thepoliticultblog

Random and sporadic political insight

The Awkward Partner

The British relationship with the EU could never be described as trouble free. Since 1973 groups within Britain have been critical of the UK’s role within the European Union. The last 10 years has seen “Anti EU sentiment (grow) in many member states” (Baker,2001), Britain has often spearheaded EU criticism: with a nationwide perception that the organisation is both overly-bureaucratic and biased against the wishes of the UK. This debate is reaching a feverous heat that will culminate in the referendum of June 23rd. I will highlight the key reasons why membership is ultimately preferable for Britain whilst identifying the adverse political effects the organisation has had on the ability of Westminster to govern with absolute sovereignty. Moreover, I shall determine whether EU membership has been beneficial to the British economy, with analytical emphasis on (1)Trade, (2) Investment and (3)Agricultural Policy. Furthermore, it is vital to situate the current crisis within the history of EU integration and particualrly Britain’s relationship with the community over the last 60 years.

Before British membership of the EEC was cemented in 1973, the 6 primary nations of the EEC followed policies that attempted to collectively undermine British industry. There was a perception on the continent that the British were not European, or rather that they would not fit into the collective European system. French president Charles De Gaulle’s refusal to approve British membership in 1963 & 1967 (BBC,1967) highlights the early collective mistrust of British commitment to the EEC. Originally there was a belief that Britain would represent American interests in Europe whilst remaining sceptical towards the European project(Haughton,2015), as they had been in the 1950s. It has been suggested that De Gaulle was simply using the membership process to “reassert French greatness” (Haughton, 2015), however some of his scepticism was not unfounded. While membership of the EEC in 1973 changed the technicality of Anglo/European relations, many of the policies remained disadvantageous towards Britain, most importantly the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As a result, British commitment did not increase dramatically, as Dinan highlights; “The difficulties of dealing with Britain in the EC, not only under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s but also under previous and succeeding governments, seem to bear out de Gaulle’s point.”(Dinan, 2004). The imperfect early history of Anglo/European relations and lack of British commitment are contextually vital when understanding the mentality of Britain in dealing with modern European problems and potential ‘Brexit’.

A persistent problem regarding the British-EU relationship has been the Common Agricultural Policy. It is important to note that the CAP was originally created to ensure food security among member states whilst providing farmers with adequate prices. Traditionally CAP has been the EU’s largest expenditure and it continues to absorb “€57 billion per year, that is, more than 40% of the EU budget” (Zarhnt,pg.2). Unfortunately, Britain joined the EEC in the “crisis years” (Cini et Borragan, 2016 p.310) of the Common Agricultural Policy and it has typically not reaped the benefits of farming subsidies in the same way France did and Eastern European countries do presently. In fact, De Gaulle’s view that Britain would oppose many of the principles of CAP was a factor when he vetoed the UK in the 1960s, as Dinan states “allowing Britain to join in the early 1960s would in all likelihood have thwarted the CAP” (Dinan,2004). This is due to the structuring of the agricultural industry within Britain being vastly different from the less efficient farms typical of other member states(formerly France). By the time Britain joined the EEC, the community was “experiencing problems of overproduction, caused when supply of agricultural produce outstrips demand” (Cini and Borragan,2016 p.310). These problems increased throughout the 80’s, with the EU accumulating “notional butter mountains and wine lakes” (Politics,2011). The reforms of ’92,’99 and 2003 helped to reduce these problems, replacing farm subsidies with direct payments. However, Britain remains a net contributor to this policy, receiving “relatively little money from the CAP, because of its smaller agricultural sector” (Politics,2011). Due to disproportionate allocation of annual funds to this policy, the failings of CAP in securing British farmers subsidies and payments is one of the strongest arguments for a British exit.

While there are certainly disadvantages of the CAP, Boel argues that CAP brings valuable benefits in an uncertain global market, stating ; “In the face of climate change, global political and food insecurity, the volatility of global market prices and the resurgence of health crises, only an ambitious, continent-wide policy can safeguard Europe’s independence” (Boel cited in Zarhnt,2011 pg.4) . EU membership is vital to ensure that supply levels remain consistent to meet demands, ensuring that agriculture is not left exposed to potential crisis. Boel believes that CAP is the correct safeguard needed by European farmers as she maintains ; “if we leave agriculture too exposed, we’re gambling with the security of our food supply” (Zarhnt,2011 pg.4). If Britain left the EU, it would not have the same insurance over its agricultural industry as it now does within Europe. Furthermore, the price support system remains a positive; allowing a target price to be reached by British farmers, who would typically receive pittance for their produce. While it is certain Britain does not directly benefit from CAP’s farming subsidies in the way other members do, the standardisation and market security provided by a continental agricultural policy helps keep the British farming industry secure and food production constant.

Europe’s maintenance of policies that do not necessarily favour the UK, such as CAP or bloc trade deals, help to fuel one of the most repeated criticisms of the EU. National Sovereignty is a value that is often emphasised by those who wish to be rid of the European community, there is a “strong belief across the political spectrum that parliamentary sovereignty is a symbol of liberty and ‘Britishness’” (Baker,2001 p.277). British membership of the EU forces the UK to conform to Brussels’ regulations and policies despite the interest of national politicians. Gifford believes that “British national sovereignty is the key to understanding the problematic aspects of the UK’s relationship with the European Union” (Gifford,2010 p.322). Indeed, Eurosceptic’s have used the argument to accuse Brussels of being undemocratic and bureaucratic. While the organization may be bureaucratic, many EU scholars believe that this idea of national sovereignty is an outdated notion. Britain will never have national sovereignty as it did in the early 20th century. This is due to the changing nature of global politics, hyper-globalization that has been accentuated by capitalism and post cold war power structures. While it is comforting for politicians to talk in patriotic platitudes regarding ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ and ‘power to the people’ , in reality Brussels has played an important role in forcing British governmental conformity on issues of human rights and environmental policy(Golub,1996). While there are examples of the ECJ ruling against Britain, notably the Factortame cases, the notion of ‘regaining sovereignty’ is false, “with the core executive securing most of the de facto sovereignty by the end of the nineteenth century” (Baker,2001 p.277). It is vital to understand that the public perception of an overly bureaucratic Europe that fights against patriotic British politicians is far from the truth. Removing Britain from Europe would remove many regulations on working conditions, such as the Working Time Regulations 1998 (HSE,2016) and would likely be detrimental for the majority of citizens.

In regards to sovereignty, the perception of what the government can do in response to European legislation is again far from reality. The Subsidiarity principle (Article 5(3) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) (Europa,2016) allows member states to protect their right to legislate over areas that they deem separate from EU jurisdiction. Originally enshrined in the Maastricht treaty, subsidiarity; “makes clear that national policy choice should be constrained only when EU action is clearly better and more efficient” (Golub,1996 p.691). Clauses such as this allow for freedom of interpretation within the organisation, whilst ensuring conformity when necessary. Reform within the EU is something that could be beneficial to the UK and using such clauses would allow Britain to reap increased benefits from the community. Unfortunately, an exit from the community would completely remove any possibility of benefits for the UK. Regarding the issue of sovereignty, it seems that the ‘exit’ campaign uses the concept of ‘loss of sovereignty’ as a scare tactic, ensuring that the EU remains vilified. In actuality, while there are areas of legislative clash, the EU forces moderation, on a nation whose core executive continues to gain more de facto power over a parliamentary system that has lost the ability to check the power of the cabinet.

There are undoubtedly significant economic benefits of British European Union membership, namely the amount of Foreign Direct Investment that the UK receives due to its status as an EU member. The Treasury believes that the EU contributed directly to FDI by “reducing access costs to a larger market, enabling greater economies of scale and returns on investment” (Gov,2004 p.1). With this in mind, it would prudent to assume that the EU acts as a fiscal incentive to foreign investors looking to move into the UK market. Importantly ,“economic literature suggests that market size is strongest driver of FDI” (Gov,2004 p.3), this would suggest that Britain receives increased FDI due to its ability to act as an “export platform”(Gov,2004 p.3) to European markets that would be less accessible to Foreign investors due to higher tariffs on goods. If Britain decided to remove itself from the EU, it would be reducing the size of the host market, therefore reducing the incentives for potential investors. Moreover, since 1999, “The EU has been the UK’s most important FDI relationship” (Gov,2004 p.1) and it is likely that this investment would not remain at 46% of total FDI (Gov,2004) if the UK took the decision to leave the union. The basic economic premise of the EU, a common market of free trade, allows member states to benefit from investment in fellow member states. Leaving the EU reduces the benefit to EU countries investing in Britain; probably leading to a decline in EU investment. To ensure that horizontal FDI remains high, Britain must remain in an open European market. In counter, Eurosceptic’s often talk of commonwealth trade replacing EU trade , however it is unlikely that such trade would reach the same level (mainly due to the geographical location of many commonwealth countries); Europe’s proximity to the UK make them our obvious trading partners and therefore it is evident that the maintenance of a healthy financial relationship is vital for British growth.

Increased Foreign Direct investment is just one way in which the common market has helped the British economy. The standardisation of prices, negotiating of trade deals and free movement of people are all advantages of EU membership. The EU has 50 free trade agreements or equivalents working in force today (Europa,2016). A Brexit would force Britain to renegotiate existing free trade agreements independently. This would likely result in deals that are less beneficial due to the size of the British economy being significantly smaller than its European counterpart. Moreover, rewriting numerous trade deals would not only take time, but resources in a move full of unnecessary economic risk.

Exit from the common market would also reduce the skilled workforce available to British companies, potentially reducing growth further. Mobility of labour has been described as “one of the key drivers of GDP growth”(Glennie et al, 2014 p.3) by The IPPR and LSE analyst Adrian Favell believes that Britain is “one of the main beneficiaries from the free movement of labour” (Favell,2014). The anti-immigration sentiment that has risen since the 2004 EU enlargement is totally misplaced. Losing the mobility of labour would be disastrous for the 1.26 million Brits living in the EU (Croucher,2015) as well as reducing potential productivity. While jobs that may have gone to British workers are lost to their European counterparts, this is simply due to levels of productivity; it is natural that the worker who can bring specialised skills to the workplace “might push out existing employees who are less productive”(Radcliffe, N/A). From an economic perspective, the mobility of labour allows for faster, more effective national growth; whilst allowing British workers to seek employment in countries where there is a deficit of skilled labour.

EU membership remains vital in the modern world, It is easy to overlook many of the benefits reaped by the UK simply because they do not directly correlate to EU membership. Specifically, it is difficult to measure foreign direct investment in a way that predicts the impact a British exit would have on the national market. I maintain that the benefits received from the organisation, whether they are economic (such as the common market) or political (such as the moderating of national policy), far outweigh the negatives. In essence, Britain cannot afford to leave the EU, it will result in reduced economic growth, an increase in overbearing executive power and isolation from the continent we are inexorably part of.

 

 

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Why does Japanese Nationalism Matter?

This year has been no exception to the recent trend of increasing nationalistic sentiment: the end of 2013 provided an incendiary culmination to political proceedings, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, a commemoration of those who died in military service for Japan including 14 Class-A war criminals, ending a year of increasing tensions between Japan and its neighbours, particularly China and South Korea. This visit sparked criticism not only from these two countries, but also, rarely, the United States. Throughout his most recent tenure as Prime Minister, Xi Jinping, China’s president, has refused to meet Abe due to his nationalist views, evidence of Sino-Japanese relations deteriorating. This visit to Yasukuni has proved to be only the beginning of growing nationalism, with this year providing a number of controversies. Early in the year, there were calls to revise the 1993 statement of then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that apologised for Japan’s creation of military brothels, using Korean and Chinese women who were forced into becoming “comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. A record 168 lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine during a spring festival, once again provoking the ire of China and Korea. In July Abe reinterpreted the post-war Constitution to allow for “collective self-defence” a departure from the original article of the 1947 Constitution that states “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”, and the convention since then of having a Self-Defence Force for the sole purpose of repelling invasions of Japanese territory.

 

Abe’s reshuffle of his Cabinet of September also suggested a further shift towards the right, with the appointment of ministers such as Sanae Takaichi (one of the politicians who called for a revision of the Kono Statement) who, alongside Tomomi Inada has had to fight off allegations of neo-Nazi affiliations after pictures surfaced of the two with Kazunari Yamada, leader of the ultra-right wing Nationalist Socialist Japanese Workers Party. Inada has been controversial in her own right, having supported the 2007 film The Truth About Nanjing that denied that the Nanking Massacre ever occurred. Revisionist group Nippon Kaigi claimed that 15 of the 18 Cabinet members, including Prime Minister Abe, were affiliated with the group, who support much of the revisionism aforementioned, such as that regarding the Nanking Massacre and the use of comfort women. All things considered, it would appear evident that the Japanese Government is moving toward an increasingly nationalistic agenda: while they may not have officially revised the 1993 Kono Statement, the fact that it has been brought up in serious political discourse, and that one of the main drivers of the attempt to revisit it, Sanae Takaichi, has been made Internal Affairs Minister, suggests that it is no longer so ridiculous to challenge the previously accepted views of the actions and role of Japan in the Second World War.

 

The obvious question that follows is why does this matter? Increasing nationalist sentiment is a phenomenon that is growing in strength all over the world: in Britain UKIP have just won their first parliamentary seat, and in France Marine Le Pen’s Front National has been gaining further traction, as evidenced in the party’s victory in the most recent European elections. What is far more alarming in regards to Japan is not only the severity of their nationalism, but more significantly their use of nationalism with regards to the past, with nationalist revisionism proving toxic in terms of foreign affairs. Not only does nationalism fuel current political policy, such as the disputes over the uninhabited Senkaku islands, but the political involvement in historical revisionism has soured ties with all of Japan’s neighbours. In a poll of September 2013, 81% of those polled in Japan stated that they did not feel friendly towards China, and 58% said they did not feel friendly towards South Korea, indicating growing discontent in Japan. On the reverse, in March of 2014 a survey in Seoul that created an average rating of world leaders resulted in Shinzo Abe receiving a pitiful 1.1 (out of 10), made all the worse when compared to the 1.3 that the poll produced for Kim Jong Un. The increasing distrust between Japan and the two other major powers of South East Asia appear stranger when we consider the economic ties between them. Despite the weak social ties and the strained political negotiations, China receives 18.1% of Japanese exports, and South Korea receives 7.7%, being Japan’s first and third largest export markets. In September Japan recorded a 1.8% drop in the economy for the second quarter of the year, the largest decline for five years. Japan’s relations with South Korea and particularly China are now more important than ever if they wish to resolve the economic issues that are plaguing the country, leading to the decrease in GDP. These issues, if left unaddressed, threaten to worsen further as Japan looks to a future where the predominant age group will be pensioners, and a shrinking workforce due to low birth rates. As we look forward to an economic future that will heavily feature both China and the USA, Japan should be in an ideal position to maintain its current influence in the global economy, with geographical and historical connections to China, as well as post-war relations with America. Continuing on the path of nationalism threatens to destabilise this position, as China is radically opposed to the new political developments, and even the USA is now unwilling to condone elements of the nationalistic rhetoric and action, isolating Japan in a world where they should be surrounded by powerful economic and political allies.

The meteoric rise of Podemos

The European Elections of 2014 proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a large proportion of Europe is fed up with the EU and its supposed dominant influence in the political and economic affairs of its member states. Both France and England, who according to IMF statistics from 2013[1] make up 30% of the GDP of the EU, had their elections dominated by anti-Europe, far right parties, with UKIP taking a majority 27.5% vote (24 out of 73 seats) and in France, Marine La Pen’s Front National won with 24.85% of the vote, an 18.55% swing from 2009 that gave them 24 out of a total 74 seats. In Greece the rise of the far right was even more extreme (due to the severity of economic troubles) with the surge in popularity for the nations extreme-right, and what many have called Fascist party, Golden Dawn. In the 2014 European Elections, they won 3 of 21 seats, with 9.4% of the total vote. This is a party that has used the burning of American and Israeli flags as advertisements, and whose former leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos was imprisoned in association with the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas.

All over Europe the response to growing discontent with the EU has been the dominance of right-wing Eurosceptic parties on issues of euro-politics. However in Spain, a country with 25.6% unemployment[2], and 53.6% youth unemployment[3] the shock of the May 2014 European Election came from Podemos, a Left-wing party whose most prominent member Pablo Iglesias is a lecturer of Political Science at the Complutense University of Madrid, have an agenda that includes policies such as greater public control of the economy, “reclaiming the land” by switching to renewable energy sources and the promotion of public transport, and noticeably the promotion of “libertad”, “igualdad” and “fraternidad”, a direct translation of the “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, the national motto of France that has its origins in the French Revolution. While Podemos are not quite so rebellious (although they do promise to repeal the Treaty of Lisbon), they have seen an equally powerful surge to popularity, resulting in them winning 7.98% of the vote in the European elections, giving them 5 seats and their first foothold in party politics.

What makes this popularity even more incredible is that the party was conceptualised in January of 2014, and officially founded on March the 11th 2014, a mere 75 days before the European elections. To put this into perspective, the most recently formed party in the UK’s European election, An Independence From Europe was founded in 2012, and only won 1.43% of votes, gaining 0 seats. Every single seat in the UK was won by parties that have existed for 20 years or more, with UKIP being the most recently formed party in 1993.

The European elections of 2014 represented a landmark in Spanish politics. In 2009 the main two parties, PP (a centre-right party that is the incumbent Government) and PSOE (a centre-left party) won more than 80% of the vote, and 47 of a total 54 seats, but 2014 was the first time their joint share dropped below 50% in a national election in modern Spain[4], proving that Spain is moving into a time of multi-party politics.

So why has Podemos been so successful? Part of it is undeniably due to their willingness to engage with the electorate through new mediums. Podemos has used social media to target a huge swathe of the population: the unsatisfied youth, who feel that they have been neglected by the main parties. When we look at the twitter page of Podemos in comparison to that of PP or the PSOE, it is evident that Podemos is making gains. Podemos as of today has 356,000 followers, compared to only 158,000 for PP and 160,000 for PSOE. Podemos has managed to capture the young demographic in Spain: while they have more followers than either of the major parties, they have fewer tweets than them: compared to the PSOE they have less than half, evidence that those on social media are far more interested in what Podemos has to say. The young, and indeed many others, see Podemos as a reinvigoration of a Spanish politics that was going stale: both PP and the PSOE have had their chance at fixing the economy but neither has seen great success.

The future of Spanish politics seems to have been inexorably changed by the emergence of Podemos. Looking forward to the 2015 General Election Podemos seems to be continuing to succeed, although some see it as a limited duration protest party, with polls suggesting that as of early September, they hold as high as 16.3%[5] of the vote, a generous dent into the two party system, made even more evident when polls suggest that based on current predictions, they would win around 58 seats[6] out of 350, but more importantly they would remove a one-party majority, and perhaps even, in a move similar to the Liberal Democrats, become a part of a coalition, an unprecedented step towards a multi-party system for Spanish politics.

Alexander Russell

[1] http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2014/01/weodata/weorept.asp

[2] http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-01042014-AP/EN/3-01042014-AP-EN.PDF

[3] http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_PUBLIC/3-01042014-AP/EN/3-01042014-AP-EN.PDF

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-eu-27579898

[5] http://www.ncreport.es/images/Barometroelectoralnacionalverano2014.pdf

[6] http://www.larazon.es/documents/10165/0/video%288941%29.pdf

We are at heart, all egotistical

On Friday, many Britons will wake up to hear the news that Scotland has voted to either save the union or leave the UK after 307 years.  There are some left perplexed as to why the question is being raised and yet more are incredulous as to how the “Yes” vote has been so strong, trailing by merely 2 percentage points on Wednesday (Ipsos-MORI).  Having thought on this question, it dawns on me that essentially we are all egoists.  In England, we were ignorant of how close the race between Salmond and Darling would be, commenting, shrugging, “They won’t actually consider leaving us!”  This would be why such panic ensued: politicians, bankers and CEOs wading into the debate, as it’s dropped in a burning paper bag on their doorsteps in the form of an alarming YouGov poll.  They didn’t consider the thought of losing until it harshly became their problem and involved them.

Our egoism has left us caught-out on other occasions too.  As the situation in the Crimean Peninsula escalated, we (amongst other countries) warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that actions may have to be taken if he didn’t back down.  We expected one of the most powerful and aggressive rulers of the 21st Century to withdraw from territory he wanted, because we asked him to!  Russia was expelled from the (formerly) G8 in an effort to stop Putin’s desire for aggressive expansion and again, our delusions of self-grandeur let us down as Russia decided to ‘go it alone’ and we were left thinking, “but surely he can’t do anything without us as his ally”.  Political analysts suggested at the time that this made Obama, Cameron and others look weak and I think they’re right.  The leaders have been weak for years and the only disguise is their self-belief; often inflated.

Finally, Justin Webb summed up this egoism perfectly in a short anecdote, describing the furore after the “removal of a bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval office” that was sent to the British Embassy, upon Obama’s inauguration.  British newspapers headlined “Britain snubbed by the new President!” and “The special relationship sent packing in a cab!” perhaps indicating how self-inflated we are, as a nation.  The ‘special relationship’ between the USA and Britain had become legend and we had failed to even notice, because we expected them to want to have a good and ‘special’ alliance with us.  Webb recounts how a senior administration official said “we didn’t even know who it was…We thought it was Eisenhower”.

Our egoism has let us drift behind more powerful nations and left us looking weaker, having made serious misjudgements as to our own power and that of others.

Sebastian Cheetham

Acknowledgments:  Ipsos- MORI; Justin Webb – Notes on Them and Us 2011; YouGov.

Is the world tired of US politics?

With the upcoming midterms in November deciding the fate of the Obama administration, it will be interesting to see what will change as a result of a Republican controlled Congress.

The GOP, or parts of it, has moved further and further right with the creation of the Tea Party movement in 2009 spurring on calls for a more conservative RNC.  It seems that the party has become less open to accommodation than it was 30 years ago, with socially moderate conservatives such as Jeb Bush berating the far right of the party.  In a sense the party has become its own worst enemy, with claims from an exasperated Obama that it has become deliberately adversarial.  The system in which both parties operate has become completely polarised and it leaves American voters believing that neither party can make a difference without complete control of the executive and legislature.  From an outside perspective sometimes it looks as though the American people have accidentally let their squabbling toddlers seize control of their government and some of the blocks made during the Obama administration have seemed both unnecessary and childish.

Although I wouldn’t describe the younger generations of voters as apathetic, many of them now find other ways to be politically active such as joining pressure groups or through volunteerism. There is a growing mistrust of politicians and the federal government within the USA. As of late, it seems that the two parties compete over the same issues that they believe will sway the tired nation’s votes, taking opposite stances on the old favourites such as abortion or welfare. In fact what needs to happen for the federal government to be seen as ‘doing its job’ is for the parties to accommodate mutually agreeable ideas into legislation and pass bills that can be supported by people on both sides of the ideological pitch. I know that this is easier said than done but it seems that every man and his dog is tired of the tit for tat, back and forth, blocking of legislation that has occurred for too long. Presently one of the biggest obstacles of this is the far right of the Republican Party, the radicals who don’t seem to believe in compromise or negotiation unless it results in exactly what they are looking for. The Tea Party need to understand that politics is not a ‘winner takes all fight’. The primary function of government should be to accurately represent the interests of constituents from all over the country; both parties must start to understand that there is a wide electorate in America voting for different things. The aim should now be for the parties to find common ground rather than spend time sabotaging attempts at legislation whenever possible.

Oscar Gray