Recent Europe Articles
Firstly, I’d like to thank Sunny, for saying that the campaign for Labour to support an EU referendum is “cool”.
He’s right; out of all the groups calling for the Labour Party to support a policy launched this week, Labour for a Referendum is the most in vogue.
However, on the main crux of his article, that our campaign is “Dead on Arrival”, we would have to, somewhat controversially, disagree.
Sunny outlines three main points for his argument. I will try and rebut each of these points as thoroughly, fairly and, crucially, quickly as possible.
1) Supporting a referendum would make Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers more demanding.
I don’t see this as being Ed Miliband’s problem. If Labour supported a referendum one suspects that Tory MPs would attempt to push their own leader into a more hardline position rather than ours.
Sure, Tory backbenchers might become more demanding, but that would only lead them to more internal bickering, rather than dividing our party?
2) You shouldn’t get involved when your opponents are infighting.
The idea that we should adopt a grab-the-popcorn approach to opposition and let the victory come to us seems flawed. While it makes perfect sense not to rush into policy commitments so far before the election, when we see the Tories in disarray we should capitalise on it as best we can.
Milk that subject for all it’s worth. Grab it and run. Put a spanner in the works. Use whatever metaphor you want, but sitting back and relaxing is easy, but it is no path to a Labour majority.
3) Labour’s line is settled, we can’t go back on it now.
We’re not expecting to change Labour’s policy by the end of the week. That’s not the plan. What we want is for a commitment to an EU referendum to be in our 2015 manifesto. We think it’s the right thing to do, we think it’s popular and we think it will help get Ed Miliband in 10 Downing Street.
But we’re happy to play the long game. 2017 is indeed “far, far away”, although it is likely/definitely going to be half as far away when we go into the next election. Everything Miliband has said about it so far has been couched in language that suggests that this is a policy liable to change if circumstances do.
Our job, as Labour for a Referendum, is to make sure that the pressure is kept on, and that Miliband knows just how helpful a pledge could be.
Finally, I can only apologise that Labour for a Referendum did not exist a year ago. Circumstances changed.
Dominic Moffitt is Campaign Director for Labour for a Referendum
I was running my own campaign calling for Labour to offer an EU Referendum before it became cool. But now, given all the renewed focus on this question, a group of Labour folks have set up a Labour for a referendum campaign.
Unfortunately, it is Dead on Arrival. Finished. The chances succeeding now are very near zero.
And there are very simple reasons for this.
1) Mad Euro-sceptic Tories have shown that once you feed the beast it only grows and gets more demanding. So Ed Miliband will not want to feed it at all.
2) When your opponents are in chaos and fighting against each other, why wade in too? It is much better for Ed Miliband to let the Tories carry on making a fool out of themselves. It’s not like the EU Referendum is going to come at an earlier date just because Tory backbenchers want it so.
3) The Labour leadership have settled on a position now: committing to a referendum now would only lead to more uncertainty over the UK’s relationship with Europe, given 2017 is so far away. It makes no sense to junk that position at now.
I was told by a senior shadow cabinet member, over a year ago, that at one point all three parties were negotiating a joint position on offering an EU Referendum. At that point I was optimistic that it would be in Labour’s next manifesto or materialise as a commitment even earlier.
But for some reason the negotiations broke down and the three parties could not agree on jointly offering an EU Referendum. And so everyone went their separate ways.
A more coordinated campaign to get Labour to agree to a referendum should have been launched over a year ago. At this stage, mostly thanks to the antics of the Tory right, there is no chance the Labour leadership will entertain the idea now.
by Tom Gill
Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement is now Italy’s largest party, only overtaken in terms of seats in parliament by the alliances formed by the main, established parties – Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democrats and Silvio Berlusconi’s PDL party.
So how did Grillo, a former comedian and Italy’s number 1 blogger, come from nothing – no power locally nor nationally two years ago – to win in elections 24-25 February over 100 seats in Italy’s lower house?
Here’s the answer in five points
1 He’s built a massive following on the web, with his blog taking the number one spot in the country and about 1 million followers on Facebook and Twitter. This hegemony in social media, one that mirror’s Berlusconi’s rise using TV 20 years ago, has allowed him to send out his message unmediated and without real challenge (the fear of which may be in part behind his shunning of Italy’s traditional mass media). It’s also allowed him to reach younger voters, and the previously politically unengaged (one survey found half of his supporters didn’t identify with any political party).
2 His genius at attracting and entertaining large crowds, with half a million turning up to a rally in Rome days before the vote. This originates from his previous career as a touring stand up act, which he’s successfully applied to his political campaigning. Grillo has also shown himself a spectacular self-publicist, swimming across the Strait of Medina ahead of a stunning victory in Sicily in autumn 2012. In short, applying that mix virtual with real world campaigning that has overturn regimes in the Arab world
3 Grillo has gained popularity by attacking the throughly corrupt political class, now never more sleaze-ridden after 20 years of Berlusconi and the Bribesville scandals that precipitated the media magnate to enter politics. Seen as a complete outsider, Grillo fielded against the usual crop of ageing career politicians an army of complete unknowns – twenty- something housewives, students, graphic designers, IT engineers and jobless factory workers. Furthermore, in a country where political instability means parties habitually resort to backroom coalition deals, jettisoning campaign pledges in the process. Grillo’s refusal to play this game has given him an air of honesty and transparency badly lacking among his rivals.
4 Amid a string of largely forgettable Left leaders that have come and gone, politics has never been more personalised. Many find Grillo’s style aggressive, sometimes offensive, but his darkly comic personalized attacks – the best of which has to be to dismiss the former PM as Rigor Montis – get him headlines.
5. If Grillo owes at least some of his strident rhetorical style to the populist right, he stole much of his political clothes from the Left, just as the latter abandoned them to raid Mario Monti’s neo liberal wardrobe. Centre-left Democrat leader Bersani’s key campaign pledge was to stick to the former ‘technocrat’ premier’s EU-backed austerity and ‘reform’ programme.
Grillo was able to pose as the champion of the little man, and, since the onset of the Eurozone crisis, Italy’s much crushed sense of national pride. Among manifesto pledges were promises to revisit all international treaties including NATO membership and the most notably the Euro, with a referendum; a ‘citizen’s wage’ for the unemployed; support for small and medium sized businesses and a strengthened say for small shareholders; a ban on share options and a cap on executive salaries; and reversing cuts to health and education.
The ‘markets’ are all jittery about renewed political instability in Italy. Bersani’s centre-left coalition, while enjoying a majority in the House, has not won control of the Senate, and cannot do so even with the support of Monti.
So there’s pressure from some quarters internationally for a grand coalition between Bersani and Berlusconi to continue the same policies that since the 2008 crisis have caused a downward spiral of economic decline, rising unemployment and plummeting living standards, even if (under Monti) they tempered the dreaded ‘spreads’ have eased. And it would be an inherently unstable.
Fortunately it seems Bersani is instead looking to some kind of rapprochement with Grillo. There’s more in a deal with Grillo for the Democrats than for the Five Star Movement. Without one elections will likely be coming round again soon and this time it could be the comedian-blogger’s movement that is projected into government.
Tom Gill is a London-based writer who blogs at www.revolting-europe.com on European affairs from a radical left perspective.
Along with reiterating his pledge to meet the UN target for overseas aid in the coming tax year, he opposed multinational corporations dodging their UK taxes by shifting profits overseas, and also opposed the way they do the same – with even worse impacts – against developing countries.
It may seem churlish not to welcome the repentance of such a serial sinner (he’s still cutting the UK’s corporate tax rate, and has refused to u-turn on the decision to cut the top rate of income tax, remember.) But is this really the same politician who has refused to join – and tried unsuccessfully to scupper – the European Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions? It surely is.
There’s a possibility that Osborne really is fed up with the way Amazon, Google, Starbucks and the rest have tried to avoid paying UK tax. And it’s also possible that Osborne is trying to claim credit in the UK for a move portrayed in other countries as an EU initiative led by the finance ministers of France and Germany, as well as the UK: the leg-work for this initiative was done by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
It would be easy for Osborne to dodge the argument that he might start out by addressing the problem caused by the tax havens the UK oversees: he will simply claim that the only way to defeat tax arbitrage is by a global agreement rather than unilateral action.
Although if he’s such a committed multilateralist all of a sudden, that refusal to endorse multinational action on transaction taxes (to defend the City of London, he says) looks harder to explain.
And his lacklustre crack-down on giving public contracts to tax avoiders (he’s so committed to this that he’s letting them carry on securing contracts in the health service, education, local government; and all they have to do is swear they never, ever did anything naughty to escape the crack-down…) does not inspire confidence either.
Nor does the omission of tax dodging from DFID Secretary of State Justine Greening’s recent panegyric to the private sector….
So, all in all, underwhelmed is how Osborne’s startling conversion to global tax justice leaves me. But let’s look on the bright side, and wait to be impressed. We will watch the space where action against tax havens and tax avoiders should appear.
You have to hand it to the Telegraph’s Christopher Booker. He is so obsessed with the EU that there are no ends he will not go to to pretend that something that happens in one or two member states is part of a vast conspiracy that causes all laws to be handed down from that well-known marauding spaceship otherwise known as Brussels.
Booker’s latest attempt to see the hand of the EU behind every conceivable piece of legislation concerns same-sex marriage (SSM). He tells that there has not just been argument about SSM legislation in the UK, but also in France: “why, just as it was provoking the biggest Tory rebellion in decades, was it also prompting a similar row in the French National Assembly?” he queries.
The straightforward answer is that it wasn’t: the French had voted on it, approving the measure by 249 to 97, the previous week.
But this does not deter Booker, who asserts that all EU member states are going to have to fall into line by the middle of 2013, which would be interesting to see, because there is no way that this is going to happen: there won’t even be a majority by that time.
Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden have passed SSM law previously. The UK and France are passing it. Finland and Luxembourg may also do so in the near future. That makes just ten member states out of 27, and as eagle-eyed Euro watchers may have already noticed, the ten do not include Germany (or Italy, or any of the former Warsaw Pact countries).
Moreover, Booker keeps on citing the Council of Europe (CoE), but this body is totally separate from the EU, and is unable to make law. But he includes a CoE measure to “combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity” as part of his chain of supposed proof. Then the ECHR is asserted to be ready to make SSM a “human right”. If everyone passes legislation, that is.
But not every member state of either the CoE, or the EU, has done so. So Booker’s talk of “shadowy bodies” allegedly “ruling our lives” is more of his obsessional drivel speak.
Goodness only knows why the Telegraph bungs him good money to churn it out. Best get it while you can, Chris.
by Riazat Butt
Military activity brings out the worst in people – and I’m not talking about militants.
In case you missed it Africa – yes all of it – is the new Afghanistan. How could it not be? It has crazy Muslims killing innocent Muslims and lopping off their bits.
The entire continent is antagonising Western governments, while simultaneously highlighting the shortcomings of local security and law enforcements, to such an extent that boots on the ground are inevitable. It sounds so familiar.
Any western intervention in foreign lands is almost immediately described as the new Afghanistan.
A few months before the Telegraph arrived at that conclusion the Defence Secretary Liam Fox said Libya WAS the New Afghanistan.
Last October Al Jazeera asked whether Syria was the new Afghanistan. There’s a pattern emerging.
There are a few reasons why Africa/Mali/Algeria is not the new Afghanistan (which, remember, is the new Vietnam) but that hasn’t stopped experts from drawing comparisons. And, because nobody knows WTF is going on, they get away with it.
North Africa is the new Afghanistan, says Front Page.
North Africa: the New Afghanistan? asks ABC. You see NA = North Africa. NA also = New Afghanistan.
Will Mali become a new Afghanistan? wonders Arab News. Arab News? C’mon guys! You’re Arab! You should know better. Oh wait.
USA Today has a different take on the situation: Is Africa Al-Qaeda’s new launch pad? Yes, that’s the whole of Africa. As opposed to the Africa that is home to groups that we’ve already heard of – AQIM and AQAP.
Salon doesn’t fall into the same trap though, oh no. It asks: Is Afghanistan worse than Vietnam?
Here are some very good reasons why Africa is not the new Afghanistan
The grand-sounding AQIM hides a chaotic reality. The group has singularly failed to unite disparate local groups spread along the north African coast. Even in Algeria, militants are split between the north and south – and these two factions are split again, into rival bands. Finally, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the man suspected of orchestrating the refinery attack, leads his own breakaway group that does not even pay nominal allegiance to the southern AQIM faction, let alone the group as a whole, and certainly not to al-Qaida. If they are “al-Qaida-linked” then the chain is a very long one.
That’s from the Guardian’s Jason Burke, who knows more than a thing or two about all things Al Qaeda.
A few days later he said something similar, mostly because the likes of Cameron started talking about an existential, global threat and clearly some calm and perspective was needed.
Cameron did avoid talking of a “war” but, as his own intelligence services and foreign affairs specialists have long advised, the “single narrative” of a cosmic planetary “existential” clash is, for theological as well as psychological reasons, one of the best recruiting tools the militants have. Such rhetoric therefore risks being counterproductive. The new challenge this decade may be an unforeseen one: the hard-learned lessons of last decade being neglected, if not deliberately unlearned.
Professor Michael Clarke, now of RUSI formerly of King’s College London, warns that western responses to African events are not a continuation of the same jihadist challenge that produced the 9/11 attacks and much else thereafter.
Nevertheless, the difference between what is happening in the Sahel now and what happened in south Asia, are more evident than the similarities. For one thing, the jihadists are aligning themselves with separatist movements more than revolutionary ones. Al-Qa’ida was always based more on guerrilla warfare than international terrorism as such. It was what they trained for and how they saw themselves pursuing – ‘Qur’an-style’ – a proper jihad against the infidels.
And, just to hammer the point home, here’s Christina Hellmich on why the Islamist threat to Europe is overstated.
…when David Cameron announces that Britain must pursue the terrorists with an iron resolve, he unwittingly reinforces a notion of a unified Islamist threat that does not exist in that form. It is a convenient narrative which benefits both the propaganda machine of Islamists and the calls of those in the west who support military action, yet the true picture of those who claim to act in the name of al-Qaida – both in Africa and elsewhere – is far more nuanced, and much less of a threat to Europe, than we are commonly led to believe.
Here endeth the sermon.
Riazat Butt was religion correspondent at the Guardian. She now blogs here.
Yesterday, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson published his weekly column in the Telegraph, titled ‘Only a coward would deny the people their voice on Europe‘.
Funny, anyone remember this?
Whether you have In/Out referendum now, you know, in the run-up to 2015, I can’t, I have to say I can’t quite see why it would be necessary. What is happening, though, John, is that… the thing that worries me, and I’m going to be making a speech about this pretty soon, the thing that worries me is basically the European Union is changing from what it was initially constituted to be: it is becoming the eurozone de facto, and the eurozone is not something we participate in, and I think it’s becoming a little unfair on us that we are endlessly belaboured and criticised for being the back marker, when actually this project is not one that we think is well-founded or well-thought through.
That emphasis is mine. It was, of course, Boris Johnson in an interview.
At the time, the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman reported on Boris’s comments as ‘Boris Johnson rejects In/Out referendum call‘.
Curiously, Boris is now on the EU Referendum bandwagon again, pretending he was in favour all along. The Labour party hasn’t ruled out a Referendum entirely (though I wish they’d promise it too) – but that hasn’t stopped Boris trying to mis-characterise the party’s position and whitewash his own.
Tory euro sceptics must be wandering around Westminster this week with that post-tantric glow. “It was worth the wait” gasped Douglas Carswell. “We’re all in this [bed?] together!” tweeted rebel MP Mark Pritchard, presumably with Dave lying next to him.
But they probably should have opened the blinds before taking leave of their lover, because in the cold light of day they would have seen a whole pile of shagged-out bodies.
How dastardly Dave thought he could get away with such scurrilous behaviour is beyond me. But for some inexplicable reason everyone in the deficit-sized bed decided they’d just turn a blind eye to his infidelity and claim he was their man. But for how long will Dave’s lovers carry on the charade?
Cameron’s former speech writer Ian Birrell said his ex-boss’s words “could have been reduced to a couple of lines on the referendum emailed out to newsrooms; the rest is padding wrapped around a stick of political dynamite”. How long before that stick of dynamite starts fizzing?
During the short gap between ‘that speech’ and PMQs , there were feverish suggestions that Ed Miliband should perform his own E U-turn and jump into bed with Dave, with a promise to hold his own referendum, possibly at the same time as the general election.
I’m delighted he clearly read my tweet hashtagged #eddontcave.
Europe barely registers as an issue with voters and latest polls show that most people would vote to stay IN Europe, even without a renegotiated treaty. I think the public will applaud Ed for not being bounced into an overtly opportunistic move by a Prime Minister clearly acting out of party political expediency rather than national interests.
We already have a referendum enshrined in law if we are asked to cede more powers to Europe. Why on earth do we need a referendum if powers flow in the opposite direction?
Rather than waste his time banging on about Europe (like the Prime Minister claimed he wouldn’t) Ed should focus on fixing the economy – or on convincing voters his party can fix the economy.
He was given a helping hand this week by the IMF which criticised the government’s austerity measures. Presumably Dave was too busy day dreaming about his tantric exploits to care.
Giselle Green ran Siobhan Benita’s media campaign in the London Mayoral election
by Renie Anjeh
This morning, David Cameron promised the British people a referendum by late 2017. Ed Miliband was right to question the timing of such referendum. He was also right to question the “pick and mix” Europe that Cameron was promoting. He was wrong to rule out (or appear to rule out) a referendum.
This could have all been avoided if Ed Miliband called for an in/out referendum in his conference speech, making it clear that Labour would support an ‘in’ vote. Not only would that have created absolute chaos for the Tories but it would have made Labour credible on the issue of Europe. Ed Balls and Jim Murphy have both hinted at the possibility of Labour holding a referendum.
There are also shadow ministers who are signatories of the People’s Pledge – namely Tom Harris, Jim Fitzpatrick and Jon Cruddas. Will they have to resign because of their support for a referendum?
The dormant Eurosceptic wing of the Labour Party – such as Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and the Labour left – could erupt very shortly. If Labour divides over Europe then it would be a blessing for the Tories. That’s not to say that the Tories are now clean from their troubles on Europe.
In the unlikely event of the Tory majority in 2015, Cameron would face a two-year battle over Europe. He would have to deal with the embarrassing spectacle of Tory cabinet ministers publicly rowing over whether Britain should stay in or out and he would have to pick a side. Cameron is risking collateral damage to the Tories by even supporting a referendum, yet alone promising one.
However, that is not the reason why Labour should support a referendum. Pro-Europeans, who argue that refusing a referendum is a sign of strength, are wrong. Refusal to give a referendum would just be running scared of the Eurosceptics. Pro-Europeans also need to recognise that the public have never had say on their membership of Europe. Instead, they should embrace a referendum as an opportunity.
It would open up a national debate which would settle the European Question for good – and pro-Europeans can win.
Ed Miliband should listen to Jon Cruddas and call for a referendum, or else people will start to ask: ‘Ed Miliband does not trust the people, so why on earth should the people trust Ed Miliband?’
So, David Cameron will state the entirely expected today:
The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in-out referendum.
Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.
The consensus in Westminster is already that disaffected UKIP voters will come back and this is Cameron’s big moment.
I’m not quite convinced by this for four reasons:
For one, Cameron has explicitly said he will campaign to stay within the EU. This means the proportion of UKIP and Tory voters who absolutely loathe the EU will not want to vote for Cameron at the next election anyway. They’re not going to listen to vague promises of repatriation – they absolutely loathe the EU and want out. Why wouldn’t they migrate to UKIP now?
Second, rather than bringing unity within the Tory party, personalities such as Daniel Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP, who have been hung out to dry, no longer have an incentive to be loyal. They would somehow have to justify to their constituents that they’re staying loyal within a party whose leader wants the opposite of what they’ve been banging on about for years. Not easy.
Third, this further legitimises UKIP. Almost every newspaper admits Cameron’s stance was forced on him by UKIP. That makes him look weak and makes UKIP look less like a fringe party. In other words, more splintering.
And lastly – promising a referendum in five years is pie-in-the-sky, especially since voters have very little faith in politicians making long term promises. Cameron has given ‘cast-iron guarantees‘ in the past that he has reneged on, and anti-EU voters will remember that. Most of the comments underneath the Telegraph’s article are very negative towards Cameron. They don’t trust him.
Don’t get me wrong – I think the positive press coverage will bring Cameron a bump in the polls. But I don’t think this will be as big a boon as many Tories think it will.
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