Sunday, 21 February 2016

Another analogy about the EU and the 'sovereignty issue'

If I decide to give up going to work, I'll have a lot more personal sovereignty - I'll be able to decide for myself, without any outside interference, exactly what I'm going to do with my time all day long, seven days a week. The downside, though, is that the company I currently work for will undoubtedly cease to pay my wages and that would be something of a disaster for me, since I would no longer be able to pay my rent or even afford to eat. So I suppose I had better carry on going to work, while maybe agitating for better terms and conditions - and, of course, should the time ever come when the benefits of going to work are no longer sufficiently appealing to outweigh the attraction of being able to do my own thing all day long, then I know I will be free to simply hand in my resignation and walk off the job. If that were not the case then I would be no more than a slave.
Similarly, were the UK to leave the European Union, it would notionally regain a certain amount of sovereignty but it would lose the undoubted benefits of full access to the single market (unless it agreed to obey nearly all of the EU's rules - although now with a much reduced say over what form those rules take). However, should the time ever come when the benefits of participation in the single market are no longer considered by the UK public to be worth the price of having to adhere to EU legislation then the country will be free to exercise its ultimate sovereignty and leave the European Union - because that Union is, in the end, a freely made, democratically mandated one and not some kind of old style Empire which forcibly denies independence to its constituent nations.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Brussels hold 'em

Essentially, my view on the question of whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union boils down to this: at present, there are no significant EU laws that I strongly disagree with. Should that situation change and the EU introduce legislation that I consider bad enough that it is not worth the benefits of EU membership (eg. direct access to the single market) then I will not hesitate to switch sides on the issue and go back to being opposed to UK membership of the EU.
The other day I heard someone on the radio point out that, were the UK to leave the European Union it would probably be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rejoin; whereas if we remain in the EU for now, we can always leave at a later date if need be. I totally agree with that analysis.
To put my view as succinctly as possible, for anyone familiar with the rules of poker - why fold when you could simply check?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

EFTA/EEA (or, can we afjord to take the 'Norway Option'?)

In a previous post I explained how, from initially holding quite strongly Eurosceptic views, I had come to believe that membership of the European Union does not, so long as the UK is free to leave the EU at any time should it so wish, represent a diminution of the overall sovereignty of the Westminster parliament. It merely involves a pooling of sovereignty in specific areas of policy in order to facilitate a sovereign decision to be part of a 'club' which brings with it the benefits of free trade within a single market.
Recently, however, I have been looking into the possible arrangements being put forward by those campaigning to leave the EU. One such option is for the UK to apply to become a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and so continue to trade within the European Economic Area (EEA). I have to confess that until fairly recently, although I was aware of the existence of EFTA and the EEA, I did not know much about how they worked, or, to be honest, which countries were involved.
I now know that the EEA countries - Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein - while not being members of the EU, have an agreement which allows them pretty much full access to the single market. In return they are obliged to mirror most EU legislation, including the requirement for freedom of movement for EU citizens. If this option were on the table at the referendum as the form that a 'Brexit' would take, I can see that it might be very tempting for those like myself (and, I believe, a large proportion of the UK electorate) who are in favour of the single market and open borders within Europe but wary of the more political aspects of the EU and of the concept of 'ever closer union'. (As things stand, most ‘leave’ campaigners seem to be of the view that the UK should negotiate its own specific trade arrangements with the EU rather than take advantage of the existing arrangements within EFTA and the EEA.)
However, as far as I can see, the only real advangtage of trading with Europe through the EEA would be that the UK would retain the ability to negotiate its own Free Trade Agreements with other countries - a role that it currently has to leave in the hands of EU trade negotiators. And some might say that this is not an advantage at all, considering the number of seperate trade deals that the UK would have to negotiate from scratch. There are a few aspects of EU law that we would not be required to implement but, it seems to me, the only particularly significant opt out is the fact that EFTA countries are not part of the Common Agricultural Policy or the Common Fisheries Policy. (I must admit that, as a former Londoner who now lives in the Home Counties, about as far from the sea as it's possible to be in Britain, I really don't have much experience of farming or fishing although I understand that there are both advantages and disadvantages to EU membership for those engaged in these industries.)
The downside of EEA membership is that, although EEA countries are consulted about potential new EU legislation, they do not have a 'seat at the table' when such legislation is made. As one country in 28, the amount of clout that the UK has when it comes to decisions about the final form of new EU laws and directives is debatable but as one of the more economically powerful of the EU countries and with the financial importance that the city of London has, I suspect our influence is very significant. There is no doubt that there is always a danger of increasing centralisation with a supranational body like the EU. There is a kind of gravitational pull exercised by larger political entities over smaller ones, where the powers of the latter are always in danger of being sucked up and taken over by the former. However, to attempt to address this problem by leaving the club is not, in my opinion, the appropriate solution. As we have seen, unless we want to do serious damage to our economy by excluding ourselves from the single market, we will still have to abide by most EU laws whether we are members or not. The best way to ensure that the principle of subsidiarity is adhered to and that the EU does not encroach on areas that are best left to national governments is to foster a strong culture of democratic engagement amongst domestic populations, so that national governments know exactly how much power their home electorates will tolerate being ceded to Brussels and that they will be punished at the ballot box if they do not stand up to the EU where necessary. Without a strong democratic culture, it makes little difference whether we are in or out of either the EU, EFTA or any other political organisation - economic and political elites will have a free hand to act as they wish without any fear of being held to account.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Sardarapat guitar chords (also called Sartarabad / Sardarabad)

I was trying to find the guitar chords for this patriotic Armenian song about a great military victory in 1918 which basically preserved the existence of the Armenian nation. I was unable to find the chords (in spite of the fact that it's been covered by Armenian-American band System Of A Down!) so I worked some out for myself:

(Dm)Երբ չի մնում (F)ելք ու (Dm)ճար,
(F)Խենթերն (Dm)են գտ(G)նում հ(C))նար.
(F)Այսպես (Dm)ծագեց, (G)արե(Em)գակեց
(G)Սարդարա(Am)պատի (F)մարտը (Dm)մեծ:

Զան(F)գեր ղողան(C)ջեք,
Սր(F)բազան (C)քաջեր(Dm)ին (C)կան(F)չեք
(G)Այս ար(C)դար մար(F)տին:
Սե(Bflat)րունդներ դուք ձեզ (F)ճանաչեք

Ավարայրից ջանք առանք,
Այստեղ մի պահ կանգ առանք,
Որ շունչ առած, շունչներս տանք
Սարդարապատի պատի տակ:

Զանգեր ղողանջեք,
Սրբազան քաջերին կանչեք
Այս արդար մարտին:
Սերունդներ դուք ձեզ ճանաչեք

Բայց մենք չընկանք,
Մենք միշտ կանք,
Մենք չհանգանք դեռ կգանք,
Երբ տան զանգը, ահազանգը.
Որ մեր հոգու պարտքը տանք:

Զանգեր ղողանջեք,
Սրբազան քաջերին կանչեք
Այս արդար մարտին:
Սերունդներ դուք ձեզ ճանաչեք

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

EU thought experiment

Imagine that the European Union does not exist, and never has done (a nightmare scenario for some, a beautiful dream for others!) Now imagine that another country (let's say Switzerland, for example) offered to pay the United Kingdom £70 billion per year on condition that we copied all of Switzerland's laws and implemented them into UK law - but only in certain fields (say, human rights, health and safety, immigration, employment rights and VAT) and that, following a referendum, the UK agreed to enter into such an arrangement, on the understanding that our parliament could vote to break off this arrangement at any time.
Now, it is perfectly possible that a majority of people in the country might not like one - or even all - of the laws made for us by Switzerland but still choose to retain the arrangement in order to receive the £70 billion annual payoff. And it is equally possible that a majority could decide that the Swiss-made laws were too onerous and no longer worth the money, in which case they would elect a government to take us out of the arrangement with Switzerland.
The point of this analogy is not to argue that the UK benefits financially from the EU (although I am pretty confident that it does, through the single market and its associated advantages) but to show that at no point in the scenario described above, whether the UK public like or dislike the legislation imposed on them by Switzerland, whether choosing to retain or abandon the arrangement with Switzerland, does the Westminster parliament cease to be the sovereign decision-making authority for the UK and at no point does democracy cease to operate or the will of the UK electorate cease to be implemented.
What this shows is that by 'contracting out' some legislative powers to the European Union, the ultimate sovereignty of the UK parliament in Westminster is in no way negated or diminished.