Archive for novembre, 2012

Britain in Europe: Some thoughts on an exit by Michael Webster

Samedi, novembre 24th, 2012

I have been inspired by a recently published article by one of our French members, Sophie Loussouarn, to write about something which should be a matter of grave concern to all of us and to which we risk paying too little attention.

This is the increasing likelihood that, in a few years, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union. The Prime Minister has finally been compelled to accept the principle of holding a referendum on whether Britain stays in the Union or not. A recent opinion poll shows that 56% of the population, (68% of Conservatives), would vote in favour of leaving it. According to the poll, the better-educated part of the populace had a good-sized majority for staying in, the others for leaving it. This probably reflects the influence of the Europe-bashing of the popular Press. The leaders of the three political parties show a rare unanimity in believing Britain should remain a member (UKIP being opposed.)

As always, the phrasing of the questions asked in the referendum will be subjected to intense Party squabbling and powerfully influence the result. The matter is of such complication and portent that it is a very ill-suited one to be put to a popular vote.

The consequences are difficult to predict but what would be at stake would obviously be of great moment to the country. The issues at stake are diplomatic, political and economic. Isolated from the European Union, and isolated is the word for it, Britain’s role in world affairs would be greatly diminished. Politically, it would have a weak voice in European affairs. Economically, it would be bound to suffer as an outsider, unable to react to economic decisions being taken against its interests.

In the vital sphere of finance, it seems more likely that it would suffer, rather than profit from leaving; the same thing is presumably true of its trade.

Unable to play its role as a foothold and sounding-board for the United States in Europe, it is to be feared that in a generation its role in world affairs will be of no more importance than, say, that of a South Korea.

I have begun to realise, only recently, that the threat of our leaving the European Union is no longer a theoretical one but of immediate concern and one that should be of far greater concern to all of us.

Sophie, in her article, points out what a loss it would be to the Union in the event that Britain were to leave it but that is not a concern of this article.

Low Turnout Democracy for Police & Crime Commissioner Elections

Lundi, novembre 19th, 2012

The 15% turnout in the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections of last week, was apparently the lowest ever for the UK in any national election. It was even half the low turnout of 31% for the local elections of last May. There seems to have been a lack of effective engagement with the voters and about which the Electoral Commission (now charged with submitting a report to parliament on the low turnout) had been warning the government beforehand.
We’ll have to await this report but the general reasons why include:
• Too limited resources dedicated to explaining to voters in advance the importance for local accountability of this new role of US-style police commissioners, replacing the existing police authorities.
• Despite the seemingly all-pervading influence of the Internet in the lives of particularly younger voters, the absence of the traditional, attention-grabbing leaflet dropped through the letterbox and telling voters what the election was all about, contributed to many being unaware and indeed not bothered to vote.
• With no PCC election taking place in the capital, this role already the responsibility of Mayor Boris Johnson, the government communications machine failed to excite the London-centric press enough to adopt Police & Crime Commissioners as a popular issue for their readers.
• The main political parties themselves also seemed to take a more detached approach than normal, perhaps not wishing to be disadvantaged by the necessary non-political/non-partisan nature of the PCC role.
That said, the 41 PCCs elected last Thursday include 8 former police officers, 16 Conservatives, 13 from Labour and 12 independents. This would tend to confirm a view that the 5 million or so concerned citizens who voted in an example of low-turnout democracy, have come up with an overall result which recognizes the importance of independence for these PCCs, and despite the additional burden of a relatively high number (2.9%) of spoilt ballot papers. These PCCs are also replacing the former police authorities whose members were chosen internally, generally unknown to the public and not electorally accountable.
The Police & Crime Commissioners now have the power to draw up plans & budgets for the police, as well as holding chief constables to account; at the same time they must maintain their independence, address the needs of local residents and challenge the government over funding. They will be held to account themselves by police and crime panels formed from local authority representatives.
It will be the quality & associated achievements of these individuals selected in the PCC elections which will determine whether the public will be much more enthused to vote again in 4 years time.

PCCs: A master class in how not to run an election

UK’s Contribution to the European Union (EU) Budget - Michael Webster

Vendredi, novembre 2nd, 2012

The Prime Minister has just suffered a negative vote on his proposal to accept a freeze in real terms on the future EU Budget, the Commons saying instead that he must insist on a decrease. This is the subject of such current controversy that it is useful to be aware of the amounts involved.
What currently are the actual amounts involved in this EU budget? ( All figures are in billions (bn) of euros and very approximate.)
1. The total EU annual budget is €130 bn and its admin. expense €7 bn
2. The UK contribution is €11.259 bn plus payment of €3.750 bn for customs duties, TVA etc.
3. The UK receives back €6.600 bn in benefits and gets a Thatcher rebate of €3.600 bn.
4. Thus the net contribution of the UK is €4.800 bn. This compares with net contributions of €4.800 bn for France, €7.500 bn for Germany and €4.600bn for Italy. Other contributions are much smaller.
Note: the U.K. contribution would be €8.400 bn without the Thatcher rebate.
5. The major recipients are Poland €11.000 bn, Greece €4.700 bn , Hungary, Belgium, Spain and Portugal each receiving about €4.000 bn.
Added by Administrator
Whether this Commons vote has strengthened the hand of the Prime Minister in his forthcoming negotiations with the other member states is debatable as 17 of them are net recipients and, therefore, unlikely to accept a freeze in real terms on what they receive and even unlikelier to be able to accept a reduction, with all national budgets under pressure. Those negotiating on the other side of the table will also be aware that if they refuse to concede a decrease in the EU budget as proposed by the British as a starting position, Mr Cameron has already made it widely known that he would accept a freeze in real terms.
The Prime Minister needs to get the other major net contributors particularly Germany, France & Italy on his side to avoid being forced to exercise his veto; however, these other major contributors could be looking to trade off in exchange, some concessions by the British relating to other problems within the EU & Eurozone.
Read also This latest Tory rebellion was not just cynical, it was completely bogus
Note: According to this latest Guardian article Britain’s actual net contribution in 2011 stood at £7.3bn, compared with £6.5bn for France and £11bn for Germany; without the rebate Britain would pay £10.9b“.