Diaspora & Inclusion Officer, Sub-Saharan Advisory Panel
Report by: Lara Hirschhausen

Will Oxfam still be working in Africa in 2050?

This was the opening question to Oxfam’s Chief Executive Mark Goldring at a roundtable discussion organised by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs on the 24th of February.

Mark Goldring, the current CEO of Oxfam GB, had just returned from a visit to Ethiopia and offered an informative insight into the organisation’s current work on the continent. Referring to the devastating impacts of the current draught in Ethiopia, Mr. Goldring highlighted the necessity to recognise climate change as a major challenge faced by the developing world. He further spoke about conflict, unequal distribution of economic growth, and illicit money as major opponents to just development on the African continent. However, the Oxfam Chief Executive also emphasised that credit needs to be given to the advancements of African leaders. Positive examples of the improved conditions in many African nations do exist, such as the increase of democratically elected governments or the 2005 plea for the abolition of African debt and the increase in school enrolment thereafter.

Ambreena Manji, a lecturer at the Law Department of Cardiff University, commented on her research area of land tenure as a core issue that is holding back a more equitable development agenda in many African states. She elaborated further on the disputes that arise from land allocation being dominated by commercial interested rather than public interest, and how the promotion of a legal framework was at the core of just economic development.

Martha Musonza Holman, founder of the NGO Love Zimbabwe, spoke about current issues in her home country Zimbabwe, from which she had also just returned. She particularly emphasised the need to mobilise civil society both within the states, but also through the diaspora, to tackle corruption in the political leadership. As Zimbabwe is also currently suffering a draught, Martha pointed out the consequences of environmental change on the industrialised world that relies on food imports from African countries. As a teacher by training, she further endorsed the benefit and need for exchange programmes that allow African students to visit the United Kingdom.

The initial roundtable was followed by a lively QA session. The audience, which seemingly was made up of people involved with human rights or development organisations in Africa, raised a number of relevant questions. The event captured well the various issues and diverging opinions how to solve them. What role does China have to play in African development? And what are the risks, what the opportunities of Chinese investment in the continent? How is Climate Change hindering development? How can we ensure adequate mitigation as well as adaption strategies? Is there hope that these strategies can be used to lead to not only more environmentally, but also sociably, sustainable economic growth? Arguably, these are some of the big questions that our world has to address, and for Africa these challenges will be of crucial importance in order to determine its way over the next 50 years. While there is undoubtedly a lot of work left to be done, allowing for a dialogue that focuses on the needs of the citizens will hopefully form the core of it. You can see a detailed transcript of the event here.

What’s the deal with trade deals?

TTIP_protest_in_London

12/07/2014 – Protestors against the EU-US trade deal (TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) march from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to Europe House, the London Headquarters of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, London.

by Jack Pickering (Cardiff People and Planet Society)

There’s been more than enough to fill the headlines recently (the war in Syria, the ongoing refugee crisis, the climate talks in Paris, as just a few examples), yet what hasn’t been reported on much are the new set of Trans-Atlantic trade deals being negotiated between the EU, the US and Canada. If you have heard of them, you’ve probably heard that they’re concerning to many who care about labor rights, environmental protections, food safety regulations, internet freedom, access to affordable medicine, local procurement policies, and more. If you don’t know much about them, there’s a good reason for that; they’ve been discussed in secret, with very little democratic oversight. Until recently, not even MPs were allowed to see the TTIP negotiation documents, with security-cleared specialists still not able to access the dedicated reading rooms, let alone public.

The free trade deals I’m referring to are the TTIP (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and TISA (Trade in Services Agreement) with the United States, and CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) with Canada. These deals are aiming to establish a number of things, such as the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism that would establish a special supranational court system which transnational corporations can use to sue national governments when their profits are threatened. This sounds like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but it is real, and similar systems have already been used by Vattenfall (a Swedish energy company) to sue the German government for £1 billion over environmental regulations placed on one of their coal fired power plants. Meanwhile, U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris has sued the governments of Uruguay and Australia for implementing public health policies to discourage smoking. Although after a substantial pressure from some member states and NGOs, EU in now-concluded 12th round of TTIP talks offered an alternative proposal of a special court to handle such disputes more transparently.

This part of the agreements is probably their most publicised element, due to the impact it could have on crucial pieces of legislation and regulation where corporations are involved. Regardless of its potential uses, it will likely make governments much more wary of challenging or hindering the operations of big business. In addition to this, the fact that both the CETA and TTIP negotiations are looking to establish the ISDS system in parallel means that if one fails, then the other can be used instead, as the corporations commonly have branches in both the US and Canada. Therefore even the new European proposal of special court does not sound very hopeful, as the ISDS business-as-usual is already included in finalised CETA. If you think corporations or business in general should be regulated or managed in any way, for any reason, then you should probably be concerned about this element of the agreements.

However, the trade deals contain more than just the ISDS. A lot of what is being discussed concerns the “harmonisation” and “mutual recognition” of regulations between the EU and the US/ Canada. These are intended to lead towards more similar regulation for businesses both in Europe and the US/Canada, so that the obstruction to business posed by regulation can be minimized, and profits maximised (obviously). Meanwhile, some experts are concerned about the potential for privatization of many public services through the TISA agreement, which aims to liberalize the trade of services including banking, healthcare, and transport.

This is all a bit obscure and arcane even for people who have followed trade deals in the past, however it is essential that we understand what they mean and how they could impact our lives (especially given that they have no expiration date). For example, washing chicken in chlorinated water is a common practice in the US, and regulated against by the EU. This issue of regulation goes both ways; financial firms in the US are more stringently regulated in the US than in the UK, and this “harmonisation” to lower regulation standards could allow them to continue their risky practices in the UK.

These deals put governments under pressure to bow to the wishes of big business, and this creates a serious problem. When we’re facing a world with job insecurity, a changing climate and widespread environmental degradation, as well as threats to our vital public services, these sorts of trade deals and the threats they pose are unacceptable. The fact that these deals have been discussed far away from the public eye and without any kind of democratic oversight is especially galling. We need to learn as much as possible about these trade deals and work to stop them wherever possible.

A set of talks organized by People & Planet Society on these Free Trade deals are being held on March 5th, from 3pm -7 pm, in Cathays Community Centre. The event is completely free, and will include dinner. Come join in if you want to learn more.

 

What kind of Europe do we want?

By Stephen Thomas

As the intensity of the European Union ‘in/out’ referendum debate increases across the UK, I had the opportunity to visit the European Parliament in Brussels this month for the first time.

MEPs make decisions that impact upon the lives of 500 million citizens in this very room

MEPs make decisions that impact upon the lives of 500 million citizens in this very room

I was invited with a group to visit and explore the institution by the European Free Alliance (EFA), a grouping of elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from stateless nations, regions and minorities. In the 2014-2019 parliamentary term EFA MEPs have been elected from Catalonia, Galicia, Latvia, Scotland, Valencia, Wales and the Basque Country. Within the Parliament, MEPs work in political groups. EFA members have formed a common alliance in the European Parliament with the Green Parties since 1999.

The European Parliament

The largest of the several political groupings within the Parliament are the European People’s Party [Christian Democrats] (EPP) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D).  With a total Parliament of 751 seats the EPP currently hold 219 and the S&D 191. EFA have 50.

Each MEP is chosen by an electorate from each of the 28 member countries of the European Union, representing a constituency of over 500 million people. Seats are also distributed, by and large, according to a Member State’s population. Germany, the largest country in population terms, has 96 MEPs whilst the smallest states of Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta have 6 MEPs each. Of the larger Member States after Germany, France has 74 MEPs and the UK and Italy 73 MEPs each.

As such the European Parliament is the only directly elected body in the EU and plays a key role in electing the President of the European Commission. It shares power over the EU budget and legislation with the Council of the European Union.

Council of the European Union

The Council represents the governments of the individual Member States. The Presidency of the Council is shared by the Member States on a six-month rotating basis. For the six months to December 2015 the Presidency is held by Luxembourg. The Presidency is responsible for driving forward the Council’s work on EU legislation, ensuring the continuity of the EU agenda, orderly legislative processes and cooperation among member states. To do this, the Presidency has to act as an honest and neutral broker.

The European Commission

Another major EU institution is the European Commission, the executive body. The Commission is responsible for proposing and implementing EU laws, monitoring the treaties and the day-to-day running of the EU. It represents the interests of the EU as a whole (not the interests of individual countries).

A new team of 28 Commissioners (one from each EU Member State) is appointed every five years. The politically important post is that of President of the Commission.

The candidate for President is proposed to the European Parliament by the European Council who decide on candidates by qualified majority, taking into account the elections to the European Parliament. The Commission President is then elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members (which corresponds to at least 376 out of 751 votes).

Following this election, the President-elect selects the 27 other members of the Commission, on the basis of the suggestions made by Member States. The final list of Commissioners-designate has then to be agreed between the President-elect and the Council. The Commission as a whole needs the Parliament’s consent. Prior to this, Commissioners-designate are assessed by the European Parliament committees.

The current Commission’s term of office runs until 31 October 2019. Its President is Jean-Claude Juncker.

Justice, Financial Management & Banking

The Court of Justice; The Court of Auditors and The European Central Bank are the other influential institutions that make up the European Union.

In defence of Liberty and Democracy?

The European Parliament is a unique example of multinational and multilingual democracy at work. The elected members (MEPs) engage in public debates and play a crucial role in shaping the policy of the EU. The principal areas of their work include the following:

Laws

The Parliament decides jointly with the Council of the European Union on laws that affect the daily lives of all EU’s citizens. These include topics such as freedom of travel, food safety and consumer protection, the environment and most sectors of the economy. Member States still have a veto right in areas such as taxation and foreign affairs/defence. Some areas require the Council to obtain the European Parliament’s assent before making a decision.

Budgets

Budgetary powers are the key prerogative of every Parliament — whoever allocates the funds has the power to set political priorities. At EU level, this power is shared between the Parliament and the Council. Together they adopt a multi-annual financial framework every 7 years, and scrutinise and approve the annual budget for the next year, as well as the spending from the previous year. The EU’s multi-annual budget 2014-2020 is €960 billion (yes, billion!).

Control

The European Parliament monitors the correct use of EU funds. The results of parliamentary elections are taken into account in the nomination of the President of the European Commission, but Parliament also has to elect the President and approve the appointment of the Commission and can force it to resign. Commissioners are often asked to defend their policies before the Parliament, and the president of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy regularly appear in Parliament to brief the MEPs and answer their questions.

Over the last couple of years, Parliament has considerably increased the discussions it holds with all leading decision-makers involved with the euro in a bid to shed more light on the way monetary decisions are being taken. In this sense, the Parliament has become one of the only forums acting to improve the transparency of the governance of the euro area.

European Union – why?

Out of the ruins of 1945, there grew an idea amongst Statesmen that, in fostering economic cooperation between countries rather than pursuing imperial and nationalistic rivalries, the risk of another appalling conflict between major sovereign states in Europe would be reduced.  Cooperation based on free trade in several key resource areas (coal, steel and iron ore) was its starting point in a hope that it would build a peaceful and prosperous future for all the peoples of Europe. To a large extent this idea has worked and Europe, indeed the world, has avoided horrors on the scale of the 20th Century’s two world wars.

Few believe however that nirvana has been created with the growth and development of European integration, far from it. The last 70 years since 1945 has continued to witness global tragedies, wars, famine, death and destruction on an appalling human scale. Walking around the European Parliament’s Visitors’ Centre brings these events very much to the mind in a poignant, interactive virtual trip through Europe, its history and its impact on the peoples of the world.

Meeting some MEPs and hearing their ‘stories’ left me feeling that the Parliament does contain elected representatives with strong ideals and a real belief in the concepts of fairness, justice and effective democratic government. They didn’t believe the current European institutions were by any means perfect but were seen rather as a continuing ‘work in progress’ that had evolved far beyond their origins as the European Coal & Steel Community of 1952.  Institutions that continue to engage people and politicians of many persuasions, nationalities and languages in debate, for a peaceful common cause. Controversial topics such as TTIP (the transatlantic trade and investment partnership with the United States); the impact of austerity policies resulting from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and the democratic predicament raised by the events in Greece pose real challenges for the European Union and its future.

Achieving fairness and justice while maintaining our liberty and freedom is never easy, particularly in our 21st Century multi-layered system of government. It can appear confusing, difficult to understand and sometimes repellent. Yet, as individuals we each carry a responsibility to defend our hard-earned democratic rights and take every opportunity to stand peaceably against the forces of regression who will work to undermine them. An essential first step, surely, is to find out more about how our democracy really works and how we can support it. This has, perhaps, never been more important than right here, and right now.

Learn more about the European Parliament, and the EU in general, here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/visiting/en/parlamentarium