Everything you need to know about tomorrow’s important UK election

Written by Chris Graham.
Read the original article on the Telegraph.

Image credit: The Telegraph.

The United Kingdom goes to the polls – again – tomorrow after Theresa May, the Prime Minister, called a snap General Election in April.

Both parties go into the final day of campaigning today with the race apparently much tighter than many expected a month ago.

Despite ruling out a snap election when she took over after the Brexit referendum in June last year, Mrs May announced the vote in the hope that she can capitalise on internal divisions within the Labour Party and bolster the Conservative’s majority in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives enjoyed a large lead at the beginning of the campaign and a good result for Mrs May on Thursday would give her a strong position as she negotiates a “hard Brexit” from the European Union.

Labour continues to trail in the polls – even though the gap has narrowed significantly – but their leader Jeremy Corbyn is hoping to confound the pollsters in the same way Donald Trump did in November.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are campaigning on an anti-Brexit platform.

The gap between the Conservatives and Labour - the two main parties - is narrowing
The gap between the Conservatives and Labour – the two main parties – is narrowing

Here’s a rundown on the big issues from the election over the past week, why comparisons have been drawn between Mr Corbyn and the US president, and a guide to what you should look out for on election night.

Has the London terror attack affected the election?

Absolutely. The tragic events on Saturday night has had a significant impact on the race.

All the major parties suspended campaigning for 24 hours on Sunday following the attack that killed at least seven people. It was the second time that national campaigning has been suspended during the current election campaign after it was halted for three days in the wake of the Manchester bomb attack on May 22.

The atrocity even prompted calls on social media for the general election to be suspended, forcing Mrs May to stress on Sunday that it would go ahead as planned on Thursday.

However it is the news agenda that has been most significantly affected. With just days until the election, the prime minister, who was previously the Home Secretary, has been forced on the defensive as she faces criticism of her record on counter-terrorism following the third terrorist outrage in the space of three months.

When Mrs May addressed the nation on Sunday, she rounded on those who “tolerate” extremism as she told them: “Enough is enough.”

In a speech that Mr Corbyn attacked as “political”, she said she would consider longer prison sentences for terrorist offences as well as reviewing the country’s entire counter-terrorism strategy in the face of a changing threat.

On Tuesday, Mrs May vowed to start work on toughening anti-terrorism measures if she is re-elected and promised she would not let human rights laws stand in her way. The Prime Minister will make it easier to deport foreign terror suspects and will extend existing laws that restrict the freedom of British suspects.

She has faced a barrage of questions about why the three Islamist terrorists who killed seven at the weekend were free to do it despite two of them being on the radar of the police or MI5. She has also been taken to task over a 20,000 reduction in police numbers under her watch.

Certain sections of the press, meanwhile, have trained their sights on Mr Corbyn. Amid a slew of recent stories about the Labour leader’s past associations with IRA and Palestinian terrorists, Labour faced fierce headlines on Wednesday, including “Apologists for terror” and “Jezza’s jihadi comrades”.

What has been the reaction to Trump’s tweets?

Mrs May has come under fire for not standing up for London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in the face of strong criticism from Donald Trump in the hours after the terror attack.

The US President fired off a series of critical tweets over Mr Khan’s handling of the London Bridge terror attack, mocking the mayor’s comments that there was “no reason to be alarmed” over armed police on the streets.

But while Mrs May said Mr Trump’s Twitter attacks were “wrong”, she said Mr Trump’s controversial trip would go ahead.

Tom Brake, foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Theresa May has allowed Donald Trump 24 hours to bully the Mayor of London. It isn’t good enough.

“Trump’s attack on Sadiq Khan was not only wrong, it was outrageous. Just as has been shown in so many other areas, when it comes to Trump, Theresa May is meek and mild, not strong and stable.

“It is time for Theresa May to do the right thing and cancel the state visit.”

A YouGov poll of 1,000 Londoners published on Monday found that Mr Khan was more trusted than both Mrs May and national Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to make the right decisions about keeping Britain safe from terrorism.

Is Jeremy Corbyn the British Donald Trump?

They stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum in many ways, yet comparisons between the US president Donald Trump and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have been made for months.

As The Telegraph’s Asa Bennett noted in March:

“Both men are just a few years apart in age. They have been part of the system for decades, but that hasn’t stopped them from amassing their own anti-Establishment following. Each man, their supporters say, is a straight talker who speaks truth to power, whose appeal is proven the huge crowds that come to listen.”

Mr Corbyn even seemed to lift some lines from the Trump playbook in February by blasting the BBC for reporting “fake news”.

The Labour leader has been frequently branded unelectable – a trait that was used to describe Mr Trump right up until he won the election in November. When the prime minister called the election in April, it looked set to be a coronation, much like Hillary Clinton was long expected to coast to the presidency. And yet, some polls now have the two candidates neck-and-neck.

Mr Trump’s victory looms over the election. When asked by Politicowhat the odds were on Mr Corbyn winning on Thursday, a veteran BBC producer said: “Zero percent”.

“Except, he quickly added that, in this age of Brexit and Trump, he no longer trusts the polls, or his own political instincts honed over three decades of covering British elections, or anything really.”

How are the polls looking?

With just a day until the election, polls are showing that the gap between Labour and the Conservatives has narrowed further still.

However, different polling companies are forecasting wildly different results.

The latest poll from YouGov has the Tory lead at just four points over Labour, while ICM has it standing at 11 points.

The situation is a far cry from the start of the election campaign, when Mrs May enjoyed a 17.8 point lead and polls indicated a landslide victory.

The Conservatives' crumbling lead
The Conservatives’ crumbling lead CREDIT: TELEGRAPH
But can we even trust the polls?  Not according to Michael Moszynski, a pundit who correctly predicted the results of the EU Referendum, Scottish referendum and 2015 General Election within 0.3 per cent.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Moszynski, chief Executive and Founder of London Advertising, said the Conservatives remain “safely on course for a three-figure majority”.

What’s the schedule for election night?

  • 5pm EST: Polls close at 10pm in the UK and exit polls are expected to be announced at the same time.
  • 6pm EST: The first result should be called within the first hour of counting.
  • 8pm EST: Things start to get serious around 1am BST as the first marginal seats are expected to be called.
  • 10pm-12am EST: The busiest time for results to be announced will be between 3am and 5am BST. Conservative leader Theresa May should find out if she has held the Berkshire seat of Maidenhead around 4am – by that time she will have a good idea about whether she is still Prime Minister.
  • 1.30am EST: At around 6.30am BST on Friday, the loser will be conceding defeat and the winner will be declaring victory.

Is France’s Political Crisis Just Beginning?

Written by Uri Friedman.
Read the original article on The Atlantic.

Image credit: The Atlantic

Emmanuel Macron, the next president of France, campaigned on a slogan of “Together, France!” And why not? He is a sunny centrist who attracted votes from the left and the right to decisively defeat the far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen on Sunday. The center seems not only to have held, but to have swelled.

But Macron’s victory could further fracture French politics rather than bridge the country’s political divisions, illustrating a challenge confronting many democracies at the moment, especially in Europe: A disenchanted public has blown up the political establishment, but it’s difficult to then fashion a well-functioning government out of the pieces. This can produce more disillusionment with politics, not less.

For signs of trouble ahead, consider the fact that a full quarter of the French electorate didn’t cast a ballot in this weekend’s runoff presidential election—one of the highest abstention rates in the history of France’s Fifth Republic, which was established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958. French voters are so disillusioned with their political leaders that, for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the runoff didn’t feature a representative from the main parties of the left and right. Whether that’s a response to the government’s failure to boost a stagnant economy, secure the nation from ISIS-inspired terrorism, or assimilate immigrants and address the downsides of globalization, the French consistentlyexpress low levels of trust in government. In the run-up to Sunday’s vote, a survey found that French voters are more polarized than the citizens of other European countries, with 20 percent describing themselves as politically extreme (compared with 7 percent in the EU as a whole) and 36 percent identifying as centrist (compared with 62 percent in the EU). So much for togetherness.

This protest against politics-as-usual is what catapulted Macron, a former government official who has never held elected office, into the Elysee Palace. He doesn’t belong to a party and only founded his “On the Move” movement a year ago. But the political independence that proved an asset during the presidential campaign could become a liability during parliamentary elections in June.

Macron has promised to field On the Move candidates in every French electoral district, and polls suggest the movement could win more seats in France’s National Assembly than any other party—maybe even enough to achieve a majority in the 577-seat lower house, which would be astonishing for an organization that has only just burst onto the political scene.

If, however, Macron falls short of a majority, he will need to form a governing coalition with other parties. And if another party wins a majority, he will need to deal with that rival party, in a scenario the French refer to rather euphemistically as “cohabitation.”

In France, presidents have for the last several decades generally been drawn from the major center-left or center-right party. Their victory in presidential elections has typically paved the way for their party to win a majority in parliament, allowing the president to appoint a prime minister from his party who will run the government according to the president’s wishes. This hasn’t always occurred; the Fifth Republic has experienced cohabitation three times. But the system has been running smoothly for a while: France hasn’t endured divided government since a constitutional amendment in the early 2000s that made both presidential and parliamentary terms five years, and scheduled parliamentary elections shortly after presidential elections to reduce the likelihood of cohabitation.

“During cohabitation periods, the presidency diminished in stature, and the premier tended to exercise the main executive policymaking authority,” writes John Carey, a comparative-politics professor at Dartmouth College. “For example, in the late 1980s, [Jacques] Chirac as premier engineered a major tax cut and privatized state-owned enterprises while the Socialist [President Francois] Mitterand could only watch. But when Chirac was president, Socialist Party Premier [Lionel] Jospin pushed through legislation to shorten the workweek from 39 hours to 35.”

Now, however, France’s traditional party system has imploded—and the risks of cohabitation and political dysfunction have returned. If an opposition party ends up controlling the National Assembly, Macron will likely be blocked from carrying out his ambitious policy agenda, which includes cutting government spending and giving employers more flexibility to hire, fire, and negotiate with employees. If he has to cobble together a coalition of diverse factions, he will have to painstakingly build support for each vote on each piece of legislation. As Francois Fillon, the Republican candidate who lost in the first round of the presidential election, memorably put it, Macron might have to again and again “cook up parliamentary dishes of impotence and compromises”—the very worst kind of French cuisine.

In these scenarios, the election of Macron would have the opposite effect of what his supporters intend: A man elected to finally get things done would struggle to get things done; a man elected to break with the traditional parties would have to work closely with them. Desires for political change and disillusionment with government might only grow.

This vicious circle is playing out across Europe, where frustration with establishment politics is hollowing out center-right and center-left parties, splintering the political landscape into an array of small- and medium-sized parties competing for influence. “The more fragmentation occurs, the more difficult it’s going to be [for fragile, unstable coalition governments] to pass any type of coherent policy program,” the political scientist Robin Best told me after the Dutch election. “And voters are probably going to end up being even more dissatisfied” and inclined toward protest votes and politicians on the political extremes.

If, on the other hand, On the Move secures a parliamentary majority, or if Republican and Socialist lawmakers decide to be uncommonly cooperative, Macron’s presidency could go swimmingly. As the historian Aline-Florence Manent has pointed out, De Gaulle designed the Fifth Republic so that it wouldn’t be dependent on political parties, which he viewed as sources of gridlock and instability. The founder of modern France “designed the Fifth Republic as a hybrid regime, combining the institutions of a parliamentary system with a powerful presidential office so that a crisis in the party system might not necessarily provoke a crisis of government,” Manent notes.

Macron’s presidency will “be a true test of the Fifth Republic as De Gaulle envisioned it,” she added. “So far, this has never really been tested, because the system developed into a de facto two party system.”

“It may have taken 60 years,” Manent writes, “but De Gaulle’s vision of the Fifth Republic could well be coming to a point of crisis.”

Press the reset button on the refugee crisis

Preethi Nallu

Slogans were plentiful at last month’s humanitarian summit in Istanbul. There was hope too, that the meeting would serve as a compelling prelude to the UN conference on refugees and migrants scheduled for New York in September. But all the hosts could muster – after three years of consultations with about 27,000 people across 153 countries – were vague commitments towards intentionally broad “core” basic principles.

The imminent problem was clear to every participant. The current rate of movement of people across borders is a consequence of globalisation and the unequal distribution of wealth and stability. With about 80 per cent of the world’s population expected to live in conflict-prone areas over the next decade, global strife will continue to outpace the humanitarian systems in place to deal with them.

The consultations that led to the Istanbul summit – the result of 400 written submissions over several years – prescribe reform of the humanitarian sector and changes to international law to cope with the current crises. From addressing displacement induced by climate change to the intensifying wrath of conflicts that permeate boundaries of nation states, the approaches that were put in place after the Second World War are clearly in need of a major overhaul.

But it was hard not to feel the folly of sitting at the closing ceremony of the summit last month. As the historical gateway between Asia and Europe since the time of Byzantium, Istanbul was a fitting venue to address the rapid migration flows from different directions that have triggered today’s global refugee crisis. Turkey is home to the world’s largest refugee population, with more than 2.8 million Syrian men, women and children. Anywhere up to 500,000 Syrians live in Istanbul alone.

But the mounting accusations against Turkey of shooting at civilians fleeing attacks by the Syrian regime and ISIL, made the venue less comfortable. If Turkey’s plans to build “smart” shooting towers at its borders are implemented, it will have concocted a ruthless and dystopian approach to mitigating migration.

Efforts to control migration have proved unwieldy, expensive and ineffective, with few deportations from Greece and even fewer admissions into the EU under the one-in-one-out deal. Dismayed humanitarian workers report an uneasy impasse as refugees biding their time to embark on boats have gone into hiding for fear of being detained. Others choosing alternate routes, including women and children, have disappeared, becoming even easier prey for traffickers.

With Italy eclipsing Greece with the number of arrivals over April and May, a centrally organised response system – one that minimises deaths at sea, offers humane reception to those arriving on the shores of Europe and, better yet, options of applying for asylum without having to undertake dangerous crossings – warranted explicit acknowledgement at the summit.

The 130 bodies that washed up on the Libyan coast in the days following the summit and the more than 1,040 deaths over the last two weeks should put us all to shame. Yet the declarations coming from the summit’s panels were vague, non-committal and underwhelming.

Gathering governmental and non-governmental organisation on a common platform is not without its merits. But by failing to delineate clear roles and responsibilities and skirting the basic acknowledgement that the most powerful participants have the most influence, the summit failed to address the elephants in the room that have made themselves at home.

For the UN to deliver aid during conflict, states must adhere to international humanitarian laws. For aid to be effective, the UN must become more efficient with its on-ground operations.

Several organisations have monitored these failings, but almost none are explicitly discussed. Doing so would mean pointing to specific violations by states and assessing the failures of the UN. It is equally important to acknowledge that the failures of the UN-led humanitarian system are rooted in its subordinate role to the nation-states that are its primary patrons.

The off-the-record conversations in Istanbul between sectors and among people who would otherwise not meet could turn out to be a worthy investment, especially as the trajectory is now pointing towards the New York summit.

Making use of the conversations that emanated in Istanbul will require getting into finer details, from managing borders and establishing early warning systems to analysing successful cases of the integration of refugee populations through freedom of movement.

Change must take place at all levels of the international humanitarian system with improving emergency response as the first tenet of that transformation. The overhaul must be all encompassing: from the UN’s lack of accountability to the bureaucratic mazes of governments and the gaps between the visions emanating from the headquarters of humanitarian organisations and the realities on the ground.

With the Mediterranean crossings by migrants climbing towards an ever-higher apex, the timing of the summit and the lead up to New York is in fact propitious. But, how do we best harness this sense of urgency? The only way forward is to hit the reset button.

Berlin calls Erdogan’s bluff on refugees




Angela Merkel’s top adviser on Europe dismissed threats by Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to pull out of the EU’s refugee deal with Ankara as “bluster,” according to leaked British diplomatic cables.

Erdoğan, who has vowed to upend the refugee pact if the EU doesn’t make good on its promise to grant Turks visa-free travel, has a greater interest in keeping the deal alive than allowing it to collapse, Merkel adviser Uwe Corsepius told a senior British diplomat in Berlin, according to the diplomatic cables seen by POLITICO.

“Uwe Corsepius told me today that the EU should remain calm,” the British diplomat reported back to London on May 13. “While Erdoğan still had the ability, in theory, to generate a surge in the refugee flow, his threats were just bluster. It was in Erdoğan’s strategic interest to keep the relationship with the EU working.”

The Corsepius cable was signed WOOD, suggesting it was written by Sebastian Wood, the British ambassador to Berlin.

Europe cut a deal with Ankara in March to provide billions of euros in aid, and grant Turkish citizens a visa waiver as early as this summer, in exchange for Turkey’s commitment to reduce the flow of refugees heading to Europe.

Since then, Turkey has signaled it wouldn’t accept a European requirement to reform its controversial anti-terror laws, sparking a heated back-and-forth between Ankara and European capitals.

Though little known outside of official circles, Corsepius — who previously served the senior-most civil servant at the Council of the European Union in Brussels — plays a key role in shaping Merkel’s European policies and has been deeply involved in negotiations with Turkey.

The Corsepius cable was written before recent tensions emerged this month between Berlin and Ankara over the German parliament’s decision to declare the Ottoman Empire’s 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide.

Nonetheless, the communication helps explain Merkel’s tempered response to Ankara’s persistent taunts. The cable suggests Berlin has concluded that Erdoğan needs Europe just as much as Europe needs Turkey.

“EU accession and visa liberalization remained strategic goals for Turkey,” the diplomat paraphrases Corsepius as saying.

Berlin’s strategy is to draw the process out, in part to allow the tempers on both sides to calm. “We can keep this under control,” Corsepius adds, according to the cable.

Georg Streiter, a spokesperson for the German government, told POLITICO that he was not familiar with the cables in question.

Refugee numbers down

“Absolutely nothing has changed regarding the German position,” Streiter said, referring to the EU-Turkey deal.

Indeed, despite the heated rhetoric, Turkey has continued to honor its end of the bargain. The number of refugees crossing the Aegean to Greece has declined sharply in recent months.

To keep the deal alive, Berlin would likely be willing to grant Turkey further concessions, the British diplomatic cable concludes.

“Despite the tough public line, there are straws in the wind to suggest that in extremis the Germans would compromise further to preserve the EU/Turkey deal,” the cable says. “Officials have shown some interest, behind the scenes, in thinking about possible compromise formulations on the anti-terror law.”

The batch of cables, which include a detailed analysis of how the U.K. should position itself on the Turkey question, offer a rare, unfiltered glimpse of the behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuverings between Europe’s capitals. A spokesman for the U.K. foreign office said the telegrams were “reports from our diplomatic posts, not statements of British government policy.”

One of the cables, sent from the British embassy in Ankara on May 5, sparked controversy in the U.K. after being leaked to the Sunday Times.

The telegram suggested that to keep Erdoğan on-side, the U.K. government should consider setting up its own visa-free scheme, dropping travel restrictions for Turkish “special passport” holders. About 1.5 million Turks currently have such passports, which are supposed to be for officials, civil servants, teachers and their families, the paper said.

The suggestion was jumped on by the Brexit campaign as evidence of secret negotiations to open the U.K.’s borders to Turks — an allegation furiously rejected by Downing Street.

Karnitschnig reported from Berlin and McTague from London. Janosch Delcker contributed to this article.

The Conservative Case Against Brexit

Foreign Affairs Magazine

Dalibor Rohac


It is now up to British voters to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union—not to foreign leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and IMF head Christine Lagarde, who have offered their advice on what the right choice might be. The voters, however, would do well not to automatically dismiss what Obama and Lagarde have said. Rather, they should reflect on their substantive merits.

The truth is that the case for “Brexit” does not hold water. Although there is much to criticize about the EU, its existence is an important achievement, which would be put in peril by the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Conservatives, classical liberals, and advocates of free markets should be particularly wary of becoming cheerleaders for the EU’s demise. Instead, they ought to be at the forefront of efforts to reform and improve the bloc.

Free-marketeers and small-c conservatives might see Euroskepticism as a natural extension of free-market convictions. For fervent believers in the strength of competition, including between different currencies and regulatory and tax systems, European integration might look like a misguided attempt at integrating markets via the unnecessary centralization of political decision-making. And so it seems logical for the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, to compare the EU to the former Soviet Union, and for free-market think tanks to criticize the EU’s populist overregulation, common currency, and common agricultural policy, among other things.

But Euroskepticism is not an inevitable corollary of free-market conservative thought—something that the iconic voices of the free-market movement well understood. Friedrich von Hayek wanted a European federation. He called “the abrogation of national sovereignties” that it would entail a “logical consummation of the liberal [i.e. free-market] programme.” Hayek, who later received the Nobel Prize for Economics, recognized that the efforts to liberalize trade in the nineteenth century had ultimately failed because European countries lacked a joint system of governance that would keep domestic protectionism and nationalism at bay.

Illustration picture of postal ballot papers June 1, 2016 ahead of the June 23 BREXIT referendum when voters will decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union.

Illustration picture of postal ballot papers June 1, 2016 ahead of the June 23 BREXIT referendum when voters will decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union.

Hayek’s thinking on international federalism developed alongside that of Wilhelm Röpke, a German free-market economist who argued that Europe‘s postwar reconstruction should involve a scaling up of the Swiss model of governance to the international realm, since that would allow the creation of a system of governance that would be simultaneously decentralized and allow for the joint provision of fundamental, pan-European public goods—especially economic openness and security.

Even Hayek’s mentor, Ludwig von Mises, who was generally seen as a much more radical free-marketeer than his protegé, wrote in 1944 that for Western European countries, “the alternative to incorporation into a new democratic supernational system is not unrestricted sovereignty but ultimate subjugation by the totalitarian powers.” And, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher campaigned for the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Economic Community in 1975, she recognized that “almost every major nation has been obliged…to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units.”

Today’s world is very different from that of the 1940s or the 1970s. But that does not make the European project irrelevant. Quite the contrary. Even the seemingly economic components of European integration, such as the single market, require a significant pooling of political sovereignty, a bureaucracy, and courts to enforce the rules. In part, this is because a single market goes far beyond the question of the tariffs that, until 1968, separated markets in the countries of the European Economic Area. It has sought to curb regulatory protectionism and other, more subtle barriers to trade, including distortionary state aid spending directed at national champions.

The single market did not arise overnight. It took decades of political and legislative effort, most notably in the form of the Single European Act, spearheaded by Thatcher and Conservative politician and eventual European Commissioner Arthur Cockfield, to reach the degree of economic openness existing in the EU today. The single market is perhaps the most striking example of what the EU does best—namely, that it serves as a commitment device.

When Euroskeptics complain of the constraints that European integration imposes on national sovereignty, they are thus missing the point. European treaties, the entire body of EU law, and the decision-making authorities disentangled from national politics exist for a good reason—to allow politicians in member states to get around the problem of credible commitment, which is pervasive in democracies, and which involves the omnipresent temptation of policymakers to renege on their promises.

The United Kingdom benefits greatly from the “financial passport” that allows its banks and other financial businesses to operate anywhere in the EU. To see how, look to Eastern European reformers in places such as Slovakia or Poland who used the prospect of EU accession as a sweetener for domestic reforms that would have otherwise been unpalatable. For countries such as France or Italy, EU policy is often the only thing that keeps their leaders from returning to their countries’ historic traditions of providing state aid to national champions. It was, after all, the European Commission that forced Italy to dismantle its state-owned steel industry in the 1990s and pushed France toward the opening of its electricity market in 1999. Without the United Kingdom’s voice at the table, the EU would inevitably become a much weaker force for economic liberalization, and some of prior achievements could even be reversed.

Euroskeptics have a point when they say that there is a flipside to the single market—namely, the existence of a large and burdensome system of regulation at the European level. It would be much better, they argue, if member states simply recognized each other’s regulations and technical standards without imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone. But unconditional mutual recognition is not realistic—largely because governments are unable to commit credibly to such a policy. Hence, although common EU directives certainly impose a burden on the European economy, that burden needs to be compared against the burden of 28 different and potentially incompatible regulatory systems, hindering free movement of goods, services, capital, and people.

The United Kingdom, with its sizeable sector of financial services, benefits greatly from the “financial passport” that allows its banks and other financial businesses to operate anywhere in the EU. The City of London is also home to the European Banking Authority, an EU-wide financial regulator, over which the United Kingdom has had a significant influence. A departure from the EU could jeopardize these arrangements and raise doubts about the future of the city as the world’s financial capital.

A car sticker with a logo encouraging people to leave the EU is seen on a car, in Llandudno, Wales, February 27, 2016.

A car sticker with a logo encouraging people to leave the EU is seen on a car, in Llandudno, Wales, February 27, 2016.

The complaint about EU regulation is just one example of the nirvana fallacy of Euroskepticism. No one would deny that the European Union is a highly flawed organization. However, it makes no sense to compare it to impossible alternatives. The relevant counterfactual to today’s European Union is the Europe of protectionist, nationalist states that was long the baseline of the continent’s history.

Even the late nineteenth century, sometimes called the First Age of Globalization, was the period of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s “iron and rye” tariff, France’s Méline tariff, and a continent-wide drift toward protectionism. In 1913, tariffs on manufactured goods averaged 18 percent in Austria-Hungary, 13 percent in Germany, 20 percent in France, 41 percent in Spain, and a staggering 84 percent in Russia. At that time, the United Kingdom appeared a free-trading nation in comparison, with no tariffs on manufactured goods and an average applied tariff of around 5 percent on all imports. Yet, throughout much of the nineteenth century, until the late 1870s, the UK was highly protectionist, with average tariffs exceeding those in France.

With the advent of World War I, followed by the Great Depression and then by the bloodiest conflict in human history, international trade essentially collapsed, greatly exacerbating the human misery that characterized the first half of the twentieth century. By that token, the past 70 years of European history, during which Europe has become more economically open, democratic, and peaceful than ever before, are a complete historical anomaly. Whether one believes that the EU deserves any credit for this outcome, one should think twice before trying to tinker with the system of international political architecture existing in Europe.

France Is on Strike But the Real Problem Is Even Worse: Q&A


Gregory Viscusi
May 30, 2016
[Original Article]

French President Francois Hollande is facing the most serious public unrest since he came to office four years ago. Most of the country’s refineries have been on strike for a week. Protesters have blockaded refineries and fuel depots, causing shortages and long lines at gasoline stations. Air traffic controllers and electrical workers have joined in. And the turmoil has exacerbated a labor dispute already underway at the national railroad.

While the French have stoically gone on with their lives, some protests have turned violent: a police car was torched on the streets of Paris May 18. This week, railroad workers, Paris transport employees and air-traffic controllers plan to strike, and some unions are threatening to disrupt the 24-nation Euro 2016 soccer tournament that begins June 10.

Aren’t workers in France always on strike? What’s different?

The ostensible cause of these disruptions, the most extensive since 2010, is a law loosening up some of the country’s rigid labor rules. The standoff has undermined Hollande, already the most unpopular president in French history, less than a year before the next presidential election. A Socialist, he came to office in 2012 with the support of unions, many of whose members now feel betrayed by his attempts to loosen labor protection.

What do you mean, labor protection?

Labor law in France is governed by the “Code du Travail,” an almost 4,000-page tome that covers everything from bathroom breaks to the size of windows in office. Layoffs can take years and require expensive payouts. The 35-hour work week, introduced in 2000 by a previous Socialist government, has further complicated the rules. France’s unemployment rate has hovered at about 10 percent for three years, and organizations from the International Monetary Fund to the European Commission have urged a loosening of the rules. Germany did so in the mid-2000s and unemployment there is now 4.5 percent. Even one-time laggards such as Spain and Italy are now outperforming France on job creation after liberalizing their labor markets.

So what’s the government doing about it ?

Parties from the left and the right, when they’ve governed the country, have acknowledged that France’s labor laws are too rigid while shying away from major changes. Campaigning in 2012, Hollande ran to the left, saying “finance is my enemy” and as president setting a 75 percent tax on high incomes. Then, after appointing Manuel Valls as prime minister in 2014, his government cut payroll and income taxes and pushed for looser labor regulations. Valls presented the so-called El Khomri law — named after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri — last February.

Hasn’t the government watered down the bill?

Yes, after protests in March. For instance, a proposed limit on severance pay was cut. That’s why some major unions support the legislation in its current form (more on that later). One controversial element remains: a provision that would allow companies to ignore sector labor agreements (say, an accord that applies to all auto workers). Instead, they could negotiate contracts directly with their own employees. In addition, the bill would lower the minimum extra pay workers receive for working overtime.

While the ability to negotiate deals at the company level was a key part of the German labor reforms of the early 2000s, many employees in France could face lower earnings if the bill becomes law.

I can see how unions wouldn’t like that

Indeed, the CGT union, by some measures France’s largest and the leader of the protests, wants the bill scrapped entirely. It’s backed by Force Ouvriere, the third-largest.

Not all are opposed. The CFDT, France’s largest union by membership (but second to the CGT in elected company representatives), supports the bill in its current form. So does the CFE-CGC, which mostly represents white-collar workers.

It’s not just about the provisions of the law. Valls and his economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, have angered some segments of public opinion, and even some of their party’s own members, with their handling of the bill. The measure was presented earlier this year without any negotiations with unions, and with little explanation. Then when faced with a potentially rowdy parliamentary debate, the premier pushed it through by decree. The measure will be debated in the Senate starting June 13, and Valls has said repeatedly that he won’t consider withdrawing the law.

Don’t governments always give in to France’s unions?

Less and less. And that’s one reason the CGT is digging in its heels. A similar wave of strikes and gas shortages in 2010 failed to stop the government from raising the retirement age by two years. And strikes in 2014 failed to stop a reorganization of the national railroad. “The CGT wants to mark out its territory — they need to show their followers they can be winners,” said Claude Didry, a researcher at Ecole Normale Superieure of Cachan near Paris who just published a book called “The Institution of Work: a History of Labor Law.”

Even though they still play a key role in negotiating labor contracts in France, unions have never been weaker. Only about eight percent of French workers belong to one, compared with 11 percent in the U.S. and 18 percent in Germany, according to the OECD. The CGT, which grew out of the French Communist Party, had 4 million members in 1948 and has 700,000 now.

How does the French public feel?

France has a long tradition of supporting, or at least tolerating, public protests. According to a May 29 Ifop poll for Journal du Dimanche, 46 percent of respondents want the law withdrawn, 40 percent want it modified and only 13 percent want it to pass in its current form. In a poll for Le Parisien newspaper by Odoxa, 61 percent of those answering said the government was responsible for the escalating nature of the strikes, while 37 percent said it was “the irresponsibility of radical unions.” Two-thirds said the government had handled the situation badly.

How’s the French economy coping?

The strikes come just as output is showing some signs of life — jobless claims have fallen for two consecutive months to their lowest in more than a year — and Valls has warned the protests could derail the recovery. Business organizations issued a joint statement last week saying the fuel shortages were harming growth. An association that represents small- and medium-sized companies last week said 58 percent of its members were having trouble making deliveries and 47 percent had difficulty getting supplied.

Still, economists say the impact of the strike on growth will probably be minimal. Larger businesses have the capacity to mute their effect, and lost output can be made up later. Police last week broke up blockades at fuel depots and the government dipped intostrategic reserves, improving supply at gas stations. The general strike of 1995, which lasted about a month and was much more widely supported than the current action, wiped about 0.05 percentage point off of annual growth that year.

So how will all this end? What does it mean for France?

Hollande has supported his prime minister, saying that one union can’t make the law. Valls did say in interviews over the weekend that he was open to “modifications” and “improvements,” as long as companies remained able to negotiate their own contracts. Valls “will soften the labor bill to prevent strikes from spreading to other unions” but “these modifications are unlikely to alter the ‘philosophy’ of this already heavily diluted bill,” Eurasia Group said in a note to clients. The Journal du Dimanche newspaper said the government might make concessions on unrelated labor disputes, such as at the national railroads, to undermine union opposition to the labor law.

One factor working in the government’s favor: French strikes aren’t as fearsome as they once were. Thanks to declining union membership and a 2007 law requiring minimum service for public transport, recent work stoppages have caused nuisances for commuters without bringing transport to a standstill.

A British vote to leave the E.U. could shatter the United Kingdom

Washington Post

Griff Witte – May 30th
[Original Article]

 When Scotland voted in an independence referendum in September 2014, nationalist leaders pitched it as a once-in-a-generation chance to break a three-
century-old bond.

But less than two years after Scots opted to remain in the United Kingdom, the specter of secession again looms over the lush green expanse of the British isles. The trigger this time is another referendum with existential impact: next month’s vote on whether to leave the European Union.

If Britain chooses to ditch the E.U. despite a vote to stay from the Euro-friendly Scots, nationalist leaders here say they will revive the push for an independent nation in order to keep Scotland inside Europe. And they think that the second time around, they would win.

“Pulling Scotland out of the European Union against our will would be a change in material circumstances,” said Alex Sal­mond, who led the campaign for independence in 2014 and now represents Scotland in the British Parliament.

In Peterborough, 45-minutes north of London, anti-E.U. sentiment runs strong. A large part of the discontent is the mass influx of Eastern European immigrants that residents say has transformed the ancient market town. 

In that scenario, he said, there will be “a referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years. And this time, the result would be ‘yes.’ ”

The potential for a British breakup as fallout from the June 23 referendum underscores just how much is at stake when the country decides whether to become the first nation to withdraw from the 28-member E.U.

A shock to the global economy, a rupture in the Western alliance and a change in occupancy at 10 Downing Street are all possible consequences of a British vote to leave — popularly known as “Brexit.”

The very existence of Great Britain could also be on the line.

British Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly offered the public a direct say over the country’s E.U. membership for much the same reason he acceded to the Scottish call for an independence vote in 2014: He thought it was the only way to settle the fundamental questions at the heart of British identity. Is the United Kingdom part of Europe or not? Is it one nation or more?

But the potential for a British exit from the E.U. to reawaken the push for Scottish independence reflects just how much Cameron’s strategy may have backfired. Instead of laying the issues to rest, critics say, he may have unleashed the age of the “neverendum” — a prolonged period of turbulence that does not stop until the public votes to take Britain out of Europe and split Scotland from the United Kingdom.

“In order to put these questions to bed for a generation, you need a vote of 60-40,” said Menzies Campbell, a veteran Scottish member of Parliament who supports keeping Scotland in Britain and Britain in the E.U. “If the losing side gets 45 [percent], they’re not going to give up.”

That was what pro-independence Scots won in the 2014 vote. Since then, their side has delivered a pair of electoral thumpings: The Scottish National Party won by huge margins in both the 2015 British parliamentary elections and in the Scottish parliamentary contests this month, suggesting that the appetite for independence has hardly ebbed. Opinion polls show that Scotland would be about evenly divided if the independence vote were re-run today.

If Britain chooses to leave the E.U. next month — despite Scottish objections — that could tilt the balance in the nationalists’ favor, reinforcing divisions between north and south.

The visceral anti-E.U. sentiment that runs through English politics can hardly be found north of Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient stone fortification that bisected Britain during Roman times. Polls show a decisive advantage for the “in” campaign in Scotland, while England flirts with “out.”

The reasons for the difference are both historical and contemporary. Scotland has long had a close affiliation with continental Europe, going so far as to side with the French in wars against the English. As citizens of a small nation, Scots see membership in a broader European community as a comfort; the English are more likely to see rival power centers on the continent as a threat.

“There’s an emotional connection between Scotland and Europe,” Campbell said. “We’ve never had the residual antagonism toward Europe that has been maintained in England.”

But perhaps the most important reason for the split in opinion is immigration.

In crowded England — which makes up nearly 85 percent of the U.K. population but only about half the land — many people regard arrivals from elsewhere in Europe under the E.U.’s free-movement rules as an unwelcome burden. In sparsely populated Scotland — the entire population of 5 million is roughly equal to the inner boroughs of London — there is plenty of room for newcomers.

“Scotland is not full up,” Salmond said. “We’re much more like America of 100 years ago than the England of today.”

Scotland is not the only place in the United Kingdom where next month’s referendum threatens to bring politically destabilizing consequences. Welsh leaders, who tend to be pro-E.U., have said a British vote to abandon the union could spark a constitutional crisis. In Northern Ireland, where a tenuous peace has held for nearly two decades, a vote to leave would add a new line of partition to the Emerald Isle, with the Republic of Ireland inside the E.U. and the counties of Northern Ireland outside it.

Analysts have warned that such division could hinder the economy, prompt renewed border controls and revive dangerous levels of sectarianism.

In an echo of the nationalist push in Scotland, Catholic leaders in the generally pro-European north say that if Britain opts to leave the E.U., there should be a referendum on the reunification of Ireland.

Surveys suggest that Protestant voters would block any such move and keep Northern Ireland inside the United Kingdom. The polls in Scotland are far less clear, but the determination of nationalists to hold another referendum is not.

“The nationalists will use any justification to call another vote,” said Ross Thomson, a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament who is among the few elected officials in Scotland campaigning for Brexit. “It doesn’t have to be the E.U. They’ll just do it when the polls look good.”

Other Brexit advocates who favor keeping Scotland inside the U.K. say they do not think the E.U. matters enough to Scottish voters to make a difference in an independence vote.

“It’s very soft support,” said Robert Malyn, a pro-Brexit campaigner who was handing out fliers one recent afternoon at the central train station in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. “The E.U. is not loved enough to be a red line.”

The lack of enthusiasm is reflected in the difference between this campaign and the one in 2014. During the run-up to the independence vote, all of Scotland — from the Gothic back alleys of Edinburgh to the remote valleys of the Highlands — seemed bathed in the dueling paraphernalia of the “no” and “yes” camps. Signs hung from storefronts, buttons peeked out from jacket lapels, and fierce debates erupted nightly in pubs and across dinner tables.

This time, there is virtually no visible evidence that in less than a month, Scotland — and the United Kingdom — will be making such a consequential choice.

“The E.U. is such a big institution, and it seems far away from everybody. It’s a hard thing to get your head around,” said Jonny Ross-Tatam, president of the students association at the University of Edinburgh.

Still, Ross-Tatam has been making the case among his fellow students for why it matters to stay in the E.U. If Britain leaves, he said, research funding would be jeopardized and students could lose their ability to live, work and study across the continent.

“We can go to Sweden, Germany or France and not pay anything in tuition,” he said. “This vote is one of the biggest decisions that our generation is going to have to make.”

That is what campaigners on both sides told Scots in the lead-up to the 2014 referendum. But these days, such monumental decisions are coming often — and there could be another one looming.

Indeed, Salmond said that a second independence referendum will be held sooner or later, regardless of which way Britain votes next month.

“Independence is inevitable,” he said. “We’re just debating time scale now.”

Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

Pope’s Europe Speech a Boost to Anti-Brexit Campaign

EU leaders pleased that Pope Francis called for European unity, not division.

Original article can be found here:


VATICAN CITY — Nigel Baker has a reputation in the Vatican for being an efficient British ambassador to the Holy See. He had plenty of reason to celebrate on Friday as it appeared that his political message had made it all the way up to Pope Francis.

The Pontiff on Friday gave a speech on Europe that the bloc’s leaders hope will convince citizens — including Brits — that the EU is worth fighting for, according to senior EU officials.

The high-profile audience was a sign of the influence a Papal word has in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was present as were Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi and several heads of state, from Spain’s King Felipe to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė.

“The Pope’s speech impressed me enormously,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz told reporters after the ceremony. “He spoke truth about Europe.”

And, thankfully for Schulz, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk, the Pope refrained from criticizing the EU institutions’ representatives who were there to praise him as he was awarded the Charlemagne Prize for “work done on the European unification.”

Baker’s mission was clear: Don’t let the Pope give ammunition to the pro-Brexit campaign. The wider concern of the EU institutions’ presidents, according to aides, was: Don’t let the Pope speak about the bloc being weak and unable to tackle the tough issues, migration included.

During the ceremony in the Apostolic Palace’s 16th century Sala Regia, Pope Francis delivered a speech that was in line with the critical line he had previously taken on Europe’s policies, but with a softer message that leaders were pleased to hear.

“What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?” the Pope asked. “What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”

Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he delivers his 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing message from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica at the end of the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican | Franco Origlia/Getty Images

“I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter,” the Pope said. The reference to Europe as “a mother” was an improvement on a speech he gave to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 2014, when he called Europe “a grandmother, no longer fertile.”
Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he delivers his ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing message from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica at the end of the Easter Mass on April 5, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican | Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Schulz said he interpreted the speech as criticism of those in Europe who thought migration was a German problem, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and those who would not allow Muslims to come to their “Christian” country, such as Slovakia’s Robert Fico.

The Pope, who had brought 12 Syrian Muslims back with him from a recent trip to the Greek island of Lesvos, said he dreamt “of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.”

After the speeches were over, Juncker told journalists he would make sure the Pope’s remarks would be heard all across Europe. Slovak and Hungarian translations of the Pope’s words had been prepared, an official traveling with the president said, in a clear dig at Orbán and Fico.

The Commission president stressed that “Europe is more than institutions, indicators or processes.” Europe, he said, was for the young. “Europe is the student studying abroad under the Erasmus network” that is said to have led to “one million marriages.”

“We will hear more from him [Juncker] about the young in the coming weeks”, an EU official said. “The young generation in the U.K. is the most convinced of Europe, data show.”

However, there were no young Brits in the Vatican to hear him speak, but plenty of Germans.

Here’s How to Make Ukraine’s Reforms Irreversible

April 23, 2016 BY HANNA HOPKO

Original article can be found here:

Atlantic Council




We live in a time of transformations: today, we decide which Ukraine our children will live in tomorrow. But a new Ukraine will be hard to achieve unless citizens with no connections to the old system take action and begin controlling the government and thinking long-term.

In 2013, Ukrainians protested to demonstrate that there was no way back to the Soviet Union; they stopped the Kremlin’s plan to drag Ukraine into the Customs Union. The Maidan proved that Ukraine is a European state with a thousand-year history, not a vassal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian empire.

In 2014, Ukrainians fought for dignity. They ousted the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych and took the first steps to demolish the old power monopoly. But ultimately power was seized by those who had already squandered their chance to build a strong state immediately after the Orange Revolution. The Maidan activists lacked political experience, time, and the ambition to create a political force of their own; as a result, the post-Maidan parliament was formed by ad-hoc political projects that co-opted civil society activists as “new faces” that could connect the old-turned-new parties with the electorate. But new political brands did not bring new procedures, approaches, and rules to the political game. Business as usual prevailed.

In 2015, we laid the foundation for reforms to ensure that the country’s changes were irreversible and political revanchism impossible. We accomplished a lot: the international community declared Russia an aggressor state, the Rada adopted decommunization laws, and some bills targeting oligarchs (like the law on the gas market) were adopted. The database of real estate owners became open, the law on public broadcasting was adopted, and Russian propaganda was prohibited in Ukraine.

But without strong institutions and new professional cadres, the system is hard to change. We failed to implement judicial reforms, only imitated changes for the offices of the Prosecutor General and the Interior Ministry, and the reforms to Ukraine’s tax and customs administrations were largely cosmetic. Institutional reforms did begin at the parliament, but archaic Cabinet of Ministers regulations prolonged the red tape and impeded reforms. It remains to be seen whether the law on civil service will produce any tangible results.

Additionally, the ongoing struggle among Ukraine’s elites complicates the already difficult task of reform as Ukraine tries to gain full independence from Russia in the energy, military, information, and economic sectors.

The year 2016 will be like crossing the Rubicon. Will Ukraine get a visa-free regime with the EU? Will it be able to convince its partners to extend sanctions on Russia? Will there be progress in regaining Ukraine’s control over the Donbas and the Ukrainian-Russian border? Will stability be preserved?

To achieve those goals, Ukraine needs a team of mature politicians for whom the interests of the state stand above all. But the last two years have demonstrated that a national team is still a dream for the future. Professional and honest politicians who are keen on implementing reforms are not yet a majority even within their political parties. They cannot win over tight-knit corrupt businessmen and the oligarchs’ various nominees, all of whom continue their behind-the-scenes deals.

Recently I chatted with some fellow politicians during a break in a TV program at one of the national channels. They attempted to convince me that as the new parliamentary coalition is unstable and trust in the current parliament has been exhausted, the time is ripe for snap parliamentary elections. Only elections, they argued, will help new leaders ensure elite turnover.

Their personal interest is clear, but who can guarantee that a newly-elected parliament would be a better one? We can’t be certain of its higher professionalism, as there are no real political parties, the oligarchs continue to control the TV channels, populists are on the rise, and people’s apathy is growing due to disappointment and mistrust.

Ukraine’s new cabinet was formed on April 14, but this is not a government of reformers. Instead, it is one of loyalists, members of a narrow circle of trusted cadres who keep a monopoly on power.

As people’s dissatisfaction grows, the crisis is likely to deepen. It is high time to change these approaches and stop living by the old rules. Yes, politics requires compromises, but not a total eclipse of principles and values. Ukrainians want to see real changes, not pseudo-reforms that only increase frustration and heighten the protest mood among voters.

Putin thinks the Ukrainian political class still lacks defenders of the national interest and that he turned many into Russia allies. He anticipates that his agents will rock the boat and stir up anger through the skillful application of patriotic and populist rhetoric, and hopes that disunity and the inclination to find three hetmans among two Ukrainians will cause them to fail.

The current political crisis demonstrates that Ukrainians do not need Putin in order to quarrel with each other and waste this historical moment. Is it Putin’s fault that our political leaders perceive Ukraine to be their private company? Is it Putin’s fault that the Prosecutor General has not opened a single criminal case against his subordinates, the so-called “diamond prosecutors”? Did our heroes and patriots give their lives at the Maidan and in eastern Ukraine for this?

Ukrainians must get engaged; they must speak up and start controlling the government with an understanding that even under the best-case scenario, real changes and results will only be seen by their children. We should not succumb to sweet populist promises that pensions in Ukraine will grow to 500 euro the day after they come to power. It only takes five percent of a population to constitute a critical mass capable of changing a society. The challenge before us is to find and bring them together, and then to harness their energy and political will. That’s how an active minority wakes up a passive majority, and that’s what we’ve decided to do in Ukraine.

Together with a team of activists—many from the Euromaidan—as well as experts, entrepreneurs, and analysts, liberal reformers in parliament have begun developing a horizontal network of new leaders who will ensure civic support for reforms. In just two months, we have identified numerous regional activists who have joined the “Switch On” initiative and started searching for specific approaches to regional problems, such as the lack of competition in business, lack of transparency in the allocation of land by local councils, and lack of information about local budgets. Together with Rada deputies, these activists make unexpected visits to governors’ and mayors’ offices, to the cabinets of local deputies, and to the managers of communal enterprises to start face-to-face dialogues on how to turn the reform process around.

Only horizontal ties between us, rather than the old vertical patron-client connections with the oligarchs and other political “bosses,” can ensure the development of Ukraine’s civil society. We need a critical mass of active communities to guarantee the victory of a revolution of justice and effective implementation of the laws. We need to involve citizens to develop a mature political force, not just another one-day political brand to win the next elections. Let’s speak up!

Hanna Hopko is a member of Ukraine’s parliament and chair of its foreign affairs committee.


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