Friday, August 16, 2013

Ashton's Egypt Opportunity

Onyekachi Wambu

There are few options for Egypt following the military massacre and crackdown. The Muslim Brotherhood will be reverting to its default position as an underground organisation - but this time with little illusions about the democratic route - so we are likely to see a deepening and violent armed conflict.

The military imposed State of Emergency will buy some time - perhaps enough for renewed diplomacy and negotiations. Catherine Ashton needs to move quickly into this slim opening. She has a direct channel to the deposed President Morsi and both sides consider her neutral. She should be seeking a power-sharing arrangement between the warring factions. It has worked elsewhere in Africa - pulling other countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe back from the brink. It would need statesmenship behaviour from both Morsi and the head of the junta, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.

A lot is at stake for the Wests' democracy project. Continuing support of the current regime will deal a fatal blow in Africa to that democracy agenda. I am sure the generals in Nigeria are waiting to see what happens.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Britain’s Relationship with Europe – Part 2

Niall Ahern

Part 1 on Britain's relationship with Europe focused on the growing demand for a referendum to be put to the British people sometime after the next election. Since that blog in January, Cameron as predicted, has offered this to the electorate but only if the public votes Conservative and delivers them a majority in 2015. In addition to this, the EU budget negotiations resulted for the first time in a budget-cut. This was something Britain had been wanting all along but which it didn’t believe it would get, even in the days leading up-to the negotiations. However, this hasn’t resulted in any loss of interest on the issue of Europe and Britain’s relationship with it as the more recent Eastleigh by-election demonstrates. UKIP’s second place finish is a classic example of how questions on EU membership coupled with debate about immigration and the free-movement of individuals can be a vote winner. Debates like these clearly demonstrate the greater need to convince the public why it is in Britain’s interests to remain a member. In this second blog, the focus will be on why Britain should remain as part of the EU and what arguments those in favour should be putting forward to voters. Without going into a check list of what the EU has done for Britain over its 40 years of membership, this blog will focus simply on the economic and geopolitical arguments.

Pro-Europeans should be under no illusions, there is a large segment of the British public who have adverse feelings towards the EU and this number is growing. Old technical arguments about remaining in Europe for peace and prosperity do not resonate with the older voters who voted to remain in the European Community in 1975. In addition, this argument does not appeal to younger generations whose history of Europe is very different. At a time when Europe and the UK face their most prolonged economic crisis in their history, debate should instead focus on the economic and geopolitical arguments that will resonate with voters. Economically Britain has much to gain from maintaining its membership with the EU. 52% of British exports go to the EU market and it is by far the country's largest trading partner. Being located so close next to the European mainland is a fact that will never change and Britain has and should continue to take advantage of this fact. Political leaders need to continue telling voters the significant benefits of being located so close to these consumers has on the economy and being honest about the alternatives which as they currently stand, are unattractive offers for the UK. Although almost all the main parties, UKIP included, do not seriously advocate leaving the Single Market. Often those on the right of British politics argue that the UK can leave and still have the same access and rights to this market. They often idealise that Britain can become a Swiss or Norwegian model in North West Europe engaging with Europe through trade and that alone. Yet this narrative is doomed to failure in so much as the Swiss relationship with Europe is unique. It is based on bilateral deals which are complicated, time consuming and to which the rest of Europe would never agree to let an ex-EU member sign up to after it chose itself to leave the club. In contrast, Norway as part of the European Economic Area (EEA) does have access to the internal market (a key area Eurosceptics wish to engage with) however they still have to participate in the EU acquis in particular the four freedoms being the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. Furthermore Norway has to adopt this legislation but has no say whatsoever at the negotiating table when these laws are created. For a country the size of the UK this would have a significant impact and therefore it is a very unfeasible option for the country and its businesses. The economic reasons for continued engagement and membership of the EU far outweigh any of the other options currently promoted by Eurosceptics.

Staying on the economic arguments, more recently business leaders have started to come out in favour of continued British membership now that debate on membership has really come into question. Although many small and medium businesses also said they would prefer a renegotiated membership, almost all were against the idea of complete withdrawal. It's also vital to put into perspective the actual cost of EU membership to Britain which is significantly lower than many actually believe. At just over £8.91 billion annually it makes up just over 1% of the entire UK budget, very similar to the whole Education Department. The benefits of UK business being part of the EU are estimated to be worth over £200 billion per year and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimates that businesses within the EU trade twice as much with each other purely because of the single market and being able to take advantage of this. Similarly, Vince Cable makes the point that should be reiterated at a time when the UK flirts with the prospect of a triple dip recession. This is that approximately 3.5 million jobs are dependent on the UK's access to, and being part of the single market. Should Britain leave it is very likely that other EU members would not allow Britain to have the same rights or privileges economically that being a member provide. That is the point of being a member of a club - that benefits come out of this membership. The economic arguments for Britain's continued membership of the EU should be reiterated over the next few years as they are a significant reason why it should stay within the EU.

Geopolitically Britain has much to gain from being part of a regional grouping of 25% of global GDP and a population of around 750 million people. On its own Britain has a population slightly under 70 million and economy worth less than 3% of the world economy. Emerging countries economies such as China, Russia, South Africa, Brazil and India stand to overtake the UK by the latter part of this decade. The rise of these emerging nations means they will need and want a greater say and involvement in how the planet is governed. Why is it fair that a small island with a smaller population and economy should get such a significant say in this process and how the world is governed? However, put Britain regionally with the rest of the EU and suddenly its influence and legitimacy is greatly increased. There will always be arguments and issues where time needs to be taken on a policy level to reach agreement across the different member states. Yet Britain’s global ambitions fit more closely to the rest of the EU than many in the press would have Britons believe. Global trade, energy security, immigration, climate change, piracy and peacekeeping require coordinated and joined up responses. Look at the recent interventions in Libya and Mali and you can see European nations with overlapping interests, supporting each other more closely then they have in years. Look at the green arguments taking place across Europe and see that Britain is actually playing a significant role in pushing legislation forward. Geopolitically Britain has much to gain by being part of the EU. Should it decide to leave, it is quite clear to see its interests shrinking dramatically over the next few decades and with it legitimacy to be a ‘global player’ too. Of course, the debate in this sense should come down to what Britain believes its role should be in the world during the latter part of this decade and beyond. If we want to remain a global player, engaged with the rest of the world then the geopolitical arguments are something those in favour should be talking more openly about in the run up to the referendum.

The relationship between Britain and Europe has always been contested and now that there is the real possibility of a future referendum, debates are only likely to intensify. It is encouraging to see that since Cameron's announcement of the referendum some business leaders, politicians and think-tanks have come out in favour of staying. Furthermore, more recent polls following Cameron’s EU referendum pledge have shown a more positive shift on continuing Britain’s membership. By focussing on economic and geopolitical arguments for continued membership there is every chance a referendum can be won. Those in support of this continued membership now need to make this case to the British people and convince them that remaining part of the EU is certainly within Britain’s interests.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Britain’s Relationship with Europe: Part 1

Niall Ahern

Britain its time to decide-In or out?

As we enter 2013 there is one issue that seems to make the front pages year after year and that is Britain's question on whether to remain as part of the EU. It has now been 38 years since the British people were last asked this question at the ballot box and it is fair to say that there have been significant changes since then. With David Cameron about to make a speech on the future of Britain's relationship with Europe, it looks increasingly likely a referendum of sorts will be on the cards after the next election. Yet isn't it time that at least one of the three main leaders at Westminster offer the public what they really want? This being a simple question on whether Britain wishes to remain as part of the EU or not. For far too long anti-EU voices are all the public hear and it is hard to find those who have anything positive to say about the EU. However, as this two part blog focusing on Britain's relationship with the EU will set out-2013 will mark a key year when debates on our membership with Europe really become contested. The first blog will explain why Cameron (or any leader that wishes to steal the limelight from him) should offer a simple 'in/out' question when the time is right sometime early in the next parliament. The question regarding Britain’s membership has gone on for too long and the appetite for a say on the issue is only increasing. In the second blog to come in a few weeks time, the arguments for staying in the EU will be explored in more depth and by then Cameron will have set out his ideas on Britain’s relationship with Europe. Britain it's time to decide: in or out?

As things currently stand, it looks increasingly likely that Cameron's speech will offer a referendum sometime between 2015-2020 but only once our terms have been 'renegotiated' and only if the public vote for a Conservative majority. However, there are significant problems with this tactic. This will throw up problems not just for his own party by way of still not promising an in/out referendum but also with our European neighbours who he may assume allow us to repatriate powers back to Britain in return for keeping us in EU. Yet the rest of Europe will hardly wish to offer concessions to Britain at a time when they are facing more pressing matters. Another problem with this tactic is it would almost certainly hand UKIP the Euro 2014 elections and after a year when his backbenchers have become more rebellious-cause even more headaches for him in the run up-to 2015.The main party leaders need to take much more notice of public opinion such as the poll by YouGov in the autumn of 2012 which found that 67% of the British public wanted a referendum on Europe. Put more simply, we are now getting to a stage where the appetite for a referendum is getting increasingly significant and a quick look back at 2012 demonstrates this further.

The last 6 months of the year were a tipping point in an anti-EU direction. The by-elections in November were the best results ever for UKIP with the party taking second place in both Middlesbrough and Rotherham (they beat the Lib Dems and pushed them into fourth in Croydon North). Many commentators have argued that UKIP is increasingly likely to win the European elections in 2014 which is a fact that cannot and should not go ignored. In addition, polling by the Guardian in November found that for the first time, there is a clear majority of the public who would vote to leave the EU if asked today (56%). Arguably, we have heard little from the pro-EU camp at present and as with all polling data this could change if and when a debate really began. Even so, it adds weight to the argument that the country needs a proper debate on our membership with businesses, unions, politicians and those in favour really needing to raise their heads. We are already starting to see this as Cameron’s speech on Europe approaches.

Another reason why a simple in/out question should be asked is that it is incredibly naive and narrow minded of the UK to think that the rest of the EU will even allow us to renegotiate our membership further. Patience towards British demands from the EU budget to several other policy areas has run increasingly thin and it's worrying to see that many within this country haven't really noticed this as yet. Should a referendum take place that asked a question on repatriating powers (which the public would clearly vote for) there seems to be a belief in Westminster that we would get what we want. Yet it’s crucial we recognise that things are different this time round. Europe is still in recession and is by no means out of it yet. The gap between those in the north and south continues to widen and unemployment in some peripheral counties is starting to approach 30%. With issues such as these affecting millions across the continent, the debate about Britain’s membership couldn’t come at a worse time. Furthermore, there are many uncertainties with this negotiating approach that could be very detrimental to the UK's interests. Europe already perceives us to be a difficult partner having secured opt-outs from several areas that make the EU what it is. In addition, any bridges we had built in Europe over the past decade are now severely weakened as the recent EU budget negotiations demonstrated by the UK standing alone in its views. This example alone should demonstrate that we may not get anywhere in trying to renegotiate our membership at all.

In summary, the constant debates about our relationship with Europe create uncertainty and damage our negotiating hand. For too long the UK has had an obsession with whether we should remain members or not and this hasn't gone unnoticed in Europe (and the business world). The British public have not had their say on our continued membership with Europe in 38 years. With so much change since then, it is right that the public want and should get a say in the next parliament. The increasing rise of UKIP at the ballot box, combined with successive polls wanting to have a referendum or leave, demonstrate that the appetite for a say is so strong the public simply will not accept anything less. Cameron has a chance to take the wind out of UKIPs sails and satisfy his backbenchers in his speech on Europe. Other leaders could beat him to it and get credit for actually listening to what voters want. Those in favour of continued British membership of the EU need to come together now and start laying the groundwork for a referendum early in the next parliament. My second blog on this subject will discuss some of these arguments which often go overlooked. It will then be time to decide: Britain: in or out?