Contributions and comments please to email@example.com
Branch AGM - March 22nd 2013
After the business of the AGM, our president, Ian Taylor (IT), opened his remarks with reference to the European elections and his fears for a UKIP success, albeit as a protest vote. He cited yet more anti-EU stupidity recently in the media, in this case the Daily Express being ‘outraged’ that Brussels was setting up a website (‘at taxpayers expense’) with the implication that this was propaganda for the EU, and he drew the audience’s attention to a website providing ammunition to counter such slurs:
He cited a paper from this website showing how little each person in the UK pays towards the EU, currently about 0.08p a day, and pointed out that many in the UK benefit directly in cash terms from EU payments. IT reflected on how much better it would be if party leaders presented EU issues in context, not only focussing on the negative. He pointed out that even outside the EU, the UK would still have to engage with EU issues but without influence. He cited statistics showing the UK far from the top in many international league tables, except perhaps in an area that we’d rather not be leading – the UK has the third largest national debt in the world. IT then went on to argue that the UK cannot stand alone in the world, and that trade deals (such as the trade deal between the EU and USA) are between blocs where there is the advantage of scale. 51% of the UK’s car exports go to the EU yet none of the car manufacturers is British and there has to be a question over the continued commitment by these companies to build cars in the UK if we left the EU. Simply making British demands and then offering a referendum won’t work and IT fears that the Eurosceptics actively encourage David Cameron to argue a deal on our terms because they know it won’t succeed and will then lead to an exit from the EU. President Obama has voiced his wish for the UK to be in the UK, and even amongst the countries within the EU, Germany and Spain are arguably more important to the USA (for different reasons) than the UK.
IT then discussed William Hague’s three criteria for UK foreign policy:
1) Influence. The UK detached from Europe would not deliver to its citizens the protection it is able to offer inside the EU. Taking one example of current relevance, the UK has inadequate storage of gas and supplies are declining from the North Sea leaving deals having to be struck with Russia and some in the Middle East
2) National Security. Linked to the above there is the question of threats from both within and without. Monitoring needs to be co-ordinated with other countries. Interventions in countries such as Mali are examples where security is addressed through partnership and not just by the nation state, and membership of the EU also affords extra protection to British citizens travelling abroad through collaboration between embassies
3) Prosperity. The UK is very vulnerable due to enormous debt. Meeting this challenge is met in part by devaluing sterling but for exports to grow, other countries need to be prosperous. People need to be encouraged to come to the UK; students bring revenue but also develop loyalty to the country in which they study which can have long term benefits. IT criticised the recent decision to tighten the restrictions on Brazilian and Chinese students coming to the UK
All this said, IT conceded that the EU has made some shambolic decisions on the banking crisis (and it started as a banking crisis not a Euro crisis, although now the currency has been dragged in). The EU ignored the problems in Greece and Ireland for too long because the size of debt was so small in EU wide terms. This is particularly the case with Cyprus with only 0.2% of EU GDP. This is election year for Angela Merkel and there is unlikely to be much action until afterwards, but it is useless to argue that the UK is protected by being outside the Eurozone. The British Chancellor has a strong interest in seeing things sorted out – we are all in this together.
Questions (Q) and Answers (A)
Q What is IT’s take on the Cyprus crisis?
A With only 850,000 people, Cyprus is tiny, and Turkey is an influence in the north. The country had aspirations to be as important a financial centre as the City of London, and money from Russia and elsewhere (including the UK) flooded in. Germany made the solution to the banking crisis a problem of sovereign risk rather than direct bank recapitalisation ie any EU bailout goes first to the government who are responsible then for the banks. He feared that if investors have to take a ‘haircut’ then money will move out of other vulnerable bank accounts such as those in Italy. Putin realised it was not sensible to bail out Cyprus and risk antagonising the larger EU market.
Q How to control the banks?
A There are lots of problems in middle level German banks eg the savings banks and those at regional rather than federal level (he quoted 400 billion Euros of debt) and Germany is only prepared to help others on very tough terms
Q What will be the effect of the Scottish Referendum?
A All indications are that an independent Scotland would not automatically be a member of the EU. Spain is very much against the idea of Scotland being independent because of its own problems with Catalonia; the EU would be unlikely to let Scotland in without sorting out the issue of Catalonia. Regarding when Scotland would negotiate with the EU, before or after the referendum, IT drew the audience’s attention to an article by Lord Kerr in a recent edition of Prospect magazine.
Click on arrows to move to next page