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.

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Views on the EU

This blog reflects on attendance at a recent event organised by ESRC, Cardiff University and the EU Hub to provided informed answers to questions about the upcoming EU Referendum. The speakers included economists, lawyers, and political scientists, including the head of the UK in a Changing Europe initiative Professor Anand Menon, economist Professor Angus Armstrong, regional policy expert Professor Fiona Wishlade and commercial law specialist Emyr Lewis and Cardiff School of Law and Politics’ Dr Jo Hunt.

By Philip Kitchen who attended the event

I have been disappointed in the so-called debate about the EU referendum so far. What I have seen amounts to little more than glorified name-calling and fear-mongering. Is it possible to hear something of substance about the choice we are being asked to make? This event set out to provide ‘informed’ answers to questions that the audience posed. The panel of invited experts were largely academics with specialist interest in areas relevant to the upcoming referendum. The driving force behind the session was UK in a Changing Europe who with Full Fact produce an informative booklet Leave/Remain: the facts behind the claims.

Chaired by Owain Phillips, a political reporter from ITV Cymru Wales, the questions covered different aspects of the EU. Particular things that struck me from the discussion included the way in which the principle behind the ‘single market’ is not something we currently have access to – it is something we participate in. There is a distinction which is important.

When it comes to legislation, the approach taken by the EU is to ensure that we treat members of the EC no differently to the way we treat our own nationals when they are in the UK. On this point the question of benefits that immigrants claim is seen to be a product of our non-contributory system. We treat visitors the way in which we treat ourselves by sharing the non-contributory system. It is in essence a result of the UK legislation more than EU legislation. This aspect is clearly now coming under review by all EU governments as benefit systems are subject to stresses that were never anticipated when first set up. It was pointed out to that there are different ways such support is termed and used within EU member countries which does not help the comparisons that are made.

Wales we learnt is a net beneficiary from EU finance. Questions surrounding devolution have not been well considered and present significant issues should we elect to leave the EU. What border controls will be put in place in Ireland between the north and south? If Scotland goes for independence would we see border controls put in place on the UK mainland? What happens to devolved powers if we leave and EU inspired legislation is revisited and Wales takes a different view to the UK government. Remember devolution happened after we joined the EU. Much UK legislation is mixed in terms of EU inspiration and UK sourced and will present much room for debate and discussion in the future should we leave the EU.

Sovereignty was described as a rather ‘plastic’ issue by one speaker. Another suggested that we might reasonably focus on issues of power and influence. Especially whether we are best served in that regard from being in or out of the EU.

In all it seemed clear that the ‘experts’ usual answer to ‘what happens if we come out of the EU to ….?’ was ‘We do not really know’. It certainly seemed clear that the people who will benefit most from leaving the EU will be lawyers of various types.

I went in to the meeting believing that we should remain in the EU. I heard no compelling argument to change that viewpoint. I did hear a number of questions asked that suggested if we stay in there are many reasons to keep questioning and challenging the ideas that politicians keep throwing around. One panellist said that in his experience students in the UK had a very low level of knowledge about the EU and how it worked – I would have to put myself in that same camp. The nature of the ‘arguments’ in the public sphere that I have heard from politicians from all camps suggest that many of them should attend question and answer sessions like this one.

Reference was made to Norway who have to endure the ‘EU regulation’ and its costs but with no influence within the the EU. Yet apparently some 75% or so vote not to join the EU. Maybe we should all ignore the facts and go with a gut feeling!

The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the WCIA. 

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

Lower the voting age in the EU referendum to 16

In 2016/17 the UK will come to the polls to make one of the biggest decisions of the past 50 years – should the UK stay in EU? But one group will be left out of this all-important vote, the group who will be most affected by this change, 16 and 17-year-olds. Having just turned 17 there is a high possibility that I will not be able to cast a vote in a 2016 election, denying my right to be heard.  And to paraphrase a young William Hague “Half of you won’t be here in 30 or 40 years’ time”, but others will have to live with consequences”.  As someone who would have to live with the consequences of a vote I only see it as fair that I should be able to have a say in the matter.

The main argument against giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote is that 16 or 17 year olds are too immature to make such important decisions. But where’s the evidence? Without resorting to clichés, we can leave school, start a job, or an apprenticeship and chose school subjects that will affect the rest of their lives. In the modern world we are given a lot of responsibilities so voting in elections isn’t too daunting.  In school as part of the Welsh Bac we are given lessons on politics and citizenship, giving all 16/17 year olds an understanding of the political system. And the internet allows young people a wide base of knowledge about international affairs. So it cannot be argued that maturity is a reason to stop us voting.

The work that many 16 and 17 year olds do is effected by the EU, and because of this we should be able to have a vote on matters that will regard our current or future careers. For example, Airbus employs over 100,000 people in the UK  including a large number of apprentices and young skilled workers. These jobs rely on the EU links between Britain and France, and leaving the EU could put the jobs at risk. The 12% of jobs linked with EU exports include a large percentage of under 18s who work in manufacturing and the construction industry. The voices of people whose jobs depend on this link will not be heard.

youngvotes

Giving votes to us for single elections isn’t a completely new idea. In the Scottish Referendum 16 and 17 year olds were given the right to vote.  I believe this was fair, as people who would be most affected by leaving the union got the right to vote. This gave young people a voice for their future for the first time in British history and has been seen as a resounding success by the majority of people. With a high turnout young people in Scotland showed that they were engaged in what was going on and then has allowed people to vote locally and at Holyrood. The Scottish example shows that we as young people are deserving of a vote in all UK elections – we are engaged and politically active. There is support from the SNP and Labour to allow 16/17 year olds to vote because they have a “tremendous vested interest in whether or not we stay in the EU or leave”.

In Austria the vote was given to 16 and 17 year olds to counter the effect of an aging population. The effect of an older population who often vote is that politicians tend to veer towards the “grey vote” aiming more polices towards older people. Young people’s votes could lead to more polices beneficial towards young people, for example, pressure to keep EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance).

All 16/17 year olds should be able to vote in the European election. These votes will have an effect on the rest of our lives. Without the vote, our opinions will not be heard by society and we will not be able to make a difference, even though we have an opinion. As Robert Frost said Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.
 

Between hope and coercion: Greece’s support for the EU and the unforeseen Consequences of the Euro

Pola Zafra-Davis The Greek referendum of 2015 has been watched eagerly by the world. But essentially critiques of fiscal responsibility to Greece’s future transcend mere economic analysis. The real question is if Greece’s present debacle stems from an ill-guided hope when first entering the European project or if its bailouts are a result of political coercion into an ill-suited currency many decades’ ago. The economic issues and answers to be provided are both explicit and implicit. Explicitly, the referendum vote was on whether Greece should accept the latest in bailout packages from Brussels. This would entail budget cuts and another round of austerity. Implicitly, many media reports murmur that the consequences of the referendum are around Greece’s political standing in the EU and its economic fate of staying or leaving the Euro and the Eurozone. One report is that in anticipation of a “no” vote on consenting to the new bailout terms, the EU will proactively take away Greece’s membership of the euro. Economic analyses of the euro and how Greece was doomed are commonplace on the internet. Essentially, the argument is that the Euro as a single currency relies on a widely varied economies [1]. The economies that make up the EU include the powerhouses such as Germany with an unemployment rate of 5% compared to Greece’s 2015 unemployment rate of around 27%[2]. The inflexibility of a single currency basically impairs a weak state like Greece to be in control of inflation and the purchasing power of its population. The rationale for the Euro is that while countries with a lot of the currency exhibit high stability and low inflation, those that need to earn more (such as Greece with the austerity packages) would actually benefit form a less strong Euro via external international investment through the now cheaper currency.But when investment is low and there is low confidence in an economic system known for its tax evasion (Source) and corrupt finance system[3] as is the case of Greece, the benefits of the euro are lost. Questions of fairness have become apparent. Is Greece being irresponsible or is the EU being unfair? Is the EU under the control of Brussels and/or Germany in its influence and is this influence earned? Is Greece responsible for its own economic destiny and did it have a choice in joining the euro (no)? To help us spectators get to the roots of these questions is to get to the heart of the motives of development of the eurozone. This includes roots of the 1970s economic monetary system (EMS) up to Greece’s 1999 adoption of the euro. The story of the creation and adoption of the euro by non-great power states should be seen as a historically-based experience between political hope and coercion. One that is in a sense European as well as Greek. Hope in a sense that the EMU and the Euro was a European project that promised integration and an increased voice for smaller states as well as much needed regional aide. Coercion in the way that economic terms were agreed upon without immediate consultation for the bargain of immediate, and not future, Greek economic and political entitlements. Hope: Economic Monetary Union and Political Integration Economic crises in the geographic area of the eurozone isn’t new. What is new is Greece’s popular response holding political clout as the EU continues to search for a cohesive identity. This may be due to the history of the EU and Economic Monetary Union (EMU) being a discussion outside of the purview of a majority of its members in a show of high politics. In response to the collapse of the Bretton Woods System due to unstable exchange rates, the 1979 EMS formed the European Currency Union (ECU) as a means to combat inflation. In times where one country may fall too behind or one country would advance too far, a divergence indicator was implemented. The divergence indicator allowed supranational authorities to practice diversified intervention policies. The structure of ECU, while convergent in a sense that it included a multitude of currencies to calculate its value, it was not wholly integrated. The EMS has acknowledged that Germany formed an anchor to the system under the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). All currencies were to be pegged with a fixed exchange rate from the Deutsche-Mark in order to import the Bundesbank’s low-inflation successes[4].  The nature of ERM strengthened domestic political actors to further control their domestic economies with anti-inflationary policies. Yet domestic control of economies was not enough to stem the tide of crisis. The ERM crises of 1992-1993 was a result of political externalities rather than purely economic mismanagement or market-reading-errors. This was indicative of an increased sense of interdependence between economic and political integration. The push for the euro came after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was proposed by Francois Mitterand as a means of deepening German economic integration into Europe[5]. The purpose of EMS to EMU was to cut off domination of the Bundesbank in other states’ economic policies in favor of a more collective sovereignty in steering European wide economic policy. France in wishing to secure political integration in the future, made a proposal during the Intergovernmental Conference that the final Stage III of the Delors plan was to begin in 1999 and Germany would be unable to opt out. This combined the political motivation of EMU with the economic guidance of German low-inflation. As a testament to political factors in determining the structure of the EMU, it was accepted that it would have to satisfy German concerns, meaning that the European Central Bank (ECB) in structure would have to resemble the Bundesbank. The ECB would acquire protection from political interference and concentrating on price stability[6]. The actual imposition of the ECB signaled the coming of true EMU, especially since it would have a single currency to work with. The creation of EMU was economically motivated due to the simplicity of demands as a mode of Regional Integration. Yet, the European project is political in nature since its days of the Economic Coal and Steel Community where the belief of economic integration was a key feature to bringing a lasting peace upon Europe following the devastation of the world wars. EMS and EMU were therefore hopeful in their initial ends despite their high politics means of keeping smaller states out of the bargaining table. Coercion: Political and Economic Bandwagoning for Survival At the time of Greece joining the EU, Greece was experiencing a period of political instability in between 1981-1989. This was paired with a deep economic failure that resulted in the EU Commission President, Jacques Delors to express that Greece’s problems were becoming a serious cause for concern on the development to EMU [7]. Greece entered the EU during the second wave of enlargements in 1981. When the Euro was adopted, Greece along with Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy, saw their interest rates immediately drop. Every state that was in the EU by 1999 were obliged to join, except the UK and Denmark whom had special exemptions.  Yet since 1984, Greece’s stance has been pro-European despite their economic difficulties. Greece has viewed the EU as a forum where different discussions and ideas can be brought together[8]. This had led to Greece adopting a pro-European stance on most issues except foreign policy. After its membership into the EU, immediately Greece gained a financial flow from the Community budget topping almost 5% of its GDP[9]. Politically, gains were also felt as its political bargaining power increased and it acquired a regional voice. But in the context of the late-1980s EMU, Greece was and was politically weak and economically dependent[10]. There were thus in no position to make any suggestions to the process. Greece’s acquiescence to the process was based on avoiding isolation as a result of EMU, the allowance of negotiating a cohesion fund for poorer regions and hopes to gain influence in other matters such as foreign policy[11]. Considering how the EU was designed, it is of no surprise that present media analyses of the Greek Referendum have become hairy with Germany’s participation as key. The ECB was designed through political negotiations and entails elements of the Bundesbank being adopted. A sense of betrayal is then evident as for a small state, Greece has been in favor of the European project despite the economic integration difficulties that befell the country during the early years of its admission into the European club. It is an instance of “buying the whole cow” when Greece was not part of the initial EMU talks but rather a state trying to prove its worth to gain membership amidst political and economic turmoil in the 1980s. A Barometer of a Generation Yes and No votes have been cast along generational lines. Those that consent to the package are willing to weather out the storm and delay inevitable economic collapse. Contrast members of the ‘No’ camp who are young voters that feel that they have nothing to lose, are risk taking, and are aware that they will remain as the true consequences of their choices unfold in the next coming decades. However, the hindsight of historical experience may not be what is needed in the latest round of EU financial packages. What is being experienced now in Greece is similar to what Europe has experienced in its long hard road to EMU amidst crisis after crisis from the collapse of the Bretton Woods System tied to the US. Only this time, Greece contents with a block of countries rather than a united country (like the US) that stands at a precipice on if it acts as one voice, or follows on the voice of the “powerful” countries. What we must remember is that the EU and the development of the Eurozone especially was a Franco-German project with considerations of the role of Europe, and not its individual member states, on the world stage. This mismatch in history between scenarios and priorities showcases the problems that occur when Greece and any small country finds itself as part of a unique case that fits unwell with recent history and experience of the EU. The start of Maastricht in 1992 and later EMU in 1999 was a signal that in order to function at an equal level, it was necessary for Europe to take part in political integration with the convergence of state infrastructures not only in cooperation but the recognition of a new supranational entity, the ECB. Experience in the flaws of the ERM further spurned decisions towards a supranational EMU to better coordinate and spread stabilizing economies than relying on exchange rates in the hands of individual state governments. The rise of the euro is a story laced with hope but tempered by the weight of political compromises towards Germany. It is thus not surprising that Greece’s “no camp”, in a globalized economy, is feeling tethered to a plan not of their own making. [1] http://www.vox.com/2015/7/2/8883129/greek-crisis-euro-explained-video [2] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Unemployment_statistics [3] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/03/greece-corruption-alive-and-well [4] Artis, Mike and Bladen-Hovell, Robin “European Monetary Union” in Artis, Mike and Nikson, Frederick ed.s The Economics of European Union: Policy and Analysis 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)  Pg 299 [5] Apel, Emmanual “European Monetary Integration 1958-2002” (London: Routeledge, 1997) Introduction: An Ever Closer Union, Pg. 15 [6] Verdun, Amy, “The Institutional Design of EMU: A Democratic Deficit?” Journal of Public Policy, 18, 2, 1998, Pg 112 [7] Featherstone, Kevin. “Greece and EMU: Between external empowerment and domestic vulnerability.” JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 41.5 (2003): 923-940. [8] Hanf, K., & Soetendorp, B. (Eds.). (2014). Adapting to European integration: small states and the European Union. Routledge. Pg.94 [9] Plaskovitis, I. (1994). EC regional policy in Greece: ten years of structural funds intervention. P. Kazakos and PC Ioakimidis, IEF Working Paper, (9). [10] Op. Cit. Featherstone Pg. 925 [11] Ibid.

Pola Zafra-Davis recently received her PhD in International Politics from Aberystwyth University and is based in Aberystwyth, Wales. She currently teaches core modules at University College London’s European Social and Political Studies Department. She can be reached via twitter @PolaZafraDavis or her personal website polazafradavis.co.uk

Reverse Robin Hood: Politics of Discord in the EU

Faisal Ali

The German Iron Lady still analyses the issue in detail. (Photographer: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons)

I can’t help but feel many people are misinformed vis-à-vis the Eurozone and the nature of bailouts, monetary policy and austerity.  Germany’s Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) has taken big steps towards establishing itself as a national force by winning seats in elections in Hamburg, as well as receiving 10.6% of the vote in Thuringia and 12.2% in Brandenburg on the 14th September.

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Think of what we’ve achieved

North_America_from_low_orbiting_satellite_Suomi_NPP

During a recent conversation with a colleague regarding the pessimism that can so easily set in when watching the news, reading the newspapers or viewing other media outlets, it struck us both that not enough was made of all the good works that so many people were doing every day throughout the globe. It is beyond the scope and capability of me here to comment on all those individuals and small groups making a difference, however, a quick look at the major institutions may be possible.

The aim here is to give some insight into the enormous efforts, time, and money that is invested every day, week, month, and year by those that are so often (especially in our country) denounced as ‘doing no good’ but in fact are doing immeasurable good. I am referring to the European Union, the United Nations, and yes, even the United States of America does some great things in the world.

I am not attempting to argue these institutions are perfect, or balance good actions against bad; I am simply seeking to present some positive facts about the global situation to counter the continuous presentation of war, terrorism, famine, drought, climate change, mass inequality and human rights violations. The doom and gloom so often presented is only one side of the story of our age, the other is one of hope and a potential future we could be proud of helping to come to pass. To prove it let us look at those global players.

The United States is often seen in a negative light. However, their foreign aid budget provides around $30 Billion of international aid.[1] It is true, that in percentages terms the United States are by no means the top donor (that honour goes to Sweden and Norway as of 2011 figures) but the United States still occupies a central donor role in real-terms aid rather than percentages of GNI (Gross National Income).[2] Let us look at what this aid means to the people it helps rather than debating figures and percentages.[3]

It means more than 3 million lives saved every year through United States aid funded immunization programs, it has funded HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 32 countries, and is the recognized ‘technical leader in the design and development of these programs in the developing world’. Child survival programs have made a major contribution to a 10 percent reduction in infant mortality rates worldwide in just the past eight years. With the help of United States aid, 21,000 farm families in Honduras have been trained in improved land cultivation practices which have reduced soil erosion by 70,000 tons. These are just a few figures to give an impression of the scale of help and assistance provided. Of course the United States could (and perhaps should) do more, but let us not think they do nothing good in the world.

What of the European Union that gets so much negative press here in Britain? The European Union is involved in the fight against world hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. The European Commission has recently adopted a policy which aims to improve the nutrition of mothers and children in order to reduce mortality and diseases.[4]

The EU (and that includes us here in Britain) ‘provides an annual average of €200 million, dedicated to support health programmes’ which amounts to 30% of global humanitarian health funding’.[5] Clean water and sanitation and good hygiene standards are vital to prevent epidemic outbreaks. ‘The EU (and that’s us here in Britain too) allocates around €200 million each year to humanitarian WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) interventions, making “us” the biggest donor in the world.[6] The EU is a major contributor to the global efforts to create a fair, just and prosperous world, and something we in Britain should be proud to be part of and celebrate.

What can be said of the United Nations? So often we only hear of the UN in terms of its inability at preventing war, stop violence or eradicate mass inequality and poverty. However, the United Nations is continuously helping millions of people all over the planet. The World Food Programme is the ‘world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide’ and in 2013 ‘assisted more than 80 million people in 75 countries.[7]

The global community (coordinated by the UN) has reduced hunger and poverty as part of the Millennium Development Goals, with the number of hungry people reduced by 173 million since 1990 with poverty cut in half since 2000.[8] The United Nations has highlighted injustices against the ‘370 million to 500 million indigenous people’ and works to improve their situation ‘all over the world in development, culture, human rights, the environment, education and health’.[9] Through the tireless work of the UN the ‘Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’ has been ratified by 187 countries and has ‘helped to promote the rights of women worldwide’.[10]

None of these amazing achievements should be overstated, it is certainly not my claim that discrimination against women is in any way a historical issue, or that poverty, disease and inequality is no more. However, we must recognise the gains we, as a global community, have made. I do not believe in a previous “golden age” when all was right in the world.

Inequality, hunger, disease and war have been the lot of the human race since time immemorial. However, we are making the first steps towards a future “golden age” and we must not let all the problems that are still to be resolved distract us or create a sense of futility that may prevent our enthusiasm and action. Let’s not dwell on the doom and gloom that is so often presented to us, the world IS getting better, it’s just a very big world, with a lot of people and a lot of problems to solve, but we have made a good start.


Michael Stagg is a volunteer at the WCIA who recently completed a degree in Politics and History at Cardiff University.


U.S. Foreign Aid

http://www.usaid.gov/results-and-data/  (All data correct as of May 2014, it should also be acknowledged that these are US government figures)
http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-221_en.htm?locale=en
http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/what/humanitarian-aid/health
http://ec.europa.eu/echo/en/what/humanitarian-aid/water-sanitation-hygiene
http://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/wfp-providing-food-refugees-fleeing-violence-nigeria
http://www.wfp.org/stories/millennium-development-goals-achievements
http://www.un.org/en/un60/60ways/rights.shtml