A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

Anything to say? Contact me at europeandisunion@yahoo.co.uk

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Urban Communities Do not Need Lecturing on Immigration

A tale of two worlds.

Kakistocracy (n): government by the worst, government by the most unsuitable, e.g. those most unaffected by immigration telling us how much we should cherish it. Enter Kevin McKenna. The former executive editor of the Daily Mail in Scotland, and a self-confessed socialist, has also identified himself as one of the last voices in the country to speak plainly in defence of multiculturalism and immigration. Published in the Guardian, his article is of a kind that journalism has almost forgotten: open and unashamed in its defence of an unpopular idea that is now in headlong retreat. It is likely one of the last to come out in favour of multiculturalism in a major national newspaper: the Guardian, one of the last nationals to be unambiguous in its stance, has steadily disowned the idea over the last few years, and now criticism of it by its online readers - the vast bulk of its readership - is the norm.

But you wouldn't think it: reading through the article, you'd be mistaken for thinking you were in 2004 again just when the 'sudden' and 'unexpected' rise of the BNP was making waves across Europe. Multiculturalist articles were ten to a penny, and they all followed the same format: a dramatic opening paragraph, with green rolling fields and perfect sunshine, a brief example, glowing praise, and then an impassioned dismissal of all critics as swivel-eyed neo-Nazis who couldn't get their heads around what was seen by many as the 'inevitable' progression of society. And they were all written by the same sort of people.

'Champagne socialists,' they are called - incorrectly, as most are not socialist - are without exception well-educated - often privately - and live in a rich clique of central or suburban London. They all live in townhouses, and many even have their own holiday homes: some - shock, horror - come with manicured nails. I've been around people from similar backgrounds to this 'set' for most of my life, and should probably stop mocking them. But I'm a firm believer in the principle that people should only speak on which they know. And, of, the consequences of immigration, those who are often the most vocal frequently know nothing.

A cursory glance at their 'benefits of multiculturalism' will reveal this truth: spices, curries, takeaways, a greater array of food to fill their oversized kitchens. Languages none of them will ever speak more appealing than the dissonant flow of Estuary English as they job around the park with a ridiculously short-legged dog in tow. The vivacity of colour in the local coffee-shop; faces of black, Asian, and Latin descent smiling as they sip a cuppa on a cold autumn morning. Immigration is not, in their eyes, an influx of people and their dependents. It is an influx of sights, sounds, and smells, which are better by the very virtue of being different. If you had this view of immigration, you'd probably think that anyone who opposed it was a backwards bigot, too.

They can't see the other side: they don't see the problems facing an unskilled labourer who has to compete with other unskilled labours charging far less. He has dependents here. He has a home here. He may have a mortgage. He may rate. Lowering his wages to compete with footloose workers from other countries, is not an option, no matter how many times the 'Islington set' recommend it to him, or berate him for being 'lazy.' They don't see the problems that parents can have getting their children into a school that was overcrowded and creaking before large-scale immigration arrived: how needlessly difficult it is now. Hopelessly underfunded schools struggle to cope. Students come and go, speaking a plethora of local languages, and there are far more of them than the school was ever built to cope with.

They don't see the problem with their neighbourhoods being transformed overnight; being shut out on their own streets. They will never have to wait decades for a council house. They will never go walking said small-legged dog in the morning and see a sign pinned to a tree that says 'This is a Shari'ah Area: Women and Gays Keep Out.' The only one that will spit on the animal as 'unclean' is the bigger labrador from down the road, not a religious fundamentalist who walks with his fellow religious fundamentalists down the high street with the same swagger as an eccentric boyband.

The urban intelligentsia can deny it all they like: virtually all of London is a completely different place now to what it was ten years ago. And that may be alright if you're looking in on the poorer, or even the well-off boroughs from outside. All they see is a variety of takeaways. It is not so good if you are an increasingly isolated family who has watched their neighbourhood change beyond recognition, fighting for rapidly-dwindling housing and education resources, with no possibility of leaving.

Kevin McKenna is a resident of a white, middle-class, urban neighbourhood: a sedate part of town, at the best of times, and a small one where the public services are still more than able to cope. He is telling the poorer communities of Inner Glasgow what is and is not good for them; how much they have benefited. But they should be the judges of that.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Does the EU Have Power over our Army?

Nigel Farage has mentioned Gaddafi to van Rompuy once before.

The EU seems to possess an invisible hand in British military matters. I have written about this before - one of the very first posts on this blog, in fact - where I noted something amiss in the way that European states had all suddenly shifted their stance on Libya, after a speech by Herman van Rompuy. It is van Rompuy again who has shed some light on possible EU interference. He stated publically, in a video message to the UN General Assembly, that 'we (the EU) did it (intervene in Libya) via our member states.' In other words, the member states were not acting of their own accord, but on the instruction of the European Union.

This may be just more arrogant grandstanding by a man whose organisation is desperate to prove itself worthy of its seat. He may simply be claiming EU credit for something that was not of their doing. In the same speech, as Nile Gardiner reports, he claimed that the EU was the fatherland of democracy. I suspect that he meant Europe. But, however dubious the claim, the fact that it was made at all should raise eyebrows: the head of the European Union teling us that they were responsible for military deployment, not our elected government, lays bare the level to which democratic control of our institutions has been subordinated to the whims of unelected individuals.

The speech is important in other ways: the Presidency of the European Council now speaks on behalf of the 'Union as a whole.' There was some controversy earlier this year when the European Union announced that it sought a UN seat: permanent representation of its own, rather than relying on whichever elected national head of government held the 'rotating presidency.' And now it has finally won that right. That does not mean that national representation has been ceded - yet. But it has certainly been diluted.

Also, in regards to van Rompuy's claim that - via its member states - the EU brought down Gaddafi, here's him facing Nigel Farage in one of their increasingly irregular spats. Diplomatic tact, maybe. But he doesn't seem too keen to take Gaddafi down in that picture, does he?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

EU Leader Proposes Protectorateship

Mr. Rutte meets Barroso. Picture by Minister-President Rutte.

The Netherlands has begun to mutter darkly what we suspected all along - namely, that the endgame for the Commission's increasing dominance over heavily-indebted nations of the eurozone is political control. Or, to use the words of Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, to place them under 'guardianship.' This is possibly the most flagrantly anti-democratic proposal to spill from the mouth of an EU leader for some time: it will essentially mean the economic affairs of countries that fail to comply with stringent EU demands to get their economies in order will be placed under the control of a small cabal of unelected officials. That's a treatment usually reserved for disputed territories and warring Balkan states: not for liberal democracies in the centre of Europe.

In fact, there's a lot in the letter - co-signed by the finance, economy, and foreign ministers - that ought to make a Eurosceptic, and indeed any democrat, weep. Not only would the country have its budget drawn up and much of its political affairs overseen and scrutinised by an appointed Commissioner, but it would also lose its EU voting rights and all EU structural funds unless it complied with every edict that the Commission cares to hand down. So not only will any nations who let their finances spiral out of the strict EU parameters have economic sovereignty removed from them, but they will also be stripped of their ability to influence in any way the decisions that are made on their behalf.

Think what is usually associated with austerity measures: tax rises, price hikes, and spending cuts. Now imagine that all of that was under the control of someone who could not be voted out of office. They would not need to consider the populace of the country in the slightest whilst they systematically decimate their infrastructure and services. As someone who approves of the theory behind the public spending cuts in Britain, if not in any way their application, I still say that that is fundamentally unjust situation. Whatever you may think of David Cameron, he is elected: the people in control of far harsher austerity measures in what are likely to be far poorer countries will neither be elected nor accountable.

It is a good thing, then, that Mr. Rutte leaves another option for these indebted states: withdrawal from the eurozone. It's also a good thing that, as yet, there is little word of widespread endorsement from other member states, or the European Commission itself. This will probably turn out to be nothing more than one idea out of many that leaders come up with as they try to keep the eurozone afloat. But, even so, the intent to deprive a nation of any semblance of democracy coming, as it does, from an elected European leader, belongs to another era.

Monday, 19 September 2011

The Danish Election Changes Nothing

Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen. Feminist, socialist, far-left activist. Eurosceptic.

'Denmark last night elected its first female Prime Minister, ending a decade of populist-backed right-wing rule which had earned the country a reputation for pursuing some of the most anti-immigrant policies in Europe' writes The Independent with an air of measured jubilance. And it's true: Denmark's right-wing government was defeated, and the left-wing regained their dominant position in the Folketing after more than ten years.

This is indeed a moment to celebrate if you happen to be left-wing. The Economist notes that the string of defeats by left-wing parties is over. The EU is fully expectant that Helle Thorning-Schmidt, will be more compliant with EU law, as the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock and a former socialist MEP. For the feminists amongst you, not only is the Prime Minister female, but the Cabinet will be too: there are three parties tipped to join the coalition that will be necessary for the Social Democrats to effect, and two of them are led by women. Even the names of these parties are enough to make a Republican weep, let alone their policies.

There's the Radical Left, who aren't actually all that radical, nor that far left. They are called the Danish Social Liberal Party in English, which is a whole lot more accurate, considering that they put themselves flatly central on the political spectrum. Then, there's the Socialist People's Party (SF), who are committed Marxist socialists who operate firmly from a left-wing perspective. Just left of centre-left, in fact.

Then there's the Red-Green Alliance, one of many instances of far-left parties joing forces in pursuit of electoral success. They are comprised of Left Socialists (VS), Socialist Worker's Party (SAP), and two Communist parties: DKP and KAP. Three things that all Tea Party sympathisers do not want to find at the foot of their bed. If you were looking north across the Thames, and imagined the river as the X-axis of a political spectrum and the way you were facing the Y-axis, they'd be somewhere around Liverpool.

Left-wing commentators around Europe and the US are right to be celebrating: they have won, and there's not a whole lot we can do - or should want to do - about that. They now dominate Danish politics, and have ejected a right-wing government from office which always had the Danish People's Party, one of few parties frequently described as far-right that actually does espouse far-right policies, lurking in the shadows. The border controls that so troubled the Commission and Court are set to be scaled back or removed, and it is unlikely that the DF will play a part in governing the country until the next right-wing party limps to victory.

Butthings are not as simple as they seem. Helle Thorning-Schmidt herself limped to victory: she holds ninety-two seats out of one hundred and seventy nine, giving her the slimmest possible majority of five (effectively down to two when the representatives of the Danish Commonwealth, who typically do not vote on Danish domestic affairs, are removed). Her coalition may be united in its left-wing views, but that, in practice, means next to nothing. The centrists may approach the communists - both factions of them - with a cool scepticism, and the different flavours of socialist in the mix might make one hell of an icecream headache later. If this likely coalition is vaguely similar to the one that Thorning-Schmidt eventually comes up with, it will be about as united as your average hotpot, continually wracked by internal feuding. It's the left's worse-kept secret that socialists and communists are perpetually suspicious of each other, and whenever they have ended up in government together the result has always been ideological chaos.

It is too early to claim victory on the European front, either: only five out of twenty-seven member states of the EU are governed by left-of-centre parties. That's ninety-six per cent of the population. Germany seems likely to swing to the left, which will take that down to a rather more modest eighty-two, but still, it is far, far too soon for commentators to be calling time on the right-wing's resurgence. The Commission might blow a few million on celebrations - and the Court of Justice may breathe a sight of relief - now that the Danish People's Party has left office, but that does not mean that the new coalition is without its share of Eurosceptics. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Danes have simply swapped one right-wing Eurosceptic party for two left-wing ones. They are a reincarnation of the old socialism, the kind that Labour espoused back in the 1980s when it was still the main Eurosceptic party in Britain. The kind that viscerally opposes the EU. I'd love to see the EU denounce them as Nazis and fascists.

The reasons may be different - the Red-Green Alliance opposes the EU as the 'vehicle of European capitalism' - but they are still Eurosceptic. The social democratic federalists may have won the election, but they have not won the country.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Little Greenlander

The mighty Greenlandic empire. Picture by Uffe Wilken.

Who are those beer-swilling, pot-bellied lager louts of Guardian mythology, the sort of people who would still like to give 'Johnny Foreigner' (a phrase I have never heard a single righty actually say) a good seeing to when he looks at their mate's missus, or pushes in front at the bus queue? Let's take a look, shall we? They are all shockingly racist, have homophobic views, throw bottle-caps into the hats of homeless people, and wind their windows up if they can smell curry. They are 'Little Englanders.' There are nutters, lunatics, saboteurs. They are Eurosceptics.

The Guardian orthodoxy holds that these are thoroughly unpleasant individuals, Colonel Blimps that you would never introduce to your mother. It's a wonder that a civilised, upper-middle class society like Chisick even allows them out. They lack any reason or logical thought behind their ramblings: the basis of all their political beliefs is their in-built irrational hatred of all things that don't watch footie and eat pork, and their lust for the empire, those days when Britain ruled the waves and could straddle the world from Cork to Cape Cod. They only oppose the EU because they want us to rule a quarter of the world again: if they weren't such old-fashioned imperialists, they'd see all the good its done and be loyal supporters of the idea, rather than the 'saboteurs' (to quote Der Spiegel) that they actually are.

Well, that's the orthodoxy, anyway. The reality, as you might have guessed, is somewhat different. As yet, only one political entity has ever left the EU or its predecessors: that is Greenland. As any history graduate knows, and quite a few people who aren't history graduates, Greenland did not actually have an empire. At all. At any point in its history. In fact, it has been a colony of Denmark since its rediscovery in the 1700s, which was in itself united with Norway until 1814. What 'lost empire' are they pining over, I wonder? Are they 'Little Greenlanders' for voicing opposition to the EU? Of course not. If any public figure, whether journalist or politician, ever claimed that - and, as far as I'm aware, no-one ever has - they'd be ridiculed.

Yet the claim that all who oppose the EU are 'white man's burden' imperialists still persists, over twenty years after it was emphatically disproven. The charge of being a 'Little Englander,' a term which was originally used to denote those who opposed British expansionism, still threatens to ruin the careers of those who are so bold as to voice the wrong opinions in public. Isn't it time that the Guardian and other media outlets who frequently make use of it finally put this patronising and incorrect insult to bed, and lay their cards, their argument, on the table rather than hiding behind out-dated slurs?