Tuesday 30 September 2014

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EP Hearings of Commissioners: Will MEPs claim any notable scalps?

Posted by on 28/09/14
By Open Europe On Monday we will see the first hearings of European Commission nominees by the European Parliament committees responsible for their respective policy areas. MEPs are not able to strike down individual Commissioners but they do have a veto over the Commission as a whole. Which nominees are in the Parliament's cross hairs?

Suck it and See: Scotland and after

Posted by on 22/09/14

Winning the referendum on Scottish independence has thrown the British Establishment into a mighty tither. Only the Queen, whose mother was a Scot, emerges with dignity intact.

Not that things would have been very much calmer if the answer had been Yes rather than No. The fact is that without a written constitution to regulate referenda – their frequency, their threshold, and their mandate – the still United Kingdom (sUK) has no systematic method other than party politics to deal with constitutional change.

Reforms with profound consequences for the vitality of democracy and the efficacy of government to produce public goods are being made on the hoof, in a haphazard and even irresponsible way. There is no precedent for a Convention, at least in England. A simple majority vote in the House of Commons, with no threshold, is deemed sufficient to tamper with the constitution.

So it is to this partisan muddle that the country must now look for constitutional reform. As none of Britain’s seven political parties are in favour of doing nothing with the constitution, we must conclude that the status quo is not an option.

One need not be optimistic. Even Tony Blair’s reformist government with a large Commons’ majority managed few constitutional reforms: the removal of a number of aristocrats from the House of Lords; the creation of parliaments with limited legislative and budgetary powers in Edinburgh and in Cardiff; the election of two fairly eccentric Mayors of London; and the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The coalition government since 2010 has failed on almost all counts: a botched referendum on a non-proportional electoral system for the Commons; a failed reform Bill for the House of Lords; and, worst of all, an EU Act in 2011 whose main effect is to impose a referendum on the hapless public about continued membership of the EU, possibly as soon as 2017.

The flight to referenda is the desperate recourse of political parties having lost the will or capacity to face up to informed and decisive debate at Westminster. Populism, however, is no guarantee of democratic legitimacy, as Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (and many others) could aver. Plebiscites are good at shaking up the established order but seldom of any use whatsoever in settling complex constitutional issues.

There was no more futile claim made by either side in the Scotland campaign than their insistence that the vote last Thursday was the final decision about Scotland’s membership of the UK. As early as Friday, after losing by 45% to 55%, Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist leader, was talking seductively of the prospect of another future referendum. Even David Cameron spoke of having only settled the matter ‘in this generation’. It certainly cannot be ignored that Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire, has voted to leave the United Kingdom. Twitter had soon converted the Better Together slogan of the ‘No thanks’ campaign to Bitter Together. Salmond and his likely successor Nicola Sturgeon pointedly missed a service of reconciliation in Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral. I guess a generation in politics is about one decade long.

Cameron might have seen off Salmond, who resigned later that same day, but he has not satisfied that (large) part of his own Tory party which now marches to the beat of UKIP’s drum. The Prime Minister’s proposal immediately to exclude Scottish MPs from voting on ‘English’ matters at Westminster hardly smacked of magnanimity in victory. It is a wonderful conceit shared by many in London that a change in the rules of procedure of the Commons amounts to radical and durable constitutional reform.

It is interesting to consider the future of the UK in the light of what has happened in Belgium. Belgium’s national problem is not identical to Britain’s, of course, and is complicated by a sectarian language issue that does not affect Anglo-Scottish relations. But Belgium’s answer has been, over the years, to install and then tweak a federal system of government under a constitutional monarch who is a Saxe-Coburg-Gotha cousin of Queen Elisabeth II. Today, Belgium’s federated kingdom serves to accommodate the jealousies of its component regions and the competing claims of its political parties. What dominates the media day-by-day in Belgium is not so much the confrontation between Flanders and Wallonia but the politics and the politicians of the country’s big cities: Ghent, Antwerp, Liege, Charleroi and Brussels. Decentralisation in Belgium is the mundane political, economic and social reality. It is a bit costly and surely complex, and nobody fools themselves that the national problem is ‘settled’ for good.

There are lessons to be learned here for the UK. When self-government was invented in Flanders under Spanish tutelage, the English and the Scots sat up and took notice. They should do so again. Britain is not Belgium, but it is quite Belgian in needing to become a more sophisticated democracy.

The first lesson is to revive the federal idea in Britain. A system in which each level of government is coordinate with each other but none is hegemonic seems to be a rational starting point. Federal law has primacy, as indeed does EU law, but checks and balances preserve harmony. The dominance of England, being so big, must be catered for by its sensible partition into large regions. London is already a powerful city-state. Four regions in the rest of country would work well as functional polities: the South East and East Anglia, the South West, the Midlands, and the North. Within these regions, once-powerful municipalities, the engines of economic growth, should be restored to their former glory. A decentralised NHS could scarcely do worse than the current behemoth. Whitehall should be stripped of its omnipotence in education. Autonomous local government, with assets at its disposal, would compete healthily for investment.

The federal solution is above all a pragmatic one. The House of Lords would do well adapted as a federal chamber. The rehabilitation of federalist thought might make the Brits understand Europe a little bit more. And a federal United Kingdom, with Home Rule for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alongside powerful self-confident English city-states, might prove to be a more convincing basis for the future of the European Union than the old, creaking nation state. Worth a try. Suck it and see, in the best British tradition of constitution mongering.

Andrew Duff is a former local government Councillor and Member of the European Parliament. He is a federalist and a Liberal.


Yesterday Scotland, tomorrow the EU? Are there lessons for the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ camps?

Posted by on 22/09/14
Staying or leaving?
If David Cameron wins the May election he has promised an In/Out EU referendum by 2017. Even if he does not it is still probable there will be one at some point. National referendums are rare in the UK so with the Scottish vote we have a rare glimpse of what the EU referendum campaigns could look like. What should the nascent In/Out camps take away from it?

In trying to understand the motivations of the Scottish voters Lord
Ashcroft's poll, conducted after the vote, sheds some interesting light. Voters made up their minds late in the day - 52% of voters made their mind up this year with 18% in the last month. The main issues driving independence voters were disaffection from Westminster and concerns about the NHS. Uncertainties over the pound and pensions drove the No side. 70% of Yes voters said they agreed with "The principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland" while No voters also felt the risks of independence were to great and conflicted with their attachment to the UK.

So are these findings and the Yes/No campaign relevant to a UK referendum on EU membership? here are some key issues:

Scottish Yes/No
EU In/Out
The need for a clearly thought out alternative to the status quo
The Scottish 'Yes' campaign came unstuck on some key elements of their proposition. Notably confusion over the £ and EU membership. The difficulty ‘Yes’ had with these key policies dogged their campaign
The nascent EU ‘Out’ campaign has a similar problem as there is no settled view. What relationship will the UK have with the EU after exit? Will it be the EEA, a new free trade agreement, what will access to the Single Market be etc and what are the political trade-offs. 
Harnessing optimism
The 'Yes' campaign was good at harnessing the ‘future’ and ‘change’ as a campaign weapon. The ‘No’ side failed to put forward a comparable future vision for the UK focusing instead on the risks of independence leading them to be portrayed as ‘negative'.
It will be difficult for the ‘In’ campaign to portray an optimistic vision of an EU future, given the likelihood of ongoing problems in the Eurozone – it will probably stick to pointing out what it sees as the risks of leaving.

It remains unclear whether the ‘Out’ campaign will be able to manage to transform itself from campaigning against the EU’s negative record to wholeheartedly putting forward its own positive vision.
Who leads the campaigns matters - can they claim to be the anti-establishment?
In Scotland the ‘Yes’ campaign was united, had message discipline and was led by the First Minister of Scotland. This gave it the credibility of office and the ability to set the scene while remaining an outsider/underdog in relation to Westminster at the same time.

By contrast the ‘No’ campaign was cross-party, divided and although ‘backed’ by the UK government was simultaneously seen as 'the Establishment' while being in opposition in Scotland.

It is unclear who the ‘In’ and ‘Out campaigns will be led by. However, on the basis that David Cameron is content with his renegotiation, the ‘In’ will have the advantage of the head of government and all the main party leaders.This could leave the ‘Out’ campaign run by UKIP and a number of backbench MPs.

Although the ‘Out’ side would have the advantage of being ‘anti-establishment’ there would be a large imbalance in credibility and official resources that could tell in the campaign.

Foreign interventions helpful /

The ‘Yes’ campaign had to endure a series of interventions against them from UK allies and others including the USA, Australia, Germany, Spain, NATO and the EU.  
While foreign interventions in the EU referendum are inevitable some will be more effective than others. While UKIP will not lose any sleep over an admonition by Mr Juncker, Germany or France, they may suffer some damage if Commonwealth allies or the US express a desire for the UK to stay in the EU.
Business interventions - do they matter?
'Yes' had to put up with major Scottish and UK companies threatening to relocate out of Scotland in the event of independence. To counter it Yes managed to organise some pro-independence business voices but the overwhelming balance of the warnings weighed on the campaign.
‘Out’ like ‘Yes’ is likely to have to endure a slew of major companies questioning the case for exit, particularly larger businesses. This too will be countered by pro-exit business voices. Without the currency issue to worry about, the business question will be about what market access the UK would have to the single market (see alternative to the status quo section above).
Emotional appeal of staying / leaving?
While 'Yes' managed to mobilise significant emotional appeal for independence the residual emotional appeal of the United Kingdom was also considerable.
The emotional appeal of the EU institutions in the UK is close to zero. While it is clear that the emotional desire to leave the EU is felt strongly by confirmed 'Outists', it is less clear what role political identity will play among the undecideds.
Devo Max / EU Devo Max - key to the middle ground voter?
While the campaign started as a polarised Yes/No campaign it quickly switched in the last week into a No+Devo Max v. separation. This managed to win over some of the wavering middle ground to No. For that to work the credibility of the offer being delivered was key.
The In/Out campaign will start from the basis that ‘EU Devo-Max’ has either been achieved or has failed. This will have a huge repercussion on the campaign. If the negotiation is still on-going and is in the form of a last minute ‘EU Vow’ it is unlikely the credibility of those offering it will be enough to swing the result.
Turnout and the undecided voters - Age groups voting
The Yes/No campaign had a very high turnout and a high level of voters who made their mind up in the last month.

Older people tended to support the UK and younger people independence. As turnout was universally high the normal higher turnout among older voters probably did not tell.

An In/Out referendum is likely to have a lower turnout and a higher level of undecideds, making the last month and weeks of the campaign key.

Older voters are more likely to vote for 'Out' and younger for 'In'. However, with a lower turnout older voters are more likely to make their voice heard.

Wild card issues
The Yes/No campaign spent a lot of time discussing the supposed ‘privatisation’ of the NHS - a policy area already devolved to Edinburgh.
Immigration aside, the dry nature of EU policy could mean the In/Out campaign comes to focus on unpredictable issues.
Rogue polls - who might they help?
The close nature of the polls probably drove turnout and drove ‘shy unionists’ who may have taken the result for granted to vote.
Polling is also very likely to be a large driver of the 'In' / 'Out' campaigns but it is unclear who this might benefit.

Once the dust from Scotland’s ‘No’ settles, what are the implications for the UK’s EU renegotiation?

Posted by on 21/09/14
Act in haste - repent at leisure?
The big question over Scottish independence may have been settled but the campaign has thrown up a whole host of further questions concerning the UK's constitutional settlement that will need to be addressed in the near future. We look at some of these questions and at how they could impact on the UK's EU reform agenda. 

What’s the plan and schedule for devolution negotiations and implementation?

When it looked like a 'Yes' vote might be on the cards, the Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems pledged a new raft of powers for the Scottish parliament over areas like taxes, spending and welfare, with proposals due to be tabled in January. Speaking this morning, Cameron announced that discussions over a new settlement for the rest of the UK and England in particular - would take place "in tandem with, and at the same pace as, the settlement for Scotland".

Given that this will include - in Cameron's words - "a decisive answer" to the long-standing West Lothian question (ensuring "English votes on English laws"), it remains to be seen whether this timetable is realistic (some MPs are calling for a full constitutional convention). Labour have said they are committed to "looking at the issue" but the party is divided, with some senior figures including Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander rejecting the option of Scottish MPs being excluded from votes only affecting English matters (which could deprive a potential Labour government of a majority on such votes). We simply do not know how far-reaching this shake-up will be and a quick and amicable cross-party consensus cannot be taken for granted.

Could this spill over into the general election campaign?

If the devolution question isn't on the way to being settled, it could conceivably play a large role in the general election campaign; the Tories and UKIP would take up the English cause, Labour and the Lib Dems would be stuck somewhere in the middle while the SNP would play the 'another broken promise by the Westminster establishment' card (unless the Scottish and English questions are considered separately). Not only would this displace debate about EU reform from the campaign, but growing English resentment at Scotland's privileged position within the UK could further boost the UKIP vote. Nigel Farage is already deftly positioning himself to take advantage. A strong UKIP vote would of course put pressure on any government (particularly a Conservative one) to take an even tougher line during the EU renegotiation.  

How will it impact the EU renegotiation/referendum timeline?

If the Tories end up back in government but still have to wrap up the constitutional questions it could prevent the government from hitting the ground running on EU reform and renegotiation. Given the scale of the challenge this is far from ideal. Furthermore, as we have warned before, we believe that Cameron is already behind the curve on finalising targeted reforms and road testing them with governments and business across Europe. In the end though, it is hard to see how Cameron could get away with shelving his planned 2017 EU referendum, given the pressure he would be under from his own party.

Secession: Scotland says NO but quest for legal framework continues

Posted by on 21/09/14
By Catherine Brölmann and Thomas Vandamme The 300-year-old union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom survived the referendum held on 18 September 2014. But while preserving the UK's union, The 'No' victory did not shed much-needed light on the legal framework for secession, however.

David Cameron’s Asymmetric Referendum

Posted by on 21/09/14
In the world of financial speculation there is something known as an asymmetrical trade. This means that the downside is very limited – or none at all – and the upside is considerable. I have long thought that the in/out referendum in Scotland was a superb move by David Cameron, but reading his speech this [...]

So, Mr Putin and Mr Farage – what lessons have you learned from the Scottish Referendum?

Posted by on 21/09/14

The Scottish referendum made for magnificent drama. At risk a 306 year old Union. The disintegration of an ancient kingdom. A monarch awaiting the fate of her kingdom in an ancestral palace in the Scottish highlands. A weepy Prime Minister. A feisty independence fighter. The haunting sounds of bag-pipes echoing through the Scotland’s fabled mists. Saltires and the cross of St George fluttering atop mountain peaks.

No wonder the world was hooked.

This morning the audience awoke to the realisation that the dream of an independent Scotland was pie-in-the-sky. A notion for romantics not realists. With the Scottish economy so tied up with England the risk of going it alone was just too high. Wages. Pensions. Currencies. Trade. Investment. The danger of a staggering economy. At the end of the day economics trumped patriotism.

But hey, that’s democracy for you. Those who live in the free world, with constitutional democracies and a legitimate application of a substantive Rule of Law know that patriotism is secondary to economics. Jobs, income, pensions, low inflation those are what voters really hold dear – not a few extra miles of some God-forsaken, pot-holed road leading to a regional airport littered with the bodies of young soldiers and civilians.

It is apt that six months after the so-called democratic referendum in the Crimea the UK should hold a referendum. You’d have to be a self-exiled, hermit living amongst the puffins in the Outer Hebrides not to have noticed the difference between the two. Yet, there are still those who cling to the theory that the referendum in the Crimea was somehow legitimate and that Russia’s aims in annexing this land is perfectly within Russia’s “geo-political” sphere of influence. The two referendums couldn’t have been more different but for those who still don’t quite get it they are spelt out here.

Rather than witnessing the massing of troops and tanks on the border between England and Scotland, we saw desperate, sweating politicians running up to Glasgow and Edinburgh from Westminster, literally pleading with the voter to stay part of the Union. This is a rare moment to treasure and enjoy. It is not often that real power resides in the people and not the leaders of the main political parties.

Not once did we hear talk of anonymous, heavily armed “little green men” in army fatigues appearing here there and everywhere, trying to influence the way voters should decide as opposed to how they would like to vote. Rather, we witnessed a bunch of British celebrities leaving their mansions in the home-counties hot-footing is to Scotland to sing songs and hold rallies pleading with the Scottish to stay part of the Union.

The referendum was organised over two years not seven days. This gave enough time for there to be not one, not two but three televised debates between the two parties where the pros and cons of both sides were aired. Plenty of time for comment and debate allowing voters to make an informed choice not a rushed one.

Above all, best of all, there was plenty of satire. Those Westminster politicians may have looked teary-eyes, hot under the collar and frantic but they never once looked peeved, piqued or proud when things weren’t looking so good for them.

The Yes campaign accepted defeat with grace happy in the knowledge that they will not wake up fearing unknown thugs might drag them from their cars as they head off to work this morning only to disappear into the dark forests of Scotland’s highlands never to be seen again by their families.

That is how to hold a democratic referendum that the international world can recognise as legitimate. Alex Salmond and his fellow politicians who worked day and night over the past couple of months to persuade the electorate to vote for Yes to an independent Scotland and the 44.7% who dearly hoped Scotland could go it alone will be gutted but they will pick themselves up and begin a new process of negotiations with Westminster as was promised them in the dying days of the referendum

Nigel Farage, England’s equivalent in sentiment, if not temperament, intelligence and nature to Scotland’s Alex Salmond may also want to take note. Dreaming of independence from Unions is one thing. Getting the electorate to vote for it is something different all together.

Should there ever be an “in” “out” referendum in the UK on EU membership the voter will put their hands on their wallet and know which way to vote. Nothing wrong in holding long established traditions in great affection, nothing wrong in being proud of one’s heritage, nothing wrong in enjoying the colour, pageantry and music that define who you are. Unions that uphold the Rule of Law – be it the Union between Scotland and England or the Union between the United Kingdom and 27 other EU member states, allow room for that – plus they guarantee you a better economic deal than would otherwise be the case.

There is one big difference that UK voters may want to consider. Whilst Cameron, Milliband and Clegg were all desperate to keep Scotland in the Union and prepared to make last-minute concessions in an attempt to keep the Union together, can the same be said of the EU’s other 27 member states? It seems highly improbable that Merckel, Juncker or Hollande will rush to London, with tears in their eyes and sweaty palms, begging the UK to stay in the EU. You never know. Could happen – but it is hard trying to envision such a scenario.


Lecciones del no escocés, abran paso a su majestad la democracia

Posted by on 21/09/14

No cabe duda que la mejor medicina que el ser humano ha inventado para garantizar la convivencia en sociedad es la democracia. Por dura e incómoda que pueda resultar siempre a los perdedores, el libre ejercicio del voto es siempre la forma de expresión de la voluntad popular y la única garantía del respeto a los derechos de las minorías. Quien teme el gobierno del pueblo, pues, amparándose en el concepto legalista, es decir, el del gobierno de la ley, lo único que trata a la postre es saltarse a la torera por intereses particulares la capacidad de expresarse de los ciudadanos. Algo que se suele escamotear con los típicos argumentos paternalistas de los gobernantes que justifican el hurto de la democracia por nuestro bien, desde una posición de visión privilegiada de las cosas. Gran Bretaña como escenario del referéndum de Escocia se ha convertido en estos tiempos en los que impera la dictadura de las visiones materialistas bajo el reinado de los mercados, en un ejemplo único de libre determinación sin el más mínimo atisbo de violencia, ni siquiera verbal. Una lección histórica de fair play democrático que debería servir de espejo en el que mirarse Europa, en vez de seguir jugando a la amenaza del precipicio que supone la ruptura de la Unión. Lo que se basa en decisiones en las urnas construye un compromiso sólido muy superior a lo que deciden media docena de mandatarios en torno a una chimenea sin luces ni taquígrafos.

El resultado, pues, de las urnas es inapelable y deja bien a las claras que los escoceses y solo los escoceses, no los ingleses, los galeses o los norirlandeses, a los que no puede corresponder decidir el destino de Escocia, son partidarios mayoritariamente,  hoy por hoy, de seguir perteneciendo al Reino Unido y no ser un Estado independiente. No debería olvidarse a nadie el único dato cierto de esta consulta vinculante porque si lo primero es reconocer la victoria de la democracia, acto seguido debemos reconocer también la victoria del no. Los nacionalistas escoceses no pueden presentar una derrota como una victoria, su objetivo era la independencia y el pueblo no les ha dado la razón. Mucho tendrán también, por tanto, que reflexionar quienes llevan a sus partidarios a las urnas para perder porque el ejercicio de soberanía no tiene fecha de caducidad, pero indudablemente el paso por el voto frustra para generaciones el anhelo de independencia. Dicho esto, en la batalla por el sí Escocia ha ganado mucho. Primero el reconocimiento como nación y su deseo de mayor autogobierno. Ese 45% de apoyo es una llamada de atención muy clara a Londres que obliga al gobierno y al parlamento británico a dar pasos hacia una mayor autonomía en las decisiones que les compete de los escoceses y una gestión más directa de sus recursos. El estatus entre Inglaterra y Escocia cambiará en base a una negociación pragmática y realista de las dos partes. Esa es la primera consecuencia que podemos extraer del resultado del referéndum.


Respecto a los protagonistas de este bello episodio político, como siempre que se extreman posiciones y se pone a la población en la difícil circunstancia de decidir cuestiones gruesas, quedan todos seriamente desgastados. El premier escocés Alex Salmond, impulsor y principal artífice de la campaña del sí, ha sido derrotado y su dimisión le honra. Dependerá de la habilidad negociadora de su partido el coste que tenga para los nacionalistas en los próximos comicios generales. Para Cameron, al que en las últimas semanas los sondeos le han colocado al borde del infarto, la victoria le permite salvar los muebles in extremis, pero queda en una enorme situación de debilidad ante el ala más conservador de los tories y esa mayoría antieuropeísta que cabalga a lomos de Inglaterra.  Los laboritas, salvando la figura recuperada del ex primer ministro británico Gordon Brown, uno de los puntales decisivos del no al final de la campaña, han visto como el debate se centraba en el modelo de sociedad que querían los escoceses para Escocia, sin que su discurso diluido en Inglaterra sirviera para frenar el ascenso del sí independentista. Porque en esta consulta no sólo ha votado la ciudadanía la pertenencia a un Estado u otro o tener un himno o una bandera. El nacionalismo caduco y rancio de identidades simbólicas y base histórica de batallitas del abuelo, no tiene cabida hoy en un mundo global y que cambia a velocidad on line. Lo que está en discusión es el modelo de sociedad que esa identidad diferenciada defiende. Lo relevante es la forma de organizar los recursos propios para un reparto más justo y equitativo de los mismos y no para un cambio de titularidad de unos poderosos oligarcas por otros. Un nuevo Estado debe ganarse la voluntad de su pueblo de serlo porque ofrece a sus ciudadanos la posibilidad de ser más libres y más felices, de otra forma volveríamos al juego de tronos medieval.

En Escocia el sí ha avanzado desde posiciones iniciales del 25% cuando se anuncia la consulta, hasta el 45% del resultado final a base de propuestas sociales frente a un gobierno y un modelo actual de sociedad inglesa, liberal basado en los recortes de prestaciones y servicios públicos. Y solo cuando la opinión pública empezó a acercarse a la decisión de la independencia, Inglaterra se parapetó en el discurso apocalíptico y los chantajes desde Bruselas de salida de la UE, por otro lado, harto infantiles pues no parecería lógico que una Europa deficitaria energéticamente negara la entrada a una Escocia independiente convertida en el país con más petroleo del viejo continente. Esa lección también debería servir en el proceso de construcción europea. La gente quiere participar en los grandes debates de fondo que condicionan el destino de una sociedad. No están dispuestos a decidir solo sobre una lista cerrada el consejo de administración que va a gerenciar su país los próximos cuatro años. Fijémonos en ese 85% abrumador que ha votado en el referéndum escocés y tomemos nota de que se deben abrir nuevos cauces de comunicación y participación innovadores de los políticos con los ciudadanos. Una nueva forma de hacer política,  tantas veces demandada y aun por descubrir y poner en práctica.

¿A Europa cómo se le queda el cuerpo después de la cita escocesa? Pues poco más o menos como se te queda después de una ducha escocesa que te somete a un cambio brusco de agua caliente a agua helada. Muscularmente relajada porque un sí habría supuesto un efecto dominó en aquellos territorios y no son pocos que la Unión albergan anhelos independentistas. Bruselas respira hoy aliviada como lo hacen muchos de sus jefes de Gobierno. Pero todos saben que el precedente obliga a reconocer la grandeza de la democracia y que requiere de una reformulación del proyecto que afiance las herramientas comunes, pero que permita a la riqueza diferencial encontrar cauces de participación en las instituciones.  La visión federalista de Europa sale claramente reforzada del referéndum y más aun cuando los acuerdos entre ingleses y escoceses avancen el el autogobierno de éstos. Los deseos recentralizadores legalistas tratarán de olvidar el 18 de septiembre de 2014 pero todos recordaremos que ese día los escoceses votaron.

El siguiente escenario de expresión de voluntades identitarias debería ser Catalunya, así lo ha expresado la mayoría de las fuerzas políticas de su Parlament y de sus ciudadanos a través de sondeos de opinión y de manifestaciones multitudinarias en sus calles. Son condiciones muy superiores a las que llevaron a Cameron y Salmond a pactar la consulta. Sin embargo, parece evidente que en España el gobierno de Mariano Rajoy optará por la vía legitimista para negar el derecho de expresión a los catalanes. Y  Bruselas como siempre sumisa a las decisiones de los gobiernos de los Estados miembros calificará la decisión de asunto interno de España y se lavará la manos ante el no a decir si o no que Rajoy impondrá al president Mas. Se equivocan los dirigentes de las instituciones europeas no entendiendo que no vivimos en el siglo XIX cuando las fronteras aislaban a los ciudadanos y la diplomacia o las armas resolvían los problemas. Hoy como europeos lo que le concierne a los escoceses le importa a los catalanes, como lo que les importa a los alemanes, les ocupa a los vascos. Decidir nuestro futuro en común pasa se quiera o no se quiera por poder decidir primero lo que sucede en mi solar, pero con unas reglas del juego democráticas iguales para todos y que se respeten los derechos de cada cual. De otra forma seguiremos en el mercadeo y los repartos del dinero, un pasteleo que no tiene credibilidad alguna entre los ciudadanos. Lecciones de una ducha escocesa.


Hopefully the Scots said ‘NO’

Posted by on 21/09/14

Since the debate over Scotland stirred up and the insinuations with similar cases started to formulate (e.g. Catalunia, Corse, or even Transnistria) I could hardly see any positive relation with the Scotland being completely independent as a sovereign state – and therefore as candidate member-state for the EU, the possible turbulence of British and Scottish pound in the global market, the way these two separate states would live with each other in a number of issues that would surface. Especially in this period of time for the European Union, such a development would possibly be destructive in various ways for the EU, Britain and Scotland itself – even if the YES side had a strong saying on Scotland’s sufficiency on building its future alone.

On the other hand, the outcome of the referendum brought about – or it is going to bring about- significant changes for the other members of the Kingdom as well, like the Wales and Northern Ireland. In the months to come PM David Cameron is expected to address such concerns / developments and capitalize the profits of “NO” both in terms of his leadership as well as for the people of the UK.

The second thing to point out is that in any case, the referendum itself brought a significant evolution on the way social and political demands should be addressed. In the EU we have hardly enjoyed the power of direct democracy as the Scots did last Thursday. We have hardly given to the people of Europe the right to respond massively in issues that concern their future. In this respect, it is also vital to highlight how interesting and articulating was the political debate and the arguments of both sides in the case of Scotland. We still believe that representative democracy is the means of absolute expression of the people, but we still miss that there are other means of democratic participation other than a 5-year round elections that can definitely bring more enthusiasm and be more didactic for both the electorate and decision-makers.

To that end, I do reckon that the referendum in Scotland was of paramount importance for the EU and its constituencies. But from that point, we need also to ponder upon the correlation between this referendum and other ones that might take place in the near future for cases allegedly similar to Scotland. If we still believe, as Europeans, that the EU or each of the member-states cannot work together and address the concerns of our era in smaller units -meaning through the split of the current sovereign states without vital or insurmountable burdens to deal with- with decreased powers and more prone to indecisiveness, then we can no longer exist together. Those who were correlating the case of Scotland with that of Kosovo or BiH or even Catalunia, have nothing else in mind than the thirst to see the EU being drawn into new adventures of illegitimacy and instability. It is different to let the people decide what their fate might be through a referendum and different to hope for partition.

As citizens of the EU we need to stick together and fight together for a better future, no matter how hard this process might be. It only takes to see what other states face in adjacent regions when not embarked in a democratic Union of states. From Ukraine to Argentina, we can assess the merits of being part of a club of states that need to support and co-exist with each other, even if some member-states exert more power than others. In this respect, and with reference to Scotland’s referendum, our goal is this: to strengthen democracy and citizen’s participation in the EU, try to improve the wrongdoings of policy-making, and understand that we are living in multicultural societies where compromise and accommodation of different needs have to be preserved and negotiated. Not to fall apart.

Wieder eine Europa-Stimmung: Schottland-Referendum 2014

Posted by on 21/09/14

Die schottischen Nationalflaggen, die unabhängigkeitsbestrebte Flamen auf einigen Brüsseler Boulevards ausgerollt und mit Kerzen dekoriert hatten, sind mittlerweile verschwunden. Die EU atmet kollektiv auf. Nach der Devise: ”Es ist noch einmal gut gegangen”.

Der russische Präsident Wladimir Putin hätte sich nämlich die Hände gerieben, wenn ein unabhängiges Schottland nicht nur Amerikas wichtigen Bündnispartner Großbritannien geschwächt hätte, sondern durch die schottischen Zentrifugal-Kräfte letztlich auch die gesamte EU. Stattdessen haben die Schotten zwar energisch Flagge gezeigt, bleiben aber in der britischen und damit auch in der europäischen Union. Und in der NATO.

Ein unabhängiges Schottland hätte riskiert, nach peinlichen und langwierigen  Brüsseler Verhandlungen von der EU ausgesperrt zu werden. Nur weil EU-Größen wie Spanien, Frankreich und Italien Angst vor dem schottischen Unabhängigkeitsvirus haben – und befürchten, Katalanen und Basken, Korsen, Bretonen und Südtiroler könnten ihrerseits nach dem Motto “Jetzt erst recht” verstärkt für ihre Abspaltung streiten.

Nach dem gescheiterten Unabhängigkeitsvotum atmet die EU zwar auf. Sie ahnt aber, dass nichts mehr so ist wie zuvor. Denn das Motto “von den Schotten lernen” hat sich längst in vielen europäischen Köpfen festgesetzt. Schottland beweist Brüssel und den EU-Staaten, dass politisches Bürger-Engagement und hohe Wahlbeteiligung durchaus noch möglich sind. Die schottischen Unabhängigkeitsstreiter sind mittlerweile für viele andere Autonomiebewegungen ein Vorbild: weltoffen, europafreundlich und bemüht um einen sozial gerechten Staat. Sowohl Brüssel als auch einige Regierungen in Europa werden in Zukunft ihren zentralistischen Blickwinkel korrigieren und den Regionen mehr Autonomie gewähren müssen. Wenn sie nicht mit diesen Regionen einen Dauerkonflikt riskieren wollen.

Das Schottland-Referendum mit seiner basisdemokratischen Ausrichtung verändert Großbritannien und Europa. Großbritanniens Premier ist ebenso wie die Regierungen in Paris und Rom ab sofort zu mehr Föderalismus und Regional-Sensibilität gezwungen.

“Gemeinsam sind wir besser”, hieß David Camerons Devise während der Unabhängigkeitsdebatte. Mit dieser Zielrichtung wird der britische Premier in Zukunft auch die Europa-Debatte auf der Insel führen müssen. Denn in einem Punkt sind sich die rund fünf Millionen Schotten einig: Sie wollen weiter zur Europäischen Union gehören – und nicht wegen der britischen EU-Aversion aus der Europäischen Union herauskatapultiert werden, wenn es 2017 auf der Insel tatsächlich zur Gretchenfrage “Europa ja oder nein?” kommt. Weiter zu Großbritannien zu gehören, aber die EU verlassen zu müssen, das wäre für die Befürworter der schottischen Unabhängigkeit zu viel der Ironie des Schicksals. Ihre EU-Zentriertheit kann also durchaus dafür sorgen, dass die Schotten 2017 erneut auf ein Referendum dringen – weil sie sich Brüssel näher fühlen als London.

Students observe democracy as it happens: Scotland

Posted by on 21/09/14

An election observation mission by AEGEE-Europe was present at the Scottish Independence Referendum held on the 18th of September 2014. Setting its main focus on the representation of the youth in Europe, the mission had as its goal to enhance democracy by ensuring the transparency of the voting process and the compliance with international voting regulations.

The ongoing debate whether Scotland should be independent from the United Kingdom reached its culmination with yesterday’s referendum. The public opinion on the matter had been divided during the campaigning process: preliminary polls had predicted an even distribution of votes on either side, with  “yes” and “no” leading the race at different points in time prior to September 18th.

During the day of the Referendum,  8 polling stations throughout Edinburgh were visited by the mission. These were chosen based on  socio-demographic data collected beforehand. Thus it was possible to observe different electoral settings in and outside the core city. Of particular interest for the mission were the voters aged 16 to 18 who, in a new electoral development, were allowed to cast their vote for the first time. To the satisfaction of voting officials, this new demographic embraced their newly-gained right to vote and most adolescents did not appear to be less educated in procedural matters than other voters.

The observers of the mission also focused on how the rules of procedure were being followed and if there would be any irregularities on the part of the voting officials or the voters themselves.  Due to the high standards set by the electoral commission however, only few incidents were noted, thus, the general adequacy of the voting procedure was not impaired.

It can be positively noted that a high rate of registration (97%) testified the eager participation of the population, which was also ultimately reflected in the high final turnout.  Conversely, the high attention of the media could have been perceived as being detrimental to the secrecy and liberty of the vote: at some polling stations, the press was witnessed to have asked voters for their voting preferences prior to them entering the polling station, thus possibly subjecting them to artificial pressure.

According to the latest counts, the people of Scotland have voted against the independence from the United Kingdom, Analysts claim however that the results point towards further devolution or a federal system that might be implemented in the next years.  The results of the referendum, while independence has become unattainable in the near future,  the wish for more self-governance has not ceased to exist.

AEGEE-Europe has since its foundation strived for an inclusive and integrated Europe and hopes that the further steps will lead to a mutual agreement and give all British regions a place in  Europe that suits them. The members of the AEGEE election observation mission express their gratitude for the cooperation with the electoral commission of the referendum.

Article is written by Adrian Browarczyk, Carlota Rego, Felix Linsmeier, Niek Mereu and Idil Warsame.
Pictures by Adrian Browarczyk.

Scotland votes, Catalonia waits: Will there soon be another independence referendum in Europe?

Posted by on 18/09/14
FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags at Camp Nou
The world is watching Scotland today, and the Catalans will watch closer than most.

Spanish news sites are featuring pictures of FC Barcelona supporters waving Scottish flags during their team's Champions League game yesterday, and it is widely reported that delegations from the Catalan (and Basque) nationalist parties have travelled to Scotland to follow the latest developments on the ground.

This is because the debate around Catalonia's independence referendum is approaching its own moment of truth:
  • Catalonia's ruling parties agreed long ago that the independence referendum (carefully described as la consulta, the consultation) would take place on 9 November. However, the Catalan government has yet to officially call such a referendum. 
  • The Spanish government maintains the referendum is unconstitutional (and as we explained here, the Spanish Constitution is actually on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's side).
  • The Catalan government will tomorrow try to get around the legal obstacles by asking the Catalan parliament to adopt a new law on 'non-referendum consultations' (consultas no referendarias). Catalan President Artur Mas is then expected to convene one of these consultations for 9 November. However, the legal status of the result of such a consultation is unclear at the moment.     
  • Reports in the Spanish press suggest the Spanish government has everything ready to launch a legal challenge against la consulta at the Spanish Constitutional Court, as soon as it is officially announced.
  • If the Spanish Constitutional Court were to strike down the referendum (which is what Rajoy expects), the 'Plan B' of Artur Mas would be to resign and call early regional elections - and then present the election results as a referendum on Catalonia's future. Recent polls suggest the strongly pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC) would come out as the largest party, albeit short of an absolute majority. For Rajoy, having to deal with ERC instead of Mas would be like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Are the Scottish and the Catalan cases similar?

There are similarities between Catalonia and Scotland. Both are proud regions with long histories of independence movements, and both have also been embedded in decentralised systems. Also with respect to the consequences of leaving there are similarities, not least the prospect of joining the EU and the difficulties that could potentially arise.

However, there are at least two fundamental differences:
  • The Spanish government has never considered accepting the outcome of an independence referendum in Catalonia. On the contrary, it is determined to use all the legal instruments at its disposal to stop the referendum taking place. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo has not even ruled out making use of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution - which gives the central government the power to "adopt the necessary measures" to force a regional government to comply with its constitutional obligations. In practice, despite the planned date for the referendum being less than two months away, the Catalans still don't know whether - and in what form - it will actually happen.
  • Constitutional reform and greater devolution of powers to Spanish regions as an alternative to independence has so far not been discussed properly, mainly because the Spanish and Catalan governments have never really engaged in negotiations. 
Will there be a 'contagion effect'?

Pro-independence Catalans would no doubt get a boost in case of a 'Yes' victory in the Scottish referendum, whilst, naturally, Madrid would love to see the 'No' camp win. Irrespective of the outcome in Scotland, the status quo doesn't seem to be an option anymore for Catalonia. Just think of the 500,000 to 1.8 million people, depending on the estimates, who took to the streets last week to celebrate La Diada, Catalonia's National Day.
    Sooner rather than later, the Spanish and Catalan governments will need to give up posturing and start talking to each other. At that point, reforming the Spanish Constitution to give regions greater power to set and collect taxes may well appear as a valid alternative. The Scottish episode, whichever way the referendum goes, may ultimately serve to accelerate further devolution in Spain.

    Scotland teaches Britain to think federal

    Posted by on 18/09/14

    One positive result of the referendum about the independence of Scotland can be seen already now: the central government in London starts finally to think about a more “federated” United Kingdom, but nobody of the political class is using this term “federal’, because this word was misused as “centralization” in the context of transferring national competences and powers to the European level.

    Especially the British media, and, Mr. Cameroun, now have a problem to explain that the proposals of “decentralization and regionalization” and the promisses to give more competencies to the Scotish government constitute finally a “federative approach”, which shall keep a more autonomous Scotland within a “Federated Kingdom” with the Queen and the Pound as common framework.

    Just to remember: Why the British and Americans had been keen after the Second World War to create the “Federal Republic of Germany”? – Not to create a centralized German republic, but to promote political decision making “from the bottom up”, from the local and regional political entities. The Scotish Referendum reminds the British to think about the original meaning of the word “Federal”.

    Federal means “democracy in diversity”, multi-level governance (subsidiarity) and solidarity; in particular, taking decision as near as possible to the citizen, a famous phrase in the Treaty of Maastricht creating the European Union. This also includes fiscal solidarity between rich and poor municipalities, rich and poor Region, Cantons or Districts, as well as at the national and European level, even in the international context.

    It does not matter so much whether this time the referendum about Scotish autonomy already will succeed, but the discussion has shown, that the centralized political structures of the United Kingdom need a “regional refreshment”.

    In any case, if this time the referendum would not result in autonomy, the Scots will have a second and even better chance to become a Member Country of the EU, as the “federal question” will come up for the British at least in 2017, when “all subjects of the Queen” might been confronted with the choice either to remain in a federally organized European Union, or, to see how finally Scotland will stay as “last part” of the United Kingdom in the European Union. The reason is simple; if in a regionally organized referendum a majority in Scotland votes for staying in the EU, this would mean an easy and “automatic entrance ticket” for the remaining part of the still existent membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union.

    Perhaps the discussion and the rethinking of the British about Scotland and about the question: What does federal finally mean? guides us, in the end, to an alternative approach of organizing the EU, in the direction of a Federation of States, countries and Regions, in short, a “Europe of countries and regions.”

    18.09.2014 Michael Cwik

    Folklore in Europa?

    Posted by on 18/09/14

    Bis vor wenigen Wochen war alles Folklore. Aber was außerhalb Schottlands wie Folklore aussieht, ist innerhalb Schottlands ein gewissermaßen nur folkloristischer Ausdruck sehr viel tieferer Empfindungen. Man darf das nicht unterschätzen. Aber genau das haben die Engländer getan. Es war wohl ein alter imperialer Reflex; London hat noch nie verstanden, warum sich die abhängigen Gebiete unter seiner Herrschaft unzufrieden zeigen könnten.

    Dann kam der Schock, als vor etwa drei Wochen die erste Umfrage eine mögliche Mehrheit für ein Yes signalisierte. Die politische und wirtschaftliche Elite beschloss daraufhin unisono, aus dem Wachkoma zu erwachen und augenblicklich in Panik auszubrechen. Die Schotten wurden seitdem mit Drohungen und Verlockungen überschüttet… Zu den Merkwürdigkeiten des Referendums gehört, dass die Schotten ausgerechnet das Pfund unter allen Umständen behalten wollen – und dass London ihnen das verbieten will.

    Das United Kingdom ist kulturell nicht wirklich vereint, und die Größe Großbritanniens ist recht bröckelig. Die Zeiten der verbindenden Erzählungen ist vorbei. Erster und Zweiter Weltkrieg, der Aufbau eines gemeinsamen Gesundheitssystems, die Kämpfe der industriellen Arbeiterschaft – das ist Vergangenheit. Seit Margaret Thatcher werden die Bande brüchig.

    Wenn Schottland mit Yes stimmt, werden die Nachbeben in Europa und der Welt zu spüren sein. Der traurige Rest des UK wird seine Atom-U-Boote nicht mehr bezahlen können, seinen ständigen Sitz im UN-Sicherheitsrat wohl verlieren und seinen Einfluss auf die Geschicke der EU. Das Pfund wird billiger und der Urlaub auf der Insel wieder bezahlbar.

    Stimmt Schottland heute mit No, wird das Vereinigte Königreich Großbritannien und Nordirland aus Gründen der Gerechtigkeit auch seinen Engländern, Walisern und Iren mehr Rechte und Mächte geben müssen, denn die Schotten werden all die Wahlgeschenke einkassieren, die ihnen London inzwischen versprochen hat.

    Der Prozess, das zerrissene Königreich wieder zu einem Ganzen zu verbinden, wird ein Werk für Jahrzehnte. Ein gängiges Wort unter den britischen Kommentatoren lautet: Der Geist ist aus der Flasche.

    Climate action will help the economy, report says

    Posted by on 11/09/14

    By Jason Anderson, Head of EU Climate and Energy Policy, WWF European Policy Office

    A Cambridge Econometrics report released yesterday responds to the simple question: what would the economic implications be of meeting the UK’s carbon reduction goals to 2025 (the ‘fourth carbon budget’), compared to a scenario where they slow down their mitigation efforts?

    The answer, of course, is not so simple to come up with, which is why the modellers’ expertise was necessary. The implications of cutting carbon are broad – more investment in low-carbon infrastructure and industry, increases in the associated employment, a faster shift from fossil to renewable energy, lower health costs due to reduced air pollution, and so on.

    The net result is a major benefit to the economy, with household income rising £565 per year by 2030, heathcare costs down as much as £288m per year, a £5.7bn increase in government revenue, a 1.9% rise in production in energy-intensive sectors and a cut of £8.5bn in oil and gas import bills.

    The biggest issues to contend with are, first, ensuring that energy efficiency measures are implemented even among the less well-off in society so that their fuel bills fall even as unit costs rise. This implies more robust programmes around fuel poverty. Secondly, a small number of energy intensive industries will similarly need to see enhanced investment in low-carbon technologies during a period in which they may need to be insulated from the full costs of transition, an approach already being undertaken through EU policy, though in a manner that requires considerable improvement.

    As negotiators work behind the scenes to prepare for a European Council meeting later in October that will likely define the outlines of EU climate and energy policy through to 2030, this report adds to the stack of economic studies demonstrating the benefit of climate action and associated changes to industry and energy. At this point it’s clear that any failure or reluctance to reap the benefits of a low-carbon transition shows a singular inability to take the initiative needed to navigate change successfully.