Tag Archives: Europe

How Britain Thrived With Europe, Faltered Without

Lindisfarne Priory off the Northumberland coast, United Kingdom. © Rhonda Surman 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Stephen Church
April, 2017

By triggering Article 50 to start Britain’s process of exiting the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May launched the country into the unknown. History provides examples of Britain leaving Europe – and sometimes Europe leaving Britain – that help give some perspective on the events that are about to unfold. The clearest lesson of all is that the European mainland has been essential to Britain’s prosperity, and that when the relationship with Europe is poor, the lot of the ordinary Briton is poorer for it. The Conversation

Sometimes, for sure, contact with the continent has brought its problems. For example, the arrival of the Black Death on the shores of Britain from southern France in 1348. For the most part, however, Britain’s relationship with the continent between the arrival of the Romans and the end of the Middle Ages brought prosperity – when was nurtured by both parties. And there have been significant moments in Britain’s relationship with Europe when rupture with the mainland brought dire consequences.

For most people in Roman Britain, the departure of Roman government in 410 brought widespread economic hardship. The British historian, Gildas, writing from somewhere in the west of the island in the 5th century, entitled his work on the subject The Ruin of Britain. According to Gildas, when the Romans left, attacks by barbarians and pestilence followed.

The archaeological record shows that Gildas did not exaggerate the consequences of the retreat of Rome. In the fifth and sixth centuries, native Britons were no longer able to obtain their continental wares. Towns were abandoned, the economic power houses of the villa economy went into terminal decay, and the indigenous population underwent a sharp decline in its number.

Renewed prosperity

The beginnings of the return to prosperity had to await the Christian mission of Augustine and his followers in the 7th century, who reconnected the island with the mainstream of the continent. There was massive and permanent disruption which occurred in lowland Britain between 410 and the arrival of the Christian missionaries in 597. Only after the arrival of Augustine and his followers did the material culture of the Anglo-Saxons begin the long slow path of recreating the quality of what had been available to the British under Rome. Only when the Normans arrived in 1066 was Britain dragged into the mainstream of European political culture.

If we measure the wealth of a nation by the quality of the goods that its ordinary citizens can enjoy, then the period after 1066 was one in which growing specialisation and consumerism brought enormous wealth to Britain. People had more to spend and they had more to spend it on as the economy became increasingly commercialised. For ordinary men and women, trading and cultural connections to the continent gave them luxuries that their grandparents and great grandparents could have barely imagined.

Britain’s entry into the mainstream of Christian Europe also delivered important freedoms to ordinary men and women, the people about whom we hear so little in the historical sources but who, nonetheless, lived out their lives in the medieval world. After 1066, the Anglo-Saxons and Celtic peoples gradually stopped enslaving their own people and their captured enemies, and increasing wealth in the course of the next 300 years brought about a decline and then the end of serfdom.

The loss of the lands of the Angevins in France by King John in 1204 brought about a new, destructive relationship with Europe which lasted much of the rest of the Middle Ages.

A century of war

The United Kingdom is four nations in one, and was forged in the Middle Ages by war and blood as the English rulers sought to dominate their neighbours and to take from them their lands and resources. Wales effectively ceased to exist as a place of independence by 1283. Scotland survived independently, but at enormous cost in life, land, and resources, and Ireland was squashed beneath the heal of the oppressor.

All this misery was brought about because England entered a destructive phase in its relationship with Europe as it sought to replace European revenue by conquest at home, and then sought to take war back to the continent in a century-long drive to win control of the kingdom of France.

The 1346 Battle of Crécy during the Hundred Years’ War.
By Copiste inconnu via Wikimedia Commons

When England was at war with Europe, its citizens (and those of its European neighbours, let’s not forget) were poorer, its institutions smaller and narrower, its economic potential much reduced. While some historians have sought to find “good” in the impact of the Hundred Years’ War on England and its neighbours, just like modern-day Brexiteers on the retreat from Europe, this does not give the full picture. The impact of conflict with Britain’s European neighbours was catastrophic for everyone involved.

Whatever happens next in Article 50 negotiations, the lesson from Britain’s first 1,500 years is that the lot of the ordinary British citizen has been better when the British isles are working in harmony with their European neighbours. Here’s to hoping that May’s negotiators can keep Britain in the European loop even if outside the institution of the EU. The alternative is much less attractive.

Creative Commons

Stephen Church is a Professor of Medieval History, School of History, University of East Anglia. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Romania shows the dire results of a healthcare “brain drain”

Lacrima Dambu, a Romanian doctor who has been working in Germany for five years, holds her nephew in Cluj-Napoca, Romania January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu     SEARCH "CAMPEANU HEALTH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Lacrima Dambu, a Romanian doctor who has been working in Germany for five years, holds her nephew in Cluj-Napoca, Romania January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu.

Photos by Andreea Campeanu
March, 2017

Sonia Papiu started her first year of residency as a psychiatrist in the Romanian city of Cluj in January, but she plans to move abroad within the year, seeking better learning opportunities and hospital conditions.

She will not be alone.

“I don’t think any of my colleagues are planning to stay,” she said. “I think I could learn more abroad. You have higher responsibilities as a resident there.”

Students study at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 8, 2016. There are currently over 6600 students at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, of which around 2260 are foreign. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu     SEARCH "CAMPEANU HEALTH" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Students study at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 8, 2016. There are currently over 6600 students at the Medicine and Pharmacy University in Cluj-Napoca, of which around 2260 are foreign. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu .

 

In the Romanian system, doctors go through six years of medical school and then three to five years as a hospital resident, treating patients while working under the supervision of senior staff.

Finding a job abroad will be easy. Cluj, one of Romania’s largest cities and a university and business hub, hosts several agencies recruiting for western European hospitals.

Romania has bled out tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists since joining the European Union a decade ago, lured abroad by what the country lacks: significantly higher pay, modern infrastructure and functional healthcare systems. France, Germany and Britain are among the most popular destinations.

The consequences are dire. Romania is one of the EU states with the fewest doctors. Nearly a third of hospital positions are vacant and the health ministry estimates one in four Romanians has insufficient access to essential healthcare.

A mother holds her baby during a home visit from doctor Robert Ganea (not in the picture) in the village of Sacel in Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

A mother holds her baby during a home visit from doctor Robert Ganea (not in the picture) in the village of Sacel in Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Medical staff leaving Romania at an almost massive pace deepens the problems of the healthcare system,” former health minister Vlad Voiculescu has said. “Entire hospitals are facing a major personnel deficit and entire towns don’t have a family physician.”

This despite the fact that Romania is a leading EU state when it comes to the number of medical graduates. But the system – ridden with corruption, inefficiencies and politicized management – has been unable to motivate them to stay.

The shortages are even starker in rural areas.

Snow lies on roofs in the village Salistea de Sus, Romania, January 4, 2017.  REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Snow lies on roofs in the village Salistea de Sus, Romania, January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Because we have one doctor per section for most specialties, when a doctor goes on holiday we need to close down the section,” said Cristian Vlad, the hospital manager in Viseul de Sus, a small town near the Ukrainian border.

Vlad said three hospitals in the region shared one anesthetist until last year, when his hospital brought in another from neighboring Moldova.

“I live in hope that our resident doctors will change their mind and stay in smaller hospitals, too,” Vlad said.

Medical staff work in the emergency ward (UPU) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Medical staff work in the emergency ward (UPU) in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, December 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Romania is taking steps to address the issues. Pay has risen significantly, although it still does not measure up to western standards. The net average monthly wage for the healthcare system stood at 2,609 lei ($606) at the end of 2016, nearly double what it was three years ago.

In 2016, the health ministry created a multi-year plan for the medical profession, including a simpler recruitment process, education reform, better promotion opportunities, and subsidies for physicians willing to move to remote villages.

The strategy has yet to be approved by the two-month-old cabinet of Social Democrat Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu.

Doctor Gabriela Dromereschi does an ultrasound on a patient at her practice in Salistea de Sus, Romania January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

Doctor Gabriela Dromereschi does an ultrasound on a patient at her practice in Salistea de Sus, Romania January 4, 2017. REUTERS/Andreea Campeanu

“Measures to improve healthcare are in place, but the system suffers from inefficiencies, limited accessibility and corruption,” the European Commission said last month.

Yet not all doctors shy away from remote areas. From the village of Tureni, Andreea Kis has been serving as a family doctor for five villages for nearly five years.

“I chose to be a family doctor because this is compatible with family life,” said Kis, a mother of two. “People in the villages preserve their humanity better.”

 

Copyright Reuters 2017

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Security Chief: Europe Must Brace for New Extremist Attacks

By Alastair Macdonald
December, 2016

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

A general view of the scene that shows rescue services personnel working near the covered bodies outside a restaurant following a shooting incident in Paris, France, November 13, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Islamic State will attack Europe again, security chiefs warned Dec. 2, and may add car bombs, cyber and chemical warfare to its local arsenal as European militants drift home after reverses in Syria and Iraq.

Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, said it was impossible to know for sure how many militants were already in Europe plotting. A report on Friday by the EU’s Europol policy agency referred to dozens.

Some 2,500 Europeans may still be fighting in the Middle East, de Kerchove estimated in an interview with Reuters. But as they face setbacks in Mosul, Aleppo and elsewhere, Europe must track them if it is to contain a diaspora of trained militants like that which followed the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“We have to be prepared because some of them will come to Europe,” said de Kerchove, a veteran EU official whose Brussels office is packed with books and souvenirs from nine years of intensive travel and talking with Europe’s troubled neighbours.

“They may try to come back home and we don’t want to repeat the mistake we made in the late 80s when the Russians left Afghanistan and we left these mujahideen … in the wild.”

Many of those fought in Algeria’s bloody 1990s and went on to operate in conflicts from Chechnya and Kosovo to Yemen.

Some Europeans, among them also wives and children of fighters, may choose to stay in the Middle East even if IS loses its territorial grip. Others may go further afield, with lawless Libya already looking like a new base for European militants and the movement likely to go on recruiting over the Internet.

“The physical caliphate … is collapsing but we still have the virtual caliphate and this allows the organisation to direct attacks,” de Kerchove said.

In his post since 2007, the Belgian lawyer said the past two years have seen an “impressive” leap forward in intelligence cooperation among EU states and a tightening of law and practice on Europe’s borders in response to the variety of IS attacks that have included mass killings in Paris, Brussels and Nice.

“We have nearly fixed most of the loopholes,” he said of what Europe could do internally to combat the Islamist militants who pose by far the bulk of violent threats.

European Union's Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is seen during an interview with Reuters in his office in Brussels, Belgium December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Macdonald

European Union’s Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove is seen during an interview with Reuters in his office in Brussels, Belgium December 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alastair Macdonald

NEW THREATS

The tougher part is now, de Kerchove said, to address root grievances for militants, whether among alienated people at home or angry Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria.

“The way the fight is developing in Aleppo will have an impact,” he said. “The way we will try to address the grievances of the Sunni population both in Iraq and in Syria will have an impact.”

Inside Europe, he said, “we are doing a lot better”.

Europol identified immediate threats as similar to recent attacks: groups using automatic rifles and suicide vests packed with home-made TATP explosive, or loners with knives or trucks. IS was also infiltrating Syrian refugee communities in Europe in a bid to inflame hostility to immigrants in places like Germany.

De Kerchove stressed also a new risk of IS bringing car bomb tactics, common in Syria and Iraq, into Europe. Agencies were, he said, also preparing to counter more complex tactics in years to come, such as cyber attacks and biological weapons.

For now, he said, the Internet was a weapon mainly of recruitment and radicalisation of individuals — something the EU was working on countering in alliance with network companies.

“So far the terrorist organisations have not used the Internet as a weapon, to mount an attack through the Internet,” he said, citing the risk of disrupting nuclear power stations, dams, electricity grids or even air traffic control systems.

“It has not happened so far … but I don’t exclude that before five years we will be confronted by this,” de Kerchove said, noting IS had the funds to hire seasoned criminal hackers.

The EU was, he said, “actively working” to counter chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats but did not see an “acute risk”, despite evidence of militants dabbling with germs or using poison gas in Syria. “We need to be prepared,” he said.

International cooperation is a priority and de Kerchove spends much of his time building relationships with Arab countries, Turkey and other neighbours.

Ties with the United States had become very close under President Barack Obama and de Kerchove voiced a hope they would remain so under Donald Trump. Working with Britain, a leader in counter-terrorism in Europe, should not be greatly affected by its decision this year to leave the EU.

Noting Britain’s decision to opt in to closer ties with Europol, he said: “Intelligence sharing is developing outside the EU framework so … Brexit will not have any impact.”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Related on F&O:

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EU Bids to Seal Canada trade Pact as US Prospects Dim

Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2016. Reuters/Eric Vidal

Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2016. Reuters/Eric Vidal

By Philip Blenkinsop and Tatiana Jancarikova
September, 2016

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – EU ministers took steps Sept. 23 to approve a contentious free trade deal with Canada, while France and Austria demanded that talks towards a similar agreement with the United States should stop.

Both deals have triggered demonstrations by unions and protest groups who say they will spark a ‘race to the bottom’ in labour, environmental and public health standards and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.

After a first session devoted to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) struck with Canada two years ago but still awaiting approval, ministers agreed the two sides would produce a binding declaration that spelt out the limits of the pact to dispel public concerns.

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The ministers are expected to convene an extraordinary meeting on Oct. 18, allowing the deal to be signed during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Brussels on Oct. 27. It could provisionally enter force early next year.

“There was a great willingness to sign the agreement in October,” Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economy minister and vice-chancellor, told reporters.

Gabriel on Monday overcame left-wing resistance to the deal within his Social Democrats, the junior coalition partners in government.

However, lingering doubts remain elsewhere, notably in Austria, where Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats have grave concern, and Belgium, where not all regions back the deal.

Reinhold Mitterlehner, Austria’s Christian Democrat vice chancellor, said a declaration making clear that standards were not under threat and that a special court would not allow big business to dictate public policy would help.

NO TTIP?

By contrast, Mitterlehner and his French counterpart argued that the EU-U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks, which have been going on for the past three-and-a-half years should be halted.

The Austrian told reporters they should be relaunched after the U.S. presidential elections with greater transparency, clearer goals and a different name. The current process, he said, was doomed.

Luxembourg and Slovenia also expressed strong reservations.

Washington and Brussels are officially committed to sealing this deal before President Barack Obama leaves office in January.

But their chances of doing so are remote given approaching elections on both sides of the Atlantic, with trade not a vote-winner, Britain’s June vote to leave the European Union and the calls for a fresh start.

EU trade chief Cecelia Malmstrom said all ministers had expressed doubts a deal could be struck before Obama’s departure, adding it was “increasingly unlikely”.

A next round of talks would go ahead in October and Malmstrom said talks could continue after the November election.

“If we do not conclude TTIP before January 19, then there will be a natural pause,” she said, adding it was hard to say when they might restart.

Some ministers spelt out the difference between concessions granted by Canada and what they said was U.S. intransigence.

“If the Americans are not ready to meet at least the standard of CETA, with Canada, then there will be no chance of a deal,” said Gabriel.

Finnish trade minister Kai Mykkanen said most of his peers preferred to let the Commission push on with talks, with an assessment of progress in November. He said a possible relaunch under a new president might need a new name.

“There are so many unreasonable fears and maybe they are tied to the name TTIP,” he said. The name has become synonymous in many people’s mind with the evils of globalisation and big business.

Outside the ministers’ meeting in Bratislava, around 100 local trade unions and Friends of the Earth activists held banners, mostly in English and German, denouncing CETA and TTIP. On the other side of the Danube river, Greenpeace unveiled a large banner on the top of a tower reading “No TTIP”.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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Small Stampede for the Brexit

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 11, 2016

It is unlikely that Britons are going to give a conclusive answer to the question whether they should remain in the European Union or leave it when they mark their referendum ballots on June 23.

Recent polls show “Leave” supporters marginally ahead of those wanting to stay. The pro-“Brexit” vote is between 45 per cent and 48 per cent, according to half a dozen polls. The vote to remain is about five percentage points less.

But a poll published on Thursday and conducted by the market research company Opinium in tandem with the European Centre for Research in Electoral Psychology shows that about 18 per cent of voters are undecided. Most of those don’t expect to make up their minds until the last few days of the campaign.

So there is still everything to play for and the result is likely to be only a marginal victory for which ever side comes out on top.

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This will leave Britons divided about the future of the country. Though, given the nature of the campaign debate and the leading characters involved, muddled is probably a better description of the British state of mind. “Divided” implies passionately held views whose advocates will take years to resolve their differences, if they ever do. Yet these months of campaigning have been a singularly bloodless affair, notable more for the eccentricities of the leading figures involved than any sense that Britain’s long and colourful history is approaching a decisive moment.

The issues appear straightforward. The Brexit campaign says that since the EU morphed from being a purely free trade area into a political project aimed at creating a European federation, more and more sovereignty has slipped from Westminster across The Channel to Brussels. Britons, say the Brexit campaigners, are no longer masters in their own home.

The “Leave” campaign has focused on immigration and the free movement of people to live and work in any of the 28 countries of the EU. Immigrants are taking jobs from Britons and driving down wages, say the Brexiters. Mistrust of foreigners has taken hold with many voters despite independent analyses showing that Britain has a shortage of skilled workers and that this is driving up wages.

And voters should not fear that leaving the EU will have dire economic consequences, says the “Leave” campaign. Britain will easily sign free trade agreements with the old Dominions like Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as with the United States, and, indeed, with the EU as Switzerland and Norway have done.

David Cameron

David Cameron

The Britain Stronger in Europe campaign is a cross-party group led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. It has focused largely on what it says will be the terrible economic buffeting Britain will take if it leaves the EU. The “Remain” campaign is backed by a strong chorus of bankers, business leaders, economists and men-in-suits of various disciplines.

But these legions of doomsayers have not had a conclusive effect on the voters, largely because Cameron’s campaign has brought new depth of meaning and nuance to the word anaemic. His arguments have been made with such turgidity that Cameron deserves to lose the referendum just for being so incredibly boring.

Turgidity seems to have been his strategy. Cameron fears that if any passion or colour is injected into the campaign it would benefit only the Brexit side. He has made it firmly clear to his 27 fellow EU leaders as well as the union’s senior officials that he wants them to stay out of the debate. People like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, have buttoned their mouths at Cameron’s insistence. They have been left with the clear feeling Cameron thinks that any expression of hope on their part that Britain stay in the EU will be counterproductive and only bolster the Brexit side. For that reason, Cameron was not happy when, a few weeks ago, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Britons to stay in the EU.

With such a lacklustre campaign advocating “Remain,” it is a wonder the polls show both sides so evenly matched. That must be because the champions of Brexit are a cast of characters from whom anyone with any sense would hesitate to buy a used car.

READ: Boris Johnson: schemer or charmer? -- Jonathan Manthorpe

Boris Johnson

The British public’s affection for Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and now Tory backbencher who made a political career by playing a loveable, naughty sheepdog, appears to be wearing thin. His dishevelled appearance and colourful refusal to abide by rules of political correctness have carried him this far. But in retrospect, his eight years as Mayor of London, which ended early in May, were singularly unproductive. There is no doubt that his main aim in leading the Brexit campaign is to oust Cameron as Tory leader and become the British Prime Minister. And with Johnson, there is always a problem about believing what he says. He is singularly untrustworthy, and his path through life is littered with friends, and especially women, whom he has betrayed.

Boris as TV personality, and even as mayor, is entertaining, but do you really want him in 10 Downing Street and leading Britain along the lonely post-EU path into the unknown?

Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party – Ukip – has lengthy credentials as a champion of the campaign to get Britain out of the EU. Oddly in the circumstances, his main political platform is as a long-running Member of the European Parliament. His several attempts to get elected to the Westminster Parliament have failed, but voters pay far less attention to whom they send to the Strasbourg parliament. A small, highly organized campaign can often win a seat in the European Parliament, which is why it contains more than its fair share of odd balls.

Farage appeals to hardcore Little Englanders, but for most people he is the pub’s loudmouth bore — entertaining for about five minutes on first meeting, and then to be shunned.

What no one has figured out with any certainty is what happens on June 24 if a majority of British voters opted to leave the EU the day before. There is a mechanism for EU members to leave under Article 50 of the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. This envisages a two-year period when the remaining 27 EU members would negotiate Britain’s departure. The ignominy of this would be that Westminster would lose the initiative. Its exit voucher would be a matter of bargaining and squabbling among the other 27.

And the two-year timetable is not hard and fast. It can be extended, and it is easy to imagine that the EU’s most powerful members and institutions would see it in their interest to stall the process for as long as possible. There are real fears that Brexit might spark a rush for the exit by other countries that are unhappy with loss of sovereignty and governing powers to Brussels. There are even predictions that Britain’s departure could trigger the collapse of the entire EU, especially as a political federation. Thus, in the EU bureaucracy and pivotal countries like Germany and France there will be no desire to make Britain’s departure easy, quick or painless.

There is also the prospect that a vote to leave could start the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Scots in particular are strong supporters of EU membership. A Brexit vote would undoubtedly encourage the Scottish Nationalist regional government to launch another referendum on Scottish independence, this time with more likelihood of winning than in the 2014 ballot.

Cameron has said that if the leave faction wins on June 23 he will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – before himself heading off into political retirement. But there is another route Britain can go if the Brexit vote wins. The Westminster parliament can simply repeal the 1972 European Communities Act that enabled Britain to join what was then the European Economic Community. It is far from certain, however, that the British Parliament would back a unilateral declaration of independence from the EU.

Cameron was pressed into staging this referendum because of pressure from his backbenchers, about half of whom support Brexit. But in the House of Commons as a whole, there is a clear majority that wants Britain to remain in the EU. If there is only a slim majority for Brexit, and especially if there is a low voter turnout, MPs can justifiably question the political legitimacy of the result and balk at revoking the European Communities Act.

Thus a vote for Britain to leave the EU is unlikely to produce a “Freedom at Midnight” moment. Instead it will open the gate to a long and gruelling trudge through a muddy field, with no clear view of the destination or what the eventual outcome will be.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Further information sources:

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Analysis: In crisis, interests trump European values

 

By Paul Taylor
January, 2016

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe is torn between upholding its values and pursuing its interests in the multiple crises over refugees, challenges to the rule of law, relations with Russia and Turkey, and Britain’s membership that are shaking the European Union.

Political and economic interests are mostly prevailing over the EU’s declared values and governance standards, but it is not clear that the outcomes are any more effective.

Migrants queue to enter a tent that serves as a waiting room at the the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO), in Berlin, Germany, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Migrants queue to enter a tent that serves as a waiting room at the the Berlin Office of Health and Social Affairs (LAGESO), in Berlin, Germany, January 5, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

 

To critics including human rights campaigners, Europe is too willing to betray its principles. To supporters, it is “growing up” and acting less naively.

“Politics is the art of the possible, but this is very different from the conception of Europe promoted for the last half century,” said Michael Leigh, senior adviser at the German Marshall Fund think-tank on transatlantic relations and a former senior European Commission official.

After more than a million migrants flooded into Europe last year, EU governments are divided on whether the bloc should give priority to its commitment to give asylum to refugees, or whether the main aim should be to toughen border controls and pay other countries to keep potential asylum-seekers at bay.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under fire at home and in Europe for having taken the moral high ground by welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The sullen reluctance of most of the EU – not just central European states but core partners like France – to take in quotas of refugees to which they agreed months ago is driven by fear of a domestic political backlash.

Brussels faced another of those values-versus-interests dilemmas last week when the executive European Commission had to decide whether to launch disciplinary action over Polish laws shackling the constitutional court and the state media.

The EU was widely criticised for failing to act to uphold its values of democracy and the rule of law when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban launched a similar crackdown in 2010 on the judiciary, the media and civil society organisations.

The Commission did take a first step on Poland but stressed it wanted to resolve the issue in dialogue with Warsaw and there was no likelihood of moving to sanctions such as suspending the country’s EU voting rights or access to funds.

Within the EU executive, officials are reluctant to appear to be lecturing a democratically elected Polish government as it goes about implementing campaign promises.

After big demonstrations in Warsaw in defence of liberal values, many in Brussels are pinning their hopes on the self-correcting strength of Polish democracy. Others are looking for someone else to take the lead such as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, a pan-European constitutional watchdog.

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REASONS FOR EXPEDIENCY

Major EU members Germany and Britain have mostly kept quiet about Poland on pragmatic grounds. Berlin wants to preserve as cooperative a relationship as possible with the more nationalist government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party.

London needs Polish goodwill as it renegotiates sensitive aspects of its own EU membership. Eager to curb the access of EU migrants – mostly Poles – to in-work welfare benefits to deter further mass immigration to Britain, it is the last country likely to criticise Warsaw over civil rights.

Indeed, Europe’s willingness to seek a formula to permit Britain to deny fellow EU citizens who enter its labour market the same benefits as its own nationals highlights a willingness to compromise on core values for the sake of expediency – in this case to try to ensure Britons vote to remain in the EU in a forthcoming referendum.

While the European Parliament, which sees itself as Europe’s conscience on human rights, is likely to criticise Poland in a special debate this week which itself is a form of political punishment, other EU bodies are cautious.

“With the migration crisis and … with Europe’s current fragility, it would be a big mistake to lose Poland,” a senior European Commission official said.

Similar mixed feelings guided the EU’s schizophrenic response to Russia’s 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea and moves to destabilise eastern Ukraine.

While the bloc did agree under German leadership to impose sectoral sanctions that have pushed the Russian economy into recession and restricted its access to capital, there are charges of double standards when it comes to energy.

EU regulatory pressure forced Russia to cancel a South Stream gas pipeline it had planned to build to supply southern European countries bypassing Ukraine. But Germany is resisting pressure to desist from building a second sub-Baltic Nord Stream pipeline directly from Russia, also bypassing Kiev.

Italy, Bulgaria and others that lost out on South Stream accuse Berlin of hypocrisy, while Poland and Baltic states say doubling Nord Stream would negate EU support for Ukraine.

Germany is trying to sidestep the arguments about values and pointing to Moscow’s historic role as a reliable supplier.

With Turkey, the EU is drawing a veil over its criticism of deteriorating civil liberties, media freedom and judicial independence in a candidate country for the sake of its vital interest in stemming the refugee flow to Europe.

The European Commission delayed a critical report on Turkish compliance with EU standards until after parliamentary elections in November to avoid upsetting President Tayyip Erdogan.

EU officials acknowledge they have muted criticism of Ankara because they are desperate for Turkish help on the refugees.

Across north Africa, the EU is downplaying the human rights and good governance elements of its policy towards neighbours such as Egypt, Morocco and Algeria – a stumbling block to dealing with authoritarian rulers – due to Europe’s need for security cooperation against Islamist militants.

“We are not abandoning our values but we are perhaps being more pragmatic,” said an EU official involved in managing those relationships, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Editing by Mark Potter)

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Paris attack brings focus to French author Michel Houellebecq

LOUIS BETTYUniversity of Wisconsin-Whitewater
January 16, 2015

French author Michel Houellebecq

Michel Houellebecq, memorialized, in 2011. THIERRY EHRMANN/Flickr

When gunmen (thought to be radicalized Muslims) burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo on the morning of January 7, the front page of the satirical newspaper’s most recent edition featured a caricature of French author Michel Houellebecq. The same day, his new novel Soumission (Submission) had been released – a fictionalized account of France’s election of an Islamist president in 2022.

“In 2022, I’m observing Ramadan!” the cartoon of a ragged, cigarette-smoking Houellecbecq exclaims.

Submission had generated controversy even before its publication. Many on the Left worried that its depiction of an Islamicized France would be a boon for Marine le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front party. And while François Hollande, France’s socialist president, has promised to read the novel, many have condemned it as Islamophobic.

Who is Michel Houellecbecq? Though largely unknown in the United States, Houellecbecq (pronounced well-beck) is one of France’s most popular and commercially successful living authors. Many consider him to be France’s most significant literary export in decades.

Even before Submission, the author was no stranger to controversy. Houellecbecq first came to prominence on the French literary scene in 1998 with the publication of Les Particules élémentaires (The Elementary Particles), a novel that describes the collapse of Western civilization from the point of view of two disaffected half-brothers.

The major point of contention in the novel was its disparaging treatment of post-60s culture in France (like the U.S., France was marked by anti-establishment protests in 1968) and its scathing criticism of sexual liberalism. The novel depicted a post-60s France awash in depression, social and sexual isolation, as well as moral and religious decay. From the point of view of the Left, it was read as an indictment of the values of a whole generation.

At the same time, the novel was equally unsympathetic to free-market capitalism, which caused a significant clamour in the right-wing media. In this respect, Houellebecq perplexed both the Left and Right in France: the media had difficulty determining where to place him along the traditional ideological spectrum. The novel also prominently featured the sexual exploits of its characters (one of the half brothers, Bruno, is a frequent visitor of nudist colonies) so many in the press criticized the novel for celebrating the very moral decadence it seemed to condemn.

Subsequent novels such as Plateforme (Platform), La Possibilitié d’une île (The Possibility of An Island) and La Carte et le territoire (The Map and the Territory) also garnered their fair share of controversy. Platform, for example, recounts the attempt by several French citizens to create a sex resort in Thailand, which ends in tragedy when Muslim terrorists attack the resort and kill or maim most of the vacationers. It’s worth noting that Platform was released during the fall literary season of 2001, just before the attacks of 9/11.

La Possibilité d’une île (2005) tackled the issue of glorifying youth culture and the physical and moral neglect of the elderly. It explicitly evoked the deadly European heat wave of 2003, which claimed the lives of thousands of elderly people who died in nursing homes while their families were away on vacation. In 2010, Houellebecq won the prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary prize, for La Carte et le Territoire, but more controversy arose when journalists discovered that Houellebecq had lifted brief passages from Wikipedia articles.

In translation, Houellebecq has enjoyed broad popularity in Europe, though in the United States he remains relatively unknown. Much of this is due to negative reviews his novels have received in left-leaning intellectual publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times. But there’s also the perception that the author’s work is somehow “too European” to appeal to a broad American audience. His novels are filled with themes of cultural and economic decline, psychological stagnation, sexual desperation, and rampant materialism. It would not be too much of a stretch to say that Houellebecq’s work feeds brilliantly off the decline of European civilization in the 20th century. This message, if it is not lost on Americans, is at least antithetical to their cultural myth of progress and the American dream.

But American readers may now take notice of Houellebecq’s most recent novel: Submission deals with the pan-western concern of a globalized Islam, and in the wake of Wednesday’s shootings will certainly receive even greater scrutiny. One can only wonder how prescient it will be: how will the role of Muslims in politics change? And how will the far-right respond to – or even exploit – the tragedy?

Creative CommonsThe Conversation

Louis_BettyLouis Betty is an assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He has published numerous scholarly articles on Houellebecq and is preparing the final draft of a book-length work on Houellebecq’s fiction.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

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Moldova Teeters on Edge of Ukraine Turmoil

459px-Gheorghe_Ghimpu_arboreaza_Tricolorul

Deputy Gheorghe Ghimpu replaces the Soviet flag on the Parliament with the Moldovan flag on April 27, 1990. Source: Wikipedia, Creative Commons.

The global focus on Ukraine should expand to include Moldova, warns International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe Polls suggest that only 44 per cent of Moldovans favour EU membership, while support for a customs union with Russia has grown from 30 per cent a few months ago to 40 per cent now. Moscow’s opaque intentions are adding to anxiety in Moldovia that if civil war breaks out in eastern Ukraine, it will spill over, he writes. An excerpt of today’s column:

As the West fixates on what Vladimir Putin is doing in eastern Ukraine, perhaps not enough attention is being paid to his other hand, which is hovering greedily over neighbouring Moldova.

Moldova and its three-and-a-half million people, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine behind the north-west shore of the Black Sea, has not had an easy time since it reluctantly emerged as an independent nation in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is the poorest country in Europe.

It got off to a bad start when independence led almost immediately to a civil war when the pro-Russian people of Transdniestr – that long sliver of Moldova lying east of the Dniester River – rebelled against the possibility of the country joining Romania. Intervention by Russian forces – 1,500 of them are still there – brought a peace deal in 1992, but Transdniestr and its 500,000 people remain a breakaway region, yearning either for recognized independence, a customs union with Moscow or absorption by Russia. The takeover of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, just round the Black Sea coast from Moldova, by Putin has encouraged many of Transdniestr’s people to hope that they may be next on the Russian President’s shopping list.

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