Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

EUROPE – WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

June 24, 2016

Living in Europe for 35 years, I greatly appreciated the people and their various ways of life. I was happy to return to live in England, since I imagined that within the European Union we could be one. So now that Britons have dropped a nuclear bomb on the relationship with Europe, I am devastated.

That we should have a constitutional crisis, utter confusion, no government and no plan for the future was eminently foreseeable. Yet a majority of voters, including friends of mine, embarked on this apparently reckless course. Why did the Remain camp fail to convince?

Voters knew David Cameron was no friend of Europe, so he had no credibility in declaring he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay in. No more persuasive were statesmen who urged Britain to stay inside the Union to play a leading role in reforming it. If Britain could not fix the defects before, why hang around? As for experts’ prophecies of economic disaster, voters clearly thought economic forecasting had too bad a track record.

A Leave friend wrote on Facebook “Now we will be back in the driving seat again!!!” Indeed so, and the responsibility rests primarily with Leavers to draw up strategies, act and take care of the people of Britain. Just now, they have no Prime Minister, no government and no plan. We Remainers however must realise that the European Union cannot continue as the framework for relating to the continent. Leavers and Remainers have a joint responsibility to end the chaos and devise new ways of functioning with our neighbours.

As for European leaders, they should take this bombshell as a warning. It is not enough to dwell on the Union’s success in ending post-war animosities and providing a democratic framework for liberated Eastern Europe. The people of Hungary and Poland have elected governments that patently care little for this.

It is not a time for European leaders to close ranks to hold the Union together at all costs. Britons are not the only people who are dissatisfied. Who today expresses enthusiasm for the Union? Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Commission, has failed to rise to his task. Angela Merkel performs a useful role as a “nice German” at the heart of Europe but will not act decisively as a leader.

However Europe must have smart people able to solve issues such as the bias of the euro system in favour of Germany. Germans’ insistence that other countries should merely act economically as they do is unrealistic. If limited liability laws enable individuals to go bankrupt, renege on debts and eventually return to economic activity, why can this not be done also for Greece?

The European Union has to resolve the chaotic inflows of migrants, the number one issue in the British campaign. There is talk of “defending frontiers”, but the free passage provided by Schengen has been built into infrastructures of airport and road systems, and can scarcely be dismantled. Britain, for all the boasts of the Leavers about regaining sovereignty, has only a handful of coastal patrol craft, and Italy or Greece have even less chance of sealing off their huge coastlines. However Spain does. It pays money to Morocco and Mauritania in return for measures to head off migrants. Such measures do not choke off channels altogether, but manage the flows better.

Financial stability and migration are among the big issues of our time. They need imaginative ideas and cooperation, far more than exasperated reactions to bothersome bureaucrats.

Ukraine: cut off and thirsting for contact with the world

February 23, 2014

I first published this blog after a visit to Ukraine in April 2010

The roads are broken up with potholes, the pavements are full of ice, slush and mud, the buildings are Soviet and not much works. The students I am teaching can’t speak much English or any other foreign language. The Schengen visa system makes travel to western Europe difficult, and few can afford it.

I am in the Ukraine. It means “borderlands,” and that’s what it is. One of my students asks me anxiously: “Do you think we are European?” I say: “Of course you are.” She is relieved. She was not sure she qualified, but she definitely does want to be one of us.

Excluded as Ukrainians largely are from contact with the West, they have an uphill task joining the modern world. The Institute for Human Development “Ukraine” in Kirovograd, a sprawling provincial city, is doing its best by inviting foreign teachers, but its internet service usually goes off in mid-afternoon because the service provider rations its kilobytes.

Nobody speaks nostalgically of the old days, but there is little sense that the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union in 1990 was a turning point. Life did not change much. Now the oppressors are corrupt politicians, officials and businessmen. Individuals are unsure that they are empowered. Pessimism is the norm.

In the gloom of the fag end of an Eastern winter however shines the eternal Slav spirit – warm, hospitable and emotional. My journalism students snatch the western newspapers I have brought from my hand (the Swisscontact aid organisation has sent me). I give lessons in journalism, but what they really want to hear is how it is where I come from. They beam with pleasure that somebody has taken the trouble to come to them.

My hosts immerse me in culture. I eat bortsch and blinis with cottage cheese. Two of my students take me to a sauna, I buy a fur coat and I end up at the local beauty contest. I learn how to toast vodka: the first of the 39 traditional Ukrainian toasts is for good, the second for friends, the third for women, and after that nobody can remember any more.

After a couple of weeks, I am feeling quite at home.

Ukraine: the revolution has won and it changes everything

February 22, 2014

A policeman from Lviv (L), who has joined anti-government protesters, visits barricades in Kiev February 21, 2014. REUTERS-Vasily Fedosenko

This weekend (22.2.2014), all the signs are that the Revolution in Ukraine has won:

– Russian-supported President Yanukovych has fled to the east, where there is an ethnic Russian population.

– Parliament in Kiev has declared him deposed.

– His riot police have lost control of the streets and partly deserted to the revolutionaries.

– His army has failed to intervene on his side.

– His main political opponent has been released from prison.

– He has lost control over the news flow: all the news now comes from the revolutionaries.

He may yet make a comeback, but as time passes, this seems less likely. The likely consequences:

– A huge setback for Russia. Having actively supported and protected him for years, their man is now more or less on the run.

– The historic beginnings of Russia were in the Ukraine; many Russians consider it de facto an integral part of their nation. The prospect of “losing” it to the West is therefore highly damaging for Russia’s standing.

– The mostly Russian population of the east may not wish to break with Russia. However people there are as aware as anybody that the European Union offers valuable benefits and an opening to the world at large. On whose side will they be?

– Nobody seems to want partition. So Ukrainians have to try to see what they can rally around. They show few signs currently of being able to do this. So expect long unrest.

– The EU negotiating team included a German and a Pole. Both are aware from recent history of the advisability of assuaging offended Russian pride. Have they offered any quid pro quo to Putin?

Lastly, the battered European Union has received a fillip at the sight of revolutionaries brandishing its flag to despatch a tyrant. The introspective grumblers in Western Europe must find it a shock to realise tens of millions of Europeans want to get closer to the EU, not more distant.

No big surprise really. The EU offers the rule of law, a harmonious framework for international relations and an efficient open market economy – none of which the Ukraine enjoys at the moment.

Picture: Reuters

By Marcus Ferrar: The Budapest House: a Life Re-Discovered. http://www.thebudapesthouse.com/

A web site for my new book THE BUDAPEST HOUSE

February 11, 2014

The Budapest House cover

I have a new web site for my latest book, THE BUDAPEST HOUSE: A LIFE RE-DISCOVERED.

To learn about this moving true story of a woman seeking her roots in Central Europe, and to buy the book, go to  http://www.thebudapesthouse.com

SLOVENIA: FALLEN ANGEL OF EX-COMMUNIST EUROPE

December 21, 2013

Spik 2013

In the days of Communist Yugoslavia, Slovenes stood out for being in touch with the West and capable of generating a large proportion of the country’s GDP. Independent since 1991, Slovenia quickly qualified for the European Union, the euro and Schengen.

Yet now it counts with Greece, Cyprus and Spain among the eurozone’s worst financial miscreants. Its main state-owned banks are in dire need of bailouts. As auditors pick through the books, they discover loan after reckless loan for dud projects run by political cronies and personal business friends, secured by precious little.

Governance of the banks is revealed as irresponsible, slack and amateurish. Even the Catholic Church is saddled with large bankrupt businesses which are anything but spiritual. Pope Francis has removed the Archbishop of Ljubljana and the Bishop of Maribor. So much for Slovenes’ reputation for economic competence.

Now the government is starting to bail out the banks. Eager to cling to the independence gained only in 1991, it refused to apply for a bailout from the EU and the IMF, which would have meant foreign supervision. In order to preserve a minimum of international credibility, it reluctantly brought in foreign consultants to inspect the books.

As a result, it embarrassingly turns out that the government needs to put in 4.8 billion euro, four times the amount it originally calculated.

Moreover, EU rules on state aid oblige it to sell its number two and three banks, as well as 75% of the largest. The best hope that the Slovenian Central Bank governor could voice was that foreign buyers (there are no domestic candidates) will sort out the governance mess.

Slovenia has escaped bailout tutelage by the EU and the IMF, but the cost of going it alone will be huge for the Slovene people.

In hindsight, it is clear Slovenes were too complacent because of their success in Communist Yugoslavia. Their capabilities proved inadequate for an open modern economy. Whereas Poland privatised quickly in the earlier 1990s – and got through the recent financial crisis unscathed – in Slovenia, the state still owns half the economy.

So anxious were Slovenes to preserve their independence that they did their utmost to keep out foreign investors. This can now be seen as a damaging fantasy.

One exception is Lek, one of the country’s largest companies, which was bought by Novartis. Its procedures were radically overhauled at the insistence of the Swiss. Now it is solidly implanted in the group as a leading producer of generic pharmaceuticals. At a time when Slovenia’s GDP is falling precipitously, Lek is hiring not firing.

Moral number 1: ex-Communist states of Eastern Europe, even Slovenia, underestimated how much they need to change to adapt to the modern world.

Moral number 2: Slovenia now needs the national unity which won it independence in a 10-day war in 1991. In view of the vicious infighting which pervades its politics, this however seems unlikely.

Its outlook unfortunately is grim.

– Marcus Ferrar is co-author (with John Corsellis) of Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death And Survival After World War II.

British driving without winter tyres

January 19, 2013

Here’s a picture of British driving in the latest snow. All over the place, even on a flat road. And why? Certainly because winter tyres are scarcely used at all in this country.

In many countries on the continent of Europe, winter tyres are mandatory at this time of the year. The Swiss rule that vehicles must be “adapted to the conditions.” That means winter tyres when the conditions require. If you have an accident without winter tyres, you can fined or lose your insurance cover.

Isn’t that expensive? Not much. During winter, you don’t wear down your summer tyres. The main cost is to have a garage change them over twice a year. The savings in less damage make up for this – and you are safer.

Winter tyres are not effective just in snow and ice. At any temperature from 7 Celsius downwards, winter tyres grip better.

Perhaps we need a European Union directive …

Photo: Matthew Plucknett,/Oxford Mail https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BA9up9LCYAASMbn.jpg

“Preserving the Liberties of EUROPE” – that’s what the Duke of Marlborough did

November 3, 2012

File:Blenheim Column of Victory.JPG

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The inscription on the triumphal column to the Duke of Marlborough, one of Britain’s greatest national heroes, says a purpose of his successful campaigns in the first decade of the 18th century was “preserving the Liberties of Europe.”

He was mainly intent on eliminating the threat of French hegemony in Europe. To do so, he engaged with like-minded continental allies. The inscription talks of “the Principal States of Europe being united in one common Cause” – the cause Marlborough pursued on behalf of Britain. His string of victories earned “The Admiration of other Nations.”

Today talk is of “repatriating powers from Europe” and perhaps even leaving the European Union altogether. The Government and a large part of the media pour scorn on all that is European and play up British particularity.

History should teach us this is dangerous and against our interests – quite apart from any obligation we may feel to behave responsibly and decently towards our neighbours.

After Marlborough engaged with Europe by forming alliances, Wellington did likewise to defeat Napoleon, as did British generals in World War I and Churchill in World War II

Each time, it was obvious the British had to. It is foolish to believe this is no longer the case. The rest of Europe wants Britain as a balance, and the experience of two World Wars should teach us that turning our back on these “faraway people about whom we know so little” is disastrous, not least for us.

In an era of spreading knowledge, Britons should look beyond their coasts and see what lies to the East, to the South and to the West. It is Europe. We sit on the same continental shelf and are part of it. Act European. Marlborough did.

A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: a sellout at the Geneva Writers Group

October 23, 2012

My new book, A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS: A GERMAN PAST FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE, sold out at a presentation to the Geneva Writers Group over the weekend – 31 sold in 20 minutes.

Readers’ comments:

Your mother seems a remarkable woman. It’s good to see a British book about Germany that takes a positive view! – Professor Sir Richard Evans FBA, University of Cambridge.

… and …

Not just good but brilliant.

One of the best books about Germany.

Eloquent, thought-provoking and remarkably reflective.

Unputdownable.

This book is unique … easy-to-read.

Highly recommended.

Illustrates history in a very readable way.

A FOOT IN BOTH CAMPS, published by LBLA Digital,  is available through bookstores, Amazon, Kindle and the Apple I-Bookstore.

European Union wins Nobel Peace Prize – time to stop knocking it

October 12, 2012

By awarding the European Union the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee has exactly identified the most valuable benefit the EU has brought to the people of Europe – peace after two World Wars.

My grandfather was involved in World War I, and my father in World War II. I have never had to fight in anything. Putting a final end to hostilities was the overriding purpose of the founding fathers of the European Union, and they have delivered on their promise.

Peace is one of the greatest benefits mankind can wish for. It is liberating, enriching and ennobling. If the EU has brought that, it is senseless to try to destroy it for falling short in satisfying people’s many other aspirations. No national government succeeds wholly at that either.

It is regrettable that Britain, right up to the Prime Minister, loses no opportunity to undermine the EU. This is undeserved, irresponsible and against British interests. It is time to stop.

LIBERATING AND CONVENIENT

August 23, 2012

Whilst I’ve been away from the UK in Europe, I’ve crossed frontiers a dozen times, and never had to show a passport or identity card, nor declare goods to customs. Eurozone citizens crossing with me did not have to lose money through changing currencies. I lost 8% to the money-changers by having to change sterling.

When I return to the UK on Sunday, I will have show an identity card at Trieste airport as I leave the Schengen zone. When I arrive in the UK two hours later, I will have to queue to show my identity card again.

I’m still trying to discover the supposed benefits of British insularity. Our currency is devalued far more than the euro is. Staying outside Schengen means we are excluded from sharing of security information.

Nobody likes too much regulation, but that’s not the sole preserve of the European Union – national governments do it too. Democratic accountability in the EU? Maybe not great, but Britain has a first-past-the-post voting system that usually gives exclusive power to a party winning around a third of the votes. Not supremely democratic either.

At least I have not only British nationality, but also Swiss, so like most Europeans I can travel around with a small plastic identity card in my wallet rather than a passport. Switzerland doesn’t even belong to the EU, but it has adapted itself to many EU norms and remains safe even after opening up its frontiers within Schengen.

In most respects I love living in England, the place where I was born and grew up, so I’m working hard on my insularity. But for the moment, I don’t quite get it. Just now, I find European harmonisation liberating and convenient.


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