Tag Archives: EU

Can the EU survive the virus?

EU Leaders’ video conference on COVID-19, 26th March 2020. Photo credit: Council of the European Union

by David Gow
Editor of Sceptical.scot, Senior Adviser at Social Europe and Senior Adviser at Acumen Public Affairs. He is former European Business Editor of The Guardian and worked for The Scotsman and London Weekend Television.

15th April 2020

“Forged in crisis.” “We’ll muddle through and emerge strengthened; we always do.” The same tired old clichés about the European Project thriving under stress are being rehearsed but with less conviction this time. One does not have to be the most ardent Brexiteer to believe that the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic emergency pose an existential threat to the European Union. Or a died-in-the-wool Europhile to think the EU can survive à vingt-sept.

Continue reading Can the EU survive the virus?

The EU’s Fiscal Criteria: Debit, Deficit and Currency Questions

by David Gow
Editor of Sceptical.scot, Senior Adviser at Social Europe and Senior Adviser at Acumen Public Affairs. He is former European Business Editor of The Guardian and worked for The Scotsman and London Weekend Television.

17th March 2020

This article was first published by Scottish Centre on European Relations

Introduction

Such is the binary nature of political debate in Scotland that views on the economic prospects for an independent Scotland to join the European Union are overwhelmingly Manichean.

Either the country will sail through the accession process in a matter of months post-independence. Or the economic, fiscal and monetary obstacles will be so high it may never happen – and Scotland will forever be saddled with outsider status. A North Sea Belarus.

It should go without saying that neither of these extreme positions – ultra-independista and nec plus unionista – is based in reality. What matters is less the current state of the Scottish economy – hard to disentangle from a 313-year-old economic and monetary union – than what it might or could be x years from hence when or if Scotland is an independent country. And that is a big unknown.

One reason for this uncertainty is that (at the moment of writing) the UK government has published a negotiating mandate for the talks with the EU on future relations that puts the accent on divergence.

The more a post-Brexit UK, including willy nilly Scotland, pursues deliberate divergence the harder it will be for an independent Scotland to meet the criteria for (re)joining, although the Scottish government hopes to stay aligned to EU law in some devolved areas of policy including the environment. As a sub-state, albeit with devolved powers, Scotland has limited room for manoeuvre economically. It could easily be dragged down in any UK-wide recession.

And the longer this economic uncertainty goes on, and the lengthier the process of seeking and winning independence, it will become even more difficult to meet the specifically fiscal and monetary criteria for EU membership.

The State of Scotland

The Scottish Fiscal Commission delivered its latest 5-year forecasts for the Scottish economy in early February (post-Scottish budget, pre-UK budget), showing GDP growth a shade over 1% per annum. Tax revenues, however, show a much healthier upward trend, largely on the back of sustained wages growth bringing a higher income tax yield. But no forecast for the budget deficit is given. Equally, other neutral commentators such as the Fraser of Allander Institute are sceptical about the degree of wages growth forecast (3% a year roughly).

The budget deficit is a key number when it comes to accession to the EU but not as determinant as some commentators (disingenuously) suggest. In 2018-2019, the deficit, including a share of North Sea revenues, was 7% when the UK’s was 1.2%. The OBR forecasts it will hover around 6% up to 2023-24 – or the period when, on a generous time horizon, Scots might be waking up to being in an independent country. In comparison, the current eurozone government deficit is 0.7% and that of the EU28 0.9%, with the suggestion that this is an inappropriate straitjacket imposed by the Germans and other “frugals” when the eurozone economy faces recession. In Scotland, meanwhile, there is considerable debate over the true scale of the deficit upon independence and whether or how to bring it down to such low value.

The Scottish government, drawing on the report of the Sustainable Growth Commission, estimated[1] an inherited deficit in 2021-22 of 5.9% of GDP, assuming lower spending on defence, debt servicing and “some other services”. It says: “An independent Scotland would need tight public spending rules to bring the country’s deficit down from around 6% in 2021-22 to below 3% over a period of 10 years”. The 3% target is that set by the EU’s Stability & Growth Pact (SGP) aka Maastricht criteria. So far, there has been no credible indication of what policies, let alone concrete spending measures or cuts, would be put in place to achieve such an outcome. The Growth Commission proposed that total public spending should increase by 1% less than GDP for the first decade post-independence. As it assumed GDP growth of 1.5% a year, spending on public services and benefits would increase annually by just 0.5%. The Institute for Fiscal Studies observed: “Such an approach would see spending on public services and benefits fall by about 4% of GDP over that decade. Add on the growing amount the Scottish government would have to spend on servicing its increasing post-independence debt, and overall public spending and hence the deficit would fall by 3% of GDP. Together with some assumed but unspecified efficiency savings (0.3% of GDP), that brings the forecast deficit down to 2.6% of GDP one decade after Scottish independence.”[2] Of course, the Growth Commission is targeting 3% annual GDP growth which, if attainable (a big if), would imply a softer fiscal regime and easier path towards a sustainable deficit.

For the year to end-March 2019, UK government debt stood at 85.2% of GDP, a shade below that of the eurozone (EA19) at 86.1% in Q3 2019, and above that of the EU28 at 80.1% compared with the Maastricht reference value of 60%. Central government gross debt stood at £1.8 trillion at end-March 2019, but we have no idea what Scotland’s share of this would be. The 2013 Scottish government white paper, before the 2014 independence referendum, suggested this could be either via population share or aggregated fiscal deficit (starting arbitrarily at 1980-81 in that report or just prior to when North Sea oil revenues kicked in.)[3] Another suggestion[4] in that period was to follow the example of the Czechs and Slovaks during their ‘velvet divorce’ of 1993 and divide assets on a geographic basis (oil, say, in the Scottish case) and debt via the share of population. The Growth Commission suggests – somewhat airily – that national debt should “not increase” beyond 50% of GDP and stabilise at that level.

Meeting the criteria

Political commentators, often across the binary divide, confuse the criteria for joining the EU with those for adopting the single currency, the euro. There is no demand for an extant budget deficit of 3% or debt-to-GDP ratio of 60% for entry to the EU: these are, once again, the Stability and Growth Pact reference values, not a barrier as the Croatian case underlines and are more relevant (though not absolute) for adopting the euro. The Croats joined the EU in 2013 when their net government deficit was 5.3% after falling to as low as 2.4% in 2007 and rising to 7.9% in 2011 as the financial crisis and economic slump took their toll.

In other words, they had to show they were on a downward path and indeed the country registered a small surplus (0.2%) German-style in 2018, with similar ones projected for this year and next. The crucial point, however, is what happened post-accession. Croatia was rapidly, after its first 6 months only, put under the EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) and then carried out a fiscal squeeze to comply with the deficit conditions. So, an independent Scotland could ask for a transition period during which it would work towards meeting the Stability and Growth Pact targets, pointing out any progress already made but the Commission and the member states would decide whether progress towards the targets was adequate. And it and they could insist on a tight schedule.

Here the question is whether the Scottish polity, let alone populace, is aware of how severe the spending squeeze might have to be – coming not that long after a decade of austerity. Would an independent Scottish government and civil society be both able and willing to accept strict spending controls/cuts? The typical answer that independence will, by itself, trigger an entirely different set of (positive) economic outcomes may be wishful thinking. As matters stand, we simply have no way of knowing whether that’s likely or not.

Equally, there is no doubt that an independent Scotland would have to indicate its willingness to join the euro – at an unspecified point. Eight EU countries, including Denmark, which has an opt-out, and Sweden, which does not, are not in the single currency. In this case, the five convergence criteria – on inflation, deficit, borrowing costs – are stricter than for entering the EU per se.

What matters more is the currency question itself, arguably the one that undermined Alex Salmond in the 2014 independence referendum. His successor, Nicola Sturgeon, simply asserts that “… it is not true to say that we would have had to have established an independent currency before joining the European Union.” She abides by the Growth Commission process of ‘sterlingisation’ or sharing sterling before adopting an independent Scottish currency further down the line. That may be problematic. Initially, at least, the Scottish Central Bank (as proposed by the Growth Commission) would not set its own monetary policy, including interest rates – unlike, say, the Slovenes which set theirs up as early as 1991 in the break-up of Yugoslavia. Slovenia entered the EU on January 1 2004 and joined the euro exactly three years later. But, two decades later at least, a newly independent Scotland might face a different – and very political – interpretation of whether it met the economic criteria, including the key one of “macroeconomic stability (including adequate price stability as well as sustainable public finances and external accounts)”.

Conclusion

The national debate about an independent Scotland joining the EU, broken off to all extents and purposes in 2014, has been rebooted but at a low energy level within the Scottish government and Holyrood. If it is to be meaningful, there needs to be far more active engagement by both the political class and civil society. At the core of this national debate must be the economy and whether it can be brought to a position where Scotland can and will meet the criteria for accession if it so wishes. So far, it does not meet those economic criteria in their entirety – notably monetary policy as well as exchange rate, as set out in Chapter 17 – but the true state of the economy if and when the Scottish government embarks upon the EU accession process may be more favourable then.

Ultimately, this will be a political decision. And the EU holds many if not most of the cards. As the latest iteration of enlargement policy spells out: “The Union’s capacity to absorb new members, while maintaining the momentum of European integration, is also an important consideration. The EU reserves the right to decide when a candidate country has met these criteria and when the EU is ready to accept the new member.”


Notes

[1] https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/foi-eir-release/2018/09/foi-18-02282/documents/foi-18-02282—summary-report/foi-18-02282—summary-report/govscot%3Adocument/FOI-18-02282%2B-%2Bsummary%2Breport.pdf

[2] https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13072

[3] https://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/opinions/scottish-independence-debt-and-assets

[4] https://www.centreonconstitutionalchange.ac.uk/opinions/scottish-independence-and-uks-debt-burden

The EU and the Coronavirus Crisis

When Border Closures and Supranational Collaboration go hand in hand

by Ira Straus

Chair, Center for War-Peace Studies

2nd March 2020

Unexpectedly, a virus, SARS 2 CoV-2, has become the most important political as well as human issue facing us at this time. Like any crisis of public safety, it presents the EU with an opportunity also: the opportunity to become a strong provider of security for its countries and citizens. Instead, tragically, EU is on the verge of committing a major mistake, its second potentially suicidal mistake in four years, by holding onto open borders (the Italian one) in this emergency period.

The need for the EU to rebalance its efforts and its political culture to give a more co-equal weight to its security side has been discussed in many an article, among them a recent one in this space (https://fedtrust.co.uk/the-relevant-tasks-now-for-europe-and-for-federalists/) . It was not anticipated however that this would become an emergency need so soon, nor that it would be for dealing with a disease.

Firebreaks are crucial for stopping diseases, just as they are for stopping fires. No firebreak is perfect, which is why many are needed. Borders, when enforced, are firebreaks.

Within each country, there are also firebreaks. Natural geographical borders and artificial communal and political borders are used as firebreaks in many an emergency situation. Communes close their borders to catch criminals and terrorists as an almost routine form of emergency. Their borders can also be closed, as some have just been within Italy, to avoid spread of people with dangerous contagious diseases.

National borders are crucial supplementary firebreaks to the communal ones. When there is an emergency with a country that could spill over across its border, closing that border is an essential part of the response.

There are solid reasons for using old national borders as firebreaks. A single national government is internally coordinated for emergencies more efficiently than a set of national governments. Citizens and police and politicians all speak the same language fluently. Decisions get made more efficiently than in a diverse grouping of countries. There are lengthy common codes of law, there are elaborate unstated shared habits or common law behaviors, there are habits of accepting joint emergency decision.

Likewise locally. The local authorities are coordinated much more closely and efficiently within a single commune than they can be between two communes with different local chieftains. The national state, to be sure, enables the communes to cooperate far more closely than they would were they independent statelets. This coordination enables them to have more open internal borders than if separate states. But at the same time, one of the ways the nation coordinates its communes is to support them in closing off their borders for emergencies — and sometimes imposing this closure on them, as Italy has just done by quarantining Veneto and Lombardy. This was an absolutely indispensable measure on Italy’s part, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. What is missing is its logical complement: to close Italy’s national borders at this stage of the emergency.

Likewise, again: The EU exists to enable the nations to coordinate much more closely than they used to be able. But one of those requisite coordinations is to support them — even sometimes require of them — to shut their borders during emergencies. That is the coordination the EU needs to be demanding of Italy and its neighbors at this moment.

The EU needs to put itself in the forefront of closing borders when needed, for the very sake of retaining the European identity and loyalty of its citizens. Europe must protect its citizens, not sacrifice them on the altar of open borders at all times and all costs. The latter approach would be the way to lose their trust in Europe.

The EU has, at the time of my writing, been making a terrible mistake, calling for the Italian external borders to remain open at this time. By this action, it takes upon itself a highly visible part of the blame for a failing that has deadly consequences. People will begin apportioning that blame as casualties mount, and they will punish harshly those to whom they give the blame. The EU cannot afford to be the recipient of the blame on this.

This mistake could potentially compound the ones made during the migrant crisis of 2015-16. The latter mistakes, though made mostly by national officials with the EU playing at most a co-starring role, have already taken a toll on the EU through Brexit, and for a time risked similar exits across much of the Continent.

The virus mistake follows in the same spirit — a too indiscriminate spirit of opening borders — as the migrant one. This redoubles the reasons why the EU needs to correct the mistake and escape the political blame for it. If instead it sticks with this policy and makes it truly its own (as opposed to treating it as, say, a temporary inability to reach consensus on a preferred stronger restrictive policy), then it would revive some of the “exit” sentiments on the Continent. In the last two years those sentiments have been blessedly in abeyance, as people have seen how much harm Brexit has been doing Britain. But they could come back with a vengeance, if the EU becomes associated in the public mind with laxity toward the virus. If they do come back, they are likely to have still more damaging consequences for the EU in this second round than Brexit itself has had in the first.[i]

The EC-EU was originally seen as bringing existential security in the 1950s and 1990s, after centuries in which European democracies had subsisted in conditions of national existential risk. This changed during the euro crisis and the migrant crisis. The EU came to be seen as an enabler for the new existential risks, a perception that had some reality even though the national leaders were the main forces in them. This pushed out of many people’s minds their appreciation for the EU’s old role as a bearer of existential security.

The EU’s present risk is no less than the recently passed ones. People could begin dying in large numbers from the novel coronavirus; indeed, this is presently considered the most likely outcome by most medical analysts and authorities. People will attach political blame for mistakes that added to the death count.

The EU must aim at being seen as the solid security agency that has worked firmly to get its citizens protected from the virus. It must not come to be seen as a complex system that fostered passivity on the virus, much less one that protected some of the vulnerabilities to the virus by keeping borders too widely open.

The EU could readily make itself a solid security agency on the virus, in three ways: by insisting on closing national borders when their closure helps in this fight; by actively coordinating its member states at the same time for mutual help across those closed borders in fighting the virus; and by providing a large scale, strong federal level of assistance for its countries in their efforts against the virus.

These are not difficult things to do. If there are obstacles, they lie in a discomfort with the first measure, or a feeling that it runs in the opposite direction of the others.

In fact, fortunately, there is no contradiction in closing borders and increasing the supranational effort; no more than there is any contradiction, within Italy, between quarantining two provinces and coordinating them with each other and with the rest of Italy to fight the virus. Italians today coordinate across the provincial borders for the very purpose of keeping those borders closed. So far from undermining their common identity as Italians, this cooperation — cooperation in keeping them for the moment separated — is something that reinforces their common identity. It shows in real life practice their mutual dedication to keeping one another safe.

This intra-Italian cooperation on keeping provinces separate is the only kind of cooperation that can be considered real cooperation in current conditions. An opposite cooperation, one that prohibited border closures and quarantines, would be seen, rightly, as a false cooperation, obstructing the true security cooperation that is indispensable. And if the open internal borders sped the pandemic, secessionist movements really could arise within the provinces damaged by this, blaming the other provinces and Italian unity for their misfortune, seeking separation so they could protect themselves in the future.

 General principles must always be interpreted intelligently so as to work for the better particular conditions. This is true both within Italy and in the EU at large. Concrete necessities must not be sacrificed to a rhetoric of the universal; the universal is misunderstood if it fails to be interpreted to protect the concrete.

It is understandable, in selfish terms, that Italy wouldn’t want to close its borders with its EU neighbors. On this, it has thus far given in to temptation, even while insisting on sound discipline and closures of borders within Italy. The EU should be correcting the temptation and rendering the anti-virus discipline consistent.


[i] AFTERNOTE

There is a further cost to the EU of getting ranged on the side of non-use of borders as a protective firebreak for the virus.

The further cost is this: If Britain is perceived as having gained any benefit in controlling the virus by controlling its own borders, it would reverse the present general judgment that Brexit has harmed Britain. The new general judgment would be that Brexit saved Britain. This would win Continental populist parties more followers and encourage them to revert to a goal of full exit.

This is a painful thought, one that tends to inspire counterarguments against considering it at all. Dealing with such arguments could properly require an article of its own; here we will try to keep it to outline form.

This reversal in perception of the effect of Brexit, from negative to positive, would occur naturally, almost inevitably, in the event of a pandemic in which the EU ranged itself too long against border closures. Only two things can prevent it: If the pandemic proves a dud, a deliverance for which we all pray but cannot expect; or, if the EU changes to a policy of strong struggle against the virus on all levels, European and national, across borders and in jointly closing some borders.

It does not matter that many would argue that the reversal of perception would be illogical and Brexit really helped nothing. Those arguments might be strong. In my own view, they would be strong but not impregnable. Let me list a version of them: 1. Britain is not in Schengen. Britain as an EU member always had control over its borders. 2. Britain was just as much an island before Brexit as after Brexit, with sea borders and limited points of normal entry that make it easier to control. 3. Brexit does not add, or could add at most marginally, to Britain’s existing independent legal border authority. Even if it brought full separation from the ECJ, the human rights entry issues are more with ECHR. 4. Britain has not in fact controlled its borders any better by virtue of Brexit for the sake of restricting this virus. If anything, the “global Britain” slogan of the Brexit Government has had the opposite consequence. Britain has not been in the forefront of banning travel to the non-EU hotbeds of the virus — China and Iran (Qom receives 20 million Muslim pilgrims a year) — but only gently advised against travel there. This is not entirely an accident; it has something to do with the Brexit ideology of not privileging Europe. It is tempting to add that Britain has also not been in the forefront of banning electronic and national security viruses from China; thus Huawei. This too flows from the mentality of reclaiming independence of its prior supranational arrangements, in a world in which national action alone is inadequate and inherently buffeted by contradictions; and from the further mentality of trying to prove one’s independence, which can often be done only at the expense of the country’s real needs.

Despite these points, many would think the opposite case to have the stronger part of the argument: that Brexit does add to Britain’s border control against the virus. They would have their own arguments of some weight.

I must confess that I am likely to make this second case rather weakly, as I am a non-Brexiter. I must ask my reader to avoid seizing upon my inadequate exposition of them as a reason to ignore them; to remember the aphorism of J.S. Mill, that he who knows only his own side of the argument knows even that poorly; and thus, to read these points with the thought that they would inevitably be made far better and more forcefully by others, were the pandemic to persist and were the EU to persist in resisting closure of borders. That said, here is a rough outline of some points that can be made on that other side: 1. The ECJ and ECHR can be obstructive to Britain’s ability to exclude and deport people. They can have this effect psychologically as well as legally, rendering it politically harder and more cumbersome to make the effort to protect its borders. 2. The EU and Council of Europe and ECJ and ECHR cannot be absolved of co-responsibility for each other. They are, from a systems standpoint, all part of the overall European meta-system; a reality observed from nearly the start, in a classic text of the Europeanist literature, A.H. Robertson’s “European Institutions”. They have mutually reinforcing effects in their policies, in ideology, and in the psychological realm.  3. Being in the EU encourages British judges to defer to open border norms instead of national sovereignty norms and border control norms. It encourages also British media to do this, making it sound disreputable to advocate border controls. 4. Leaving the EU restores a willingness on the part of Government and Courts to enforce borders when needed. The more fully the UK leaves the EU, the greater the alacrity with which it will control its borders in crises such as the present one.

One could counter-retort that these arguments are as much psychological as legal, they are a necessary consequence of choosing integration instead of sovereignty, therefore they cannot be blamed on the EU. That would be mostly true, or at least the first two parts of it would be. But it would also mostly miss the point, which is that the last part of it does not really follow.

Psychology is a reality in politics. It has consequences for forming policies. The psychological ripple effects of having a joint institution are important. The psychological effects of forming European institutions, as a way of softening nationalism, were a critical part of the case that federalists and functionalists alike made for them. These effects have also been an equal part of the cases made by those who argue against them; legitimately so, no matter whether one likes or dislikes their arguments for maintaining more nationalistic mentalities. For those who have welcomed the reduction in nationalist mentalities, the unanticipated further psychological consequences and unintended ideological evolutions of this reduction need to be dealt with when they prove harmful, not accepted passively, much less embraced as an inescapable part of the Europeanist ideology. This is the case today, when these overall positive attitudes have contributed to a failure to reimpose needed emergency restrictions on borders, or a failure do so soon and strongly enough. Failures such as these can be disastrous, and cannot be dismissed as irrelevant or as not our responsibility.

If the psychology of Italy’s full, EU-with-Schengen membership has been a part of the reason why Italy’s external borders have not been closed as a firewall against the virus, the converse is also true: Salvini, leader of the League with its ideology of reviving nationalism, claims to have called earlier for using quarantines and travel restrictions to obstruct the virus while the Government refused. The claim (which is intrinsically plausible, although I should note that I have seen neither verification of it nor denials of it), provides him a basis for his further claims to have proved right against the other parties, and that such measures as the government has taken on this have been thanks in part to his pressures. This will inevitably be counted politically as a point in favor of his nationalist prejudice against the Europeanist prejudice of his rivals.

One might think the other parties should have wanted to avoid leaving to Salvini the ownership of the strongest position of advocating for using quarantines and borders for protecting the public against the virus. They should have striven to show in practice that the Europeanist prejudice can go hand-in-hand with the most forceful, timely, and effective responses to the virus. But they seem to have done just the opposite, presumably out of deference to a widespread if misguided feeling that Europeanist integration ideology and European values mean always favoring open borders.

If the psychology of EU-Schengen has been part of the problem in the EU’s formulation of policy on this, it has also been part of the reason why some Italians have felt it as their quite normal right to pass across the national border even during this emergency, a right they would exercise as an ordinary thing without any special thought. Schengen and the euro have in fact commendably turned crossing the border into a trivial exercise, not needing the considerable preparation aforethought that it used to require. The obverse side of that change for the better is that restricting the border in an emergency means a change in habits and requires a stronger governmental effort than in the days before there was a euro or Schengen. Instead of this requisite stronger effort, we are seeing a lesser effort, a deference to border-crossing as a normal easy event. The ideology is afoot this openness is to be preferred always, on principle.

That was not the ideology of the EC’s founders. They knew quite well the importance of fighting to protect borders from threats from abroad. They did not stand aside from the fight; rather they were often its strongest proponents. They knew there were many times when national protection and supranational collaboration were mutually necessary to each other, not mutually opposite. Jean Monnet got his start in the international integration business by integrating the supply lines for the allied efforts in the two world wars to protect themselves from the German invasions.

Either of the two polar opposite Continental psychologies about borders — the open Europeanist one and the closed nationalist one — can be deplored as sometimes irrational, or as having been deployed irrationally in the present case. The effects of these psychologies on current policy are no less real for that fact; nor less predictable. In fact, both psychologies have their legitimate reasons, and both of them have significant elements of irrationality. It does no good to dismiss their consequences or deny their responsibility for those consequences, as if they were merely a matter of an incidental irrationality.

Once psychologies have been allowed to become policy actions and develop real world consequences such as these, knock-on consequences start piling atop upon them. The water passes under the bridge. It is soon gone far into the distance. The old river is never there again to step into. The beliefs and attitudes on the basis of which the decisions were made are turned into historical facts of their own, no matter how ill-judged they were. Can they still be viewed as merely subjective mistakes? Not entirely. If these beliefs are allowed to develop these consequences, and not only by selfish individuals carelessly crossing borders but by the EU institutions and the governments that support the EU ranging themselves on the side of the subjective mistakes, then the subjective factor takes on an objective aspect. It becomes something more than a mere mistake, something more like a reified commitment on the part of the institutions that have stuck to these mentalities. As more waters pass under the bridge, it becomes too late to readjudicate the logic of the beliefs that let them pass in the sense of dismissing them as mere mistakes. It would be necessary to have corrected them in the here and now, to avoid getting to that point.

What does it mean to take responsibility for the European institutions in this situation? In my view, it means noticing the non-rational applications of their psychological correlates in the present case of the Italian border question, and correcting the thinking and the consequent policy in real time, before it becomes further embedded and further consequences accrue atop it.

This is not without its urgency: the present policy, or policy gap, has already aided in the spread of the virus via Italians travelers who have carried it into several more European countries. Additional people will die in consequence. The sooner the misdirections of policy are overcome and the more completely the gaps in containment are closed, the better it will be: better for the survival of thousands of human beings across Europe, and better for the survival of the EU, which I hope will not again become at risk.

Brexit: The British government starts to recognise reality

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

14th February 2020

Michael Gove’s acknowledgement that trade between the UK and the EU after 1st January 2021 will be far from frictionless is a watershed in the Brexit process. The claim that Brexit would not significantly impinge upon British trade with the European Union was central to the 2016 Leave campaign. So central indeed that government ministers spent the three years thereafter repeating this dishonest assurance in the face of ever-mounting evidence to the contrary.

Continue reading Brexit: The British government starts to recognise reality

Scotland’s Shifting Politics in the Face of Brexit

by Dr Kirsty Hughes

Director, Scottish Centre on European Relations

12th February 2019

Brexit day has come and gone. There were Saltires, EU flags and crowds at the Scottish parliament. But while everything changed as the UK left the EU, is it, for now, the case that nothing has changed in Scottish politics? It seems not. It’s early days but the combination of Brexit with Boris Johnson as prime minister is already impacting on Scotland’s political dynamics. And that impact is surely only going to strengthen.

Continue reading Scotland’s Shifting Politics in the Face of Brexit

Brexit: Rejoiners must learn from their mistakes

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

22nd January 2020

Many members of the “Remain Coalition” have been disappointed by the role played by the European issue in the leadership contest of the Labour Party. No candidate has suggested a policy of continuing opposition to Brexit.  Some candidates have on the contrary sought to argue that Labour’s ambiguous European policy during the General Election was responsible for alienating potential supporters favourable to Brexit.   Even the traditionally pro-European Keir Starmer, one of the favourites to succeed Jeremy Corbyn, has spoken of the General Election as resolving the issue of Brexit for the foreseeable future and has been unwilling to commit himself to campaign for British re-entry to the European Union. Such disappointment is understandable but may be premature. Keir Starmer has a leadership election to win, and if he wins it his highly-developed forensic skills will come rapidly to the fore in the dismantlement of the fantasies that underpin most rhetoric in favour of Brexit. The likelihood must be that if he does become Labour Leader Starmer will have plentiful opportunity to edge his party towards the unequivocal opposition to Brexit that most of the Party’s members and voters would favour. As 2020 goes by it will inevitably become more difficult for the Labour Party to maintain the theoretical distinction so beloved of Jeremy Corbyn between his Party’s opposition to whatever form of Brexit Boris Johnson ends up negotiating and opposition to Brexit itself.

Continue reading Brexit: Rejoiners must learn from their mistakes

Brexit: The end of the beginning

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

17th December 2019

Click here to read a response to this blog by Professor Graham Room, and Brendan’s reply.

For the outcome of last week’s General Election to have any chance of postponing or even preventing Brexit, four related pieces of the electoral jigsaw needed to fall into place. The Labour Party needed to do as well in votes and seats as in 2017; the Liberal Democrats had to gain more seats than in 2017; Tory Remainers needed to abandon the Conservative Party in large numbers; and tactical voting against the Conservatives had to take place on a substantial scale. Neither of the first two happened and the latter two did not happen on anything like the required extent. It is now therefore inevitable that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31st January 2020.

Continue reading Brexit: The end of the beginning

The Brexit Election: Not all outcomes are equally bad

by Brendan Donnelly
Director, The Federal Trust

26th November 2019

Jeremy Corbyn has rarely in recent decades feared political controversy. On issues such as Ireland, the Middle East, NATO, income redistribution and renationalisation, he has advocated with candour and persistence views that have been unattractive, even shocking to many electors. Many of his supporters thereby hail him as a “conviction politician,” contrasting him favourably with his New Labour predecessors, tainted as they were by compromise and equivocation in the search for electoral advantage.

Continue reading The Brexit Election: Not all outcomes are equally bad

From the European Union to the Human Federation

Preparing Humanity for coexistence with Superintelligence

2nd December 2019

Lecture and Discussion with Tony Czarnecki, presenting his forthcoming book:

Respondent: David Wood, Chair of London Futurists and Co-Founder of the Transhumanist Party

Videos of the presentation and the response:

The faults in the democratic system have been with us for quite some time. At the same time, the crisis of democracy coincides with the increasing danger arising from a number of man-made existential risks, such as a global warming, biotechnology or a global nuclear war, which can happen at any time. Among the biggest risks facing Humanity in the next two decades is Artificial Intelligence (AI), and in particular its mature form Superintelligence – also called Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). This is the type of AI that will be thousands of times more intelligent than all humans, and which could wipe out the human species either by a malicious intent or because of an erroneous design.

So, how could humans save themselves from such a potentially perilous future? The overall solution lies in a deep reform of democracy and in changing our view from an insular, national perspective and instead focus on the Humanity’s survival. We need a new system of democracy for two reasons. The first one is to help us navigate the next several decades safely by being united in a Human Federation created with new principles of democracy. The second one is to create Superintelligence that would inherit our Universal Values and our democratic principles so that it becomes our friend rather than an adversary.

However, to have any meaningful impact, a deep reform of democracy must happen really quickly, by about 2030, while we may still retain control over the maturing Superintelligence. We have no time to create a new global organization with sufficient economic, technological and military powers that could initially act as a de facto World Government. The most realistic option seems to be to convert and existing organization, which could be being gradually converted into a Human Federation.

Tony Czarnecki will argue that despite the current adversary tide in the European Union, it is this organization, selected out of 10 possible candidates, which after being converted into the European Federation, has the best chance to become the foothold for the future Human Federation.

About Tony Czarnecki

Tony Czarnecki

Founder and Managing Partner, Sustenis Ltd

Tony Czarnecki is an economist and a member of Chatham House, deeply engaged in global politics and the reform of democracy. He is also an active member of London Futurists. His very wide interests spreading into politics, technology, science and economics, gave him the necessary insight for searching for the solutions to minimizing Humanity’s existential risks. That was the subject of his previous book: “Who could save Humanity from Superintelligence?” In his new book ‘Democracy for Human Federation – Coexisting with Superintelligence”, he focuses on the scope of reforms needed for democracy to withstand the Humanity’s challenges to coexist with Superintelligence in the very near future.