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Nov 062016
 

There has been a great deal of fuss over the recent High Court decision recently that requires the government to ask parliament to authorise Article 50 to trigger leaving the EU. Most of it complete rubbish, and the more extreme responses were childish too.

The court case had nothing to do with Brexit itself – it was a constitutional issue over whether the government had exceeded its authority by trying to use the royal prerogative to authorise Article 50. The court decided it had, and that parliament should decide on the Article 50 issue.

It was not an attempt to defeat Brexit. There wasn’t some sort of remainer conspiracy to block Brexit. It was “just” a standard constitutional law case deciding on whether the government was using the royal prerogative unnecessarily to act in an undemocratic way.

As a side effect of the decision, there is a chance that parliament might decide to ignore the referendum result and try to remain within the EU. This would probably be a dumb move (and I would prefer to remain within the EU), but the blame for that loophole is down to how the original referendum was drawn up.

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Jun 292016
 

Having said give it a rest already, this is where I rant a bit about the dumbest decision England has made since following the direction of the pope and invading Ireland back in the 13th century.

So it turns out that crowd-sourcing decisions can sometimes result in the dumbest possible result. If you think about it a bit, you realise that the decision is effectively not a decision at all. The result (52% for exit, 48% for remain) indicates that half the country wants to leave and half the country wants to remain. We’re effectively undecided.

Parliament could ignore the result and decide to remain within the EU; the referendum is not legally binding. That probably isn’t going to happen, and a second referendum is even less likely – I cannot see the politicians wanting to spend that much money on democracy.

The amusing thing is that there are people out there who voted to leave as a protest vote, and didn’t really want to leave at all. Which strikes me as possibly the dumbest method of protesting you can possibly come up with. Mooning number 10 Downing Street is more sensible than voting for something you do not want.

But what do those of us who want to remain part of the EU do? Probably the most sensible thing is to keep quiet, let things go through their course, and in about 5 years time start campaigning to re-join the EU. Five years is about long enough to demonstrate just how dumb this move was, and will also shift all those under-18 remain fans get old enough to start voting.

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Apr 282016
 

How much money do we pay into the EU? Well according to Full Fact, it’s quite a bit less than the Brexit campaigners would have us believe (who would have thought it? Politicians lying!). It’s actually around 13 billion a year (inclusive of the rebate), and the EU directly spends about 4 billion in the UK. To which can be added other figures such as grants for research, etc.

Now that’s still quite a bit of money, and the Brexit campaigners are busy claiming all sorts of benefits that could come about if we spent it ourselves rather than send it to the EU.

Really? Have they not checked the colour of the Prime Minister’s underpants? The current Tory government is not in the business of spending money; they are more interested in cutting taxes for their rich cronies.

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Feb 292016
 

So the Euroskeptics want a divorce between us and the EU; or in other words they want to go back to a time when we would protect our interests in Europe by going to war every generation or so. Which is a far more expensive proposition than EU membership fees, and far riskier.

Because the continent has always been there. And throughout history we have had to keep an eye on what the rest of Europe is up to, and intervene whenever France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, or Germany has been involved in actions that interfere with our interests. Being part of a club that can discuss contentious issues and tell a member to stop behaving badly is far preferable than the old way of doing things. And yes that involves giving up a bit of sovereignty.

When you come down to it, that little loss of sovereignty hurts the politicians more than the rest of us, and the rest of us are more likely to be the ones killed off in European wars.

Does it seem a little far fetched that leaving the EU will cause the return of European wars? Perhaps, but one of the reasons it seems far-fetched is that we do have an EU where we can go and argue. Without that safeguard, there is not a great deal to stop the return of the old ways.

Immigration

There is an assumption that leaving the EU will lead to fewer immigrants arriving in the UK.

Perhaps. At least in the long-term assuming we ignore the UN directives on refugees, but in the short-term there is a good chance that immigration will increase.

For a start, all those refugees and economic migrants from outside the EU won’t suddenly stop coming just because we leave the EU. Sure we’ll set up new border guards, but that will take time. And guards don’t stop everyone.

And what incentive does France have to co-operate over that migrant camp outside Calais? None of course; their interests would be best served by giving all the refugees a Eurostar ticket to move the refugee camp to Britain.

And what happens to all those Brits who have set up homes in the EU? Are they going to want to return to Britain? Is the EU going to force them? After all there is no natural right of residence for citizens of former members of the EU. Perhaps you would not count such returnees as “immigrants” but they would have all the same problems – needing a place to stay, and often needing income support.

And most of them would be rather annoyed.

Trade

The “outers” would have us believe that leaving the EU is an opportunity to make trade deals with the rest of the world to more than make up for the trade lost with Europe. Half our trade is with Europe, which in monetary terms is very roughly 230 billion a year.

In other words the “outers” want to put that 230 billion of income at risk in order to gain an unknown amount of trade through new trade agreements.

And what stops us making those trade agreements now anyway?

Regulation and Justice

Of course one of the big weapons the “outers” have is to claim that we would be freed from all that tedious European regulation. Well, perhaps but remember that 230 billion of trade with Europe? The EU isn’t going to let us export stuff to Europe if we don’t follow the EU regulation; it has always been the case that if you want to sell something in a market you have to meet the regulations of that market.

It is one of the reasons why the EU started regulation – to harmonise regulation across Europe so that you could meet one set of EU regulations rather than 28 different sets of national regulations.

And as soon as we get rid of EU regulation, we’re going to start getting British regulation instead. It won’t be a one-for-one replacement of course, but we won’t be losing as much regulation as we think.

There is a whole set of EU regulation that business universally loathes – the EU regulations that protect workers (such as the Working Time Directive). Well I for one think that European protection for workers is valuable; certainly our own government isn’t interested in protecting workers!

As to the European Court of Justice, the politicians are all up in arms about their power to overturn decisions made by parliament. Which must be very irritating for them, but ignore the whole “sovereignty” thing for a moment – don’t you secretly think it’s a good idea to have someone overseeing parliament? After all, it’s not as if politicians are trustworthy, so having some oversight is not a bad idea at all.

And people overlook just how useful the European Court of Justice has been to us – it wasn’t such a long time ago that France was blocking British beef imports on the grounds that British cows used to have this health issue. Of course what they were really doing was protecting French farmers. And the ECJ forced the French government to repeal laws that prevented British beef being imported.

And there are plenty of other examples where the ECJ has been helpful.

Unelected Bureaucrats & Democracy

You will often hear the phrase “unelected bureaucrats” (or even “eurocrats”) in association with the EU. You could almost imagine that politicians are volunteering to do some real work.

In reality government is run by unelected bureaucrats – when a farm inspector visited a farmer and told her that she needed to paint blue numbers on her cows and not red numbers, he would blame the bureaucrats; in the 1940s it was the civil servants in London; today it is the eurocrats in Brussels. It’s just a different flavour of bureaucrat.

And as for the EU being undemocratic, well the EU Parliament is trying it’s hardest to change that. And it’s the heads of national governments who are blocking such reforms. So when a national politician is complaining about undemocratic Europe, she is speaking with a forked tongue (how can you tell if a politician is speaking with a forked tongue? Their mouth is open).

The Edge

Fin

If you hadn’t already guessed by now, I’m in favour of staying within Europe. Sorry I meant staying within the EU. The EU is the future of Europe, and for better or worse we’re part of Europe, so if we want to have our say on the future of Europe, we had better stay within the EU.

 

Nov 242012
 

As could be expected, when there are yet again moves made to pass the job of Internet Governance into the hands of the ITU, there is a huge wave of objections from the Americans; some of whom are objecting more from a reflex anti-UN position (or a wish to see the US remain “in control” of the Internet) rather than a more considered objection.

What is perhaps more surprising is the EU’s objections to the ITU taking control.

What Is Internet Governance?

In a very real sense, there is no such thing as the Internet; there are merely a large number of different networks that agree to use the Internet standards – protocol numbers, network addresses, names, etc. With the exception of names this is all pretty invisible to ordinary users of the Internet; at least when it works.

There is nothing to stop different networks from changing the Internet standards, or coming up with their own networking standards. Except of course that a network’s customers might very well object if they suddenly can’t reach Google because of different standards. Historically there has been a migration towards Internet standards rather than away from them.

In a very real sense, this is governance by consent. At least by the network operators.

It may be worthwhile to list those things that the current Internet Governance doesn’t do :-

  • It does not control network traffic flows or peering arrangements. Such control is exercised by individual networks and/or governments.
  • It does not control the content of the Internet. Not only is censureship not part of the current governance mission; it isn’t even within their power. Any current censureship is exercised by the individual networks and/or governments.
  • It does not control access, pricing, or any other form of network control. Your access to the Internet is controlled by your ISP and any laws enacted by your government.

There is probably a long, long list of other things that the current Internet Governance does not do. To a very great extent, the current governance is about technical governance.

What’s So Bad About The Status Quo?

“The Internet” is currently governed by ICANN (the “Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers”) which is a US-based (and controlled) non-profit corporation. Whilst there are plenty of those who complain about ICANN and how it performs it’s work, the key metric of how well they have performed is that just one of their areas of responsibility – the control of the top-level domains in the DNS – has resulted in any alternatives.

And those alternatives are really not very successful; as someone who runs an institutional DNS infrastructure, I would be under pressure to support alternative roots if they were successful enough to interest normal people. No such requests have reached me.

So you could very well argue that technically ICANN has done a perfectly reasonable job.

But politically, it is a far more difficult situation. ICANN is a US-based corporation whose authority over the Internet standards is effectively granted to it by the US Department of Commerce. This grates with anyone who is not a US citizen, which is now by far a majority of the Internet population.

Historically the Internet is a US invention (although the historical details are quite a bit more complex than that; it is widely acknowledged that the packet switching nature of the ARPAnet was inspired by work done by a British computer scientist), so it is not unreasonable that Internet governance started as a US organisation.

But in the long term, if it remains so, it will be undemocratic and tyrannical; whilst the US is a democratic government it is only US citizens that can hold their government to account with a vote. The rest of us have no say in how the US government surpervises ICANN which is an untenable situation.

What About The ITU ?

The key to any change in how Internet governance is managed, is to make as few changes as possible. If we accept that ICANN has managed reasonably well at the technical governance, there is no overriding reason to take that away from them. If we accept that control of ICANN has to be passed to an international body, then what about the ITU ?

Many people object to the idea of the ITU being in charge for a variety of reasons, but probably the biggest reason of all is that it is a UN body and certain people start frothing at the mouth at the mere mention of the UN.

But if you look at the history of the ITU, you will see that despite the beaurocratic nature of the organisation (which predates the UN by a considerable number of years), it has managed to maintain international telecommunications through two world wars. A not inconsiderable achievement even if it succeeded because it had to succeed.

Time For A Compromise

International agreement is all about making all parties equally satisfied … or at the very least equally disastisfied, with a solution that comes as close as possible to giving everyone what they want. A seemingly impossible task.

But despite spending nowhere near enough time studying the issues, one solution does occur to me. Hand over the authority by which ICANN operates to the ITU with the proviso that any changes to the mandate of  ICANN (in particular giving it additional authority) should be subject to oversite by the UN as a whole; and of course subject to UN Security Council vetos.

Of course this is not a decision that should be made hastily; given that the main issue at stake is “political” rather than technical, there is no reason why the decision to do something has to be made quickly. But it does need to be made within 10 years.

Dec 112011
 

David Cameron has officially put the UK into the slow-lane of Europe with the other 26 countries all in the fast lane – including not just the 17 members of the Eurozone, but also those other countries that do not use the Euro. The excuse for doing so is to protect the banking industry – specifically the City of London from a transaction tax.

There are of course the Euro-sceptics whose mindset is stuck in the 19th century who are celebrating and suggesting that we should go further and have a referendum on leaving the EU and ‘going it alone’. Fortunately even the majority of Tories (whose instincts lie in that direction) realise this is a step too far and realise that whatever minor annoyances there are, the membership of Europe is a good thing for us.

To exaggerate the scale of things somewhat, Britain is a country playing in the playground of 900-kilo behemoths – China, the USA, and right next door to us (and we’re effectively part of it … sometimes) the giant of Europe. And it is a giant, although people often underestimate the power of Europe – all those funny Europeans, surely they can’t add up to much can they ? Actually they do – the GDP of the European Union as a whole is larger than any country in the world including the USA and China; admittedly only marginally larger than the GDP of the USA (a trifling 2 trillion dollars larger). This is because we usually rank countries in order of GDP, but miss larger blocks.

It is essentially an “accident” of history that Europe has remained a grouping of 26 independent countries whereas China became a huge land empire, and the USA became a federal union of “nation states”. The accident is of course a complex series of events throughout European history that is beyond the scope of this blog entry!

This could all be an example of short-term thinking – whilst staying out may protect the financial industry (although it is interesting to note that the Financial Times wasn’t entirely positive about this), it may well harm Britain’s prospects in the longer term. And increased regulation and taxation of the banking industry may be what the leaders of banking oppose, but it could well be that people in the UK actually would quite agree with it.

By staying out, we will have less influence over the core of Europe with less say on how Europe progresses. Whilst some people may welcome this, it does seem unwise to risk losing any amount of influence over what is our largest trading partner. And losing any influence with an organisation to which we belong seems unwise.

For some strange reason – perhaps because we seem to like bad news better than good news – the news about the European Union always seems to be bad rather than good. Some of this is merely down to how it is presented – we always hear about draconian regulation of business from Europe, but rarely stop to think that perhaps the regulation was called for by consumers because of abuses by businesses (such as international roaming charges by mobile phone operators), or that the European regulation merely harmonises regulation across Europe – would that business rather have 26 sets of regulations to work with, or 1 ?

There is also a bizarre myth that the European Union is less democratic than the national governments. That all EU power is controlled by unelected European Commissioners. That is a myth put about by politicians who are in danger of losing their cushy jobs if the people eventually device that with the EU parliament in place, there is no more need for expensive national parliaments. In fact, it is entirely possible that the EU is more democratic than national governments.

We often take the earlier accomplishments of the EU for granted – the ability to travel across Europe without visas at every turn. Who has not sailed through the fast lane at airports pitying those from outside the EU who are stuck in the slow lane ? And what about peace across Europe ?

Jun 282009
 

Of course anyone who has ever kept up with the Sun (a UK newspaper famous for thinking that topless woman is news, and for being keen on the “frothing at the mouth” school of journalism) will not be surprised in the least that they are jumping up and down and screaming at the thought that the EU is daring to interfere with our right to chomp through Rebecca’s pony after it has eaten it’s last bit of grass.

The news article is here (at least for now … newspapers are notorious for moving things around). But I dare say it is more of a waste of your time than reading this blog entry.

What has gotten the Sun so excited is that the EU is proposing European-wide legislation requiring the owners of working horses (which includes “pets”, riding horses, and racing horses) to sign a declaration that they will not allow the deceased horse to enter the human food chain.

What has gotten everyone involved so excited about being asked to promise something they would not do anyway ?

Well … perhaps. It turns out the British are not quite as horrified by the idea of eating horse meat as might appear. Seems that we will quite happily tuck into Rebecca’s dead horse if there isn’t any other kind of meat available. During WWII, horse meat was regularly supplied and eaten, and quite a few people have fond memories of certain dishes.

Before judging this latest EU proposed legislation, it is worth looking into why it is proposed. The idea behind it, is to stop the carcasses of horses that have been treated during their lifetimes with drugs inappropriate for food animals from entering the food chain. In other words if we do not stop such animals entering the food chain, there are many medicines that cannot be used.

So the people protesting at this EU legislation being imposed are essentially saying that they’re happy for horses across Europe to receive less than ideal health care because they do not want to make a declaration that they won’t eat their favourite horse. Ridiculous isn’t it ?

Of course there are those who say that this is all an indication of how useless the EU is that a law that is required for mainland Europe (where horse meat is widely eaten) has to be applied in the UK where allegedly it isn’t needed. But are we sure that it isn’t needed in the UK now ? Or in the future ?

It is essentially a sensible law, and the EU is being condemned for applying it over here! Anyone would suspect that in fact all this fuss was brought about by a newspaper proprietor with an axe to grind. The thing to remember about newspapers like the Sun is that they lie … they have been caught lying many times in the past, and they are not above trying to slant news to suit their own agenda. In this case a hatred of the European Union.

Dec 212008
 

So apparently the EU parliament has said that the UK opt-out on the EU working time directive has got to go, meaning no more than a 48 hour working week (averaged out over 17 weeks I believe). Of course this has UK business representatives whinging that this is unacceptable interference with business and it should be the choice of workers whether they work longer or not.

Yeah right. Tough!

Businesses all too often get things their own way, and I suspect (backed by some inside knowledge) that many workers do not in fact have much of a choice in the matter. After all we still have a higher average working week than most other European countries. In fact many British workers are in fact unaware of the EU Working Time directive.

Why is there a demand for long working hours? It is just is not very effective; tired workers are unlikely to be as productive as well rested ones, and in some jobs are more likely to have accidents. Entrepreneurs usually think their workers should work as hard as they do …

But often their workers are in fact working harder even if they are not working as long. And why should the workers work as hard as the entrepreneur ? They certainly will not get as greater reward; it is a rare worker who gets rich when his or her boss does.

And to those who say they cannot afford to live on what they would earn in a 48-hour week, well you need to get another job as you’re being ripped off. And to the apprentice mechanic who was interviewed on the BBC News, the right word for a “girlfriend” who needs money to stay interested is “prostitute”.

Strictly speaking it is not a final decision as the EU Parliament decision needs to go through various stages to be finally decided upon by the European Council. So much for democracy! But here’s hoping that the politicians finally have the courage to stick a finger up at businesses … going without all those expensive meals bought for you by business owners will be good for you and your waistline 🙂

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