Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Turkish immigrants in Germany

Osmi Anannya

Image © Zanthia

It’s been 51 years since the once booming West Germany signed a recruitment agreement with Turkey to provide guest workers for the nation’s workforce. Usually unskilled labourers, armed with a minimum wage payroll and accommodation for the duration of their temporary contractual stay, came to the Western side of the country. This practice continued up until the 1973 global oil crisis and by that time somewhere around 710,000 Turks had benefited from the programme, living amongst German people and other ethnic minorities in Germany. Although many chose to return to their homeland soon afterwards, several thousand instead chose to bring their families to Germany, triggering an increase in the Turkish immigrant population numbers. Today these numbers constitute about 5% of the country’s population.

Studies by the Berlin Institute for Population has revealed that, of all immigrant groups in Germany, the Turkish population are least likely to integrate and most likely to be poorly educated, underpaid, and unemployed. With time, schools have started to introduce additional lessons in Turkish to aid immigrant workers’ children to further integrate into German society and increase their employment prospects. When rapid modernisation of industry in Germany began, companies demanded better qualified workers and Turkish guest workers found themselves ill equipped to compete in this new labour market.

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Is Socialism on the Rise?

Alex Clackson 

Image © Hossam el-Hamalawy حسام الحملاوي

As the economic crisis in Europe continues to make life challenging for ordinary citizens through high unemployment rates and cuts in the public sector, people are starting to wonder whether the capitalist system, which Europe has trusted so well over so many years, is the answer to today’s woes. Over the last five years, the economy of Europe, the United States and other parts of the world has been anything but stable. Just when the population thought the recession of 2008 was coming to an end, the world was hit with another one just a few years later. In the United Kingdom, the unemployment rates for young people are soaring and the recent cuts to the public sector have angered the citizens to the point where the Coalition government no longer have the trust of the British youth. As the new generation searches for answers to today’s economic and social problems, the concept of socialism seems to be making a return.

Even though socialist principles are only starting to make an appearance, it is an extraordinary revival of a theory which was considered dead and buried after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many scholars and politicians in the 1990s proclaimed capitalism to be the outright winner of the battle of the political and economic theories on how to organise and live on our planet. And while capitalism is still currently standing on its feet, the recent economic and social troubles are hitting it hard and it seems it is only a matter of time before capitalism receives a knockout blow. Whether socialism will step up to prove to the world that it can save our planet is highly debatable and too early to say. But the recent polls in America certainly show that people are willing to give Marx another try.  Read more of this post

The Strange Death of Liberal Europe

John Curran

Image © BrotherMagneto

The Greek electorate have spoken and, borrowing a phrase from former US President Clinton, it is not clear what they have said. Although we have a decision, can it be described as a mandate? New Democracy winning by a mere 3% ahead of anti austerity socialist party Syriza, the majority party automatically gaining fifty extra seats thus placing them in the driving seat of a coalition government.

 As in the UK after the 2010 election, conservative politicians in open necked shirts make electoral agreements with minority parties with phoney liberal credentials. The political horse-trading in Athens was conducted in the Greek language but the narrative is one shaped by London, Berlin, and Brussels.

There has always been a liberal dilemma at the core of the European project. This is evident in the decision making process which is undemocratic and dominated by the Council of Ministers and the Commission. However, since 1979 the Parliament has grown in authority via the ballot box and the Single European Act. Despite this there is a problem in the governance of the EU, a quandary now thought key to understanding the crisis.  A predictable debate has begun with calls to abandon the EU project or establish a Federalist system.

The unprecedented interference from external influences in the Greek election is a worrying intrusion into the democratic workings of a sovereign state, justified by the ‘memorandum of understanding’ made on the cusp of the first Greek election this year. A document that binds future administrations to adhere to cuts of billions of Euros.

The interference in the Greek election are numerous, springing from comments made by European leaders such as Angela Merkel in Germany and George Osborne in the UK. Larry Elliott in the Guardian on 16 of June reported on comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker:

If the radical left wins [in Greece] – which cannot be ruled out – the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable.

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Prosperity or Criminality? The Curse of the Coffeeshop

Francis Broderick

Image © Pathien

I was really fortunate to spend one year in the beautiful city of Maastricht, located in the southern Dutch province of Limburg. Elegant, miniature houses straddle both sides of the river Maas, separated by the 13th Century St. Servatius Bridge. Imposing cathedrals dominate the skyline, rising from majestic medieval squares, interconnected by narrow cobble-stone streets. Boasting Roman, French and German influence, this melting pot of culture feels really special, almost like a mature wine. It’s easy to get lost in thought while you stroll through those narrow winding streets or as you sip a cappuccino in the Market Square. Just then, the peace is shattered by a group of young tourists: ‘Hey man, where can we get some weed?’

Maastricht feels different to the rest of the Netherlands because of its location – a small, round piece of land jutting into Belgium and Germany. The borders of France and Luxembourg are nearby, giving Maastricht its unique international feeling. This also makes the city a prime centre for drug tourism, with up to 2.2 million people travelling there every year in order to buy cannabis.

Things have changed much since my time in the city, being pestered by young tourists, desperate to sample the Netherland’s most famous example of tolerance. The first signs of discontent were coming from city officials back in 2008, when I lived there, who were trying to implement a policy of decentralisation, moving the drug selling coffeeshops into the suburbs. At the time, this didn’t seem to be working. However, today, the liberal agenda is changing and the coffeeshops are coming under severe pressure from the Dutch government.

With an estimated 6,000 drug tourists visiting Maastricht everyday, those narrow cobble-stone streets were constantly choked with traffic. Of course, in an old city like Maastricht, the smell of exhaust fumes mixed with cannabis smoke doesn’t really bind with the visual surroundings. I had the same feeling in Amsterdam, strolling by the canals, dodging bicycles and taking in the atmosphere. Everywhere I went, the smell was the same. Cannabis. Everywhere I went, the people were the same. Stoned American tourists. At least the traffic situation was better than Maastricht – most traffic problems exist along the border. Nevertheless, I wondered what both Maastricht and Amsterdam would feel like if one day, the situation changed.

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Labour can benefit from the rise of UKIP

 Tom Bailey

Image © The Freedom Association

Since the 2010 general election, there has been much doom written by left-wing commentators about the British electorate leaning further and further towards the right. Ed Miliband’s ever-scathing critic, Dan Hodges, stated that ‘the electorate is shifting to the Right, not to the Left’ and argued that Labour must consequently move there too. There is an element of truth in the assessment that on issues such as Europe, immigration and the economy, the political right is currently more popular. However, there has not been a clear shift of support from Labour to the Tories since the election. Labour has increased its support since 2010, both in terms of membership and according to polls surveying voting intentions. There has though been a different shift to the political right occurring: the transfer of support from the Conservatives to UKIP, a development that could be of vital importance come 2015. Labour can benefit from this fracture amongst England’s political right much in the same way that the SDP/Liberal/Labour divides in the 1980s aided three successive Thatcher governments. Defection of votes from the Tories to UKIP helped Labour squeeze past in marginal seats in 2010. This effect seems only likely to increase as right-wing dissatisfaction deepens with this government.

The problem for Cameron is that many right-wing voters and politicians see his coalition government as weak on issues of core importance. In his memoirs discussing his years in parliament, ‘A Walk-On Part’, former Labour MP Chris Mullin noted on the day of the 1997 election result that ‘victory is not when our side get the red dispatch boxes and the official cars, but when something changes for the better.’ This line of criticism, that there is no point being in power if you fail to get the right policies enacted, can be seen in every negative left-wing account of New Labour. Increasingly, it seems that Thatcherite backbenchers and voters are having this same thought about the present government. Their aims are not being met, dissatisfaction is rumbling ever louder and UKIP’s policies are looking more attractive.

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The European Project is a Progressive Cause

Andrew Noakes, Chair of the Young European Movement London

Image © David Kellam

Hostility towards European integration is often associated with conservatism, but a surprising number of progressive voters would also like to see Britain leave the European Union. A Guardian/ICM poll in October of last year revealed that 38 percent of Labour and 44 percent of Liberal Democrat voters support EU withdrawal.

Progressives who, like myself, are enthusiastic about the European project must stop taking support from the left for granted. We must make an active effort to persuade social democrats and liberals to re-invest their faith in European integration as an engine for progress in Europe and beyond.

Of course, there will always be critics on the left who see the European project as a capitalist conspiracy, committed to extinguishing our progressive aspirations. But this is an old-fashioned smear and should be exposed as such. Read more of this post

Ten international relationships the UK must develop

Mike Morgan-Giles

Image © Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Following the Prime Minister’s decision to veto the proposed EU Treaty last week, which has put the UK in the slow lane within a two speed Europe, it’s important the Government looks to develop our other international relationships. Here are ten they should move forward:

  1. BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China are vast growing markets that we must look to enhance our ties with. Each can be approached in a different way, with perhaps closer links to Brazil on sustainability, energy cooperation with Russia, major trade links with India and offering cash-rich China unbeatable investment opportunities.
  1. Scandinavia – They share some of the euro-scepticism often cited in the UK; Norway isn’t an EU member, whilst Sweden and Denmark stand outside the eurozone. Ties can be strengthened over issues such as fishing and energy policy – for instance by creating a shared super grid. A more ambitious move would be to create an informal Northern European group, including all of the Nordic countries. Read more of this post

Support for Europe’s far right on the rise

Image © John Lucas

John Lucas

A new study of Facebook users across Europe has revealed growing support for right-wing, anti-immigration and anti-Islam movements.  The survey of over 10,000 users, carried out by the think tank Demos, found that supporters of populist groups far outnumber official members and represent a hidden political demographic creeping up on the mainstream’s blindside.

The majority of the respondents were young men, often students or unemployed.  They believe immigration and multiculturalism pose a threat to national identity and they deeply distrust their national governments and the establishment.  The findings are particularly surprising because it is usually assumed that older people are more negative about immigration issues and the young are more tolerant. Read more of this post