Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Hopping Mad

I know its nearly Christmas and everything but I'm not yet in the kind of seasonal mood that involves goodwill to all mankind.  What's going on?  Well, there's been another angry rash of articles about how the EU has "failed" to intervene in Catalonia.  If it's a blog or a tweet I sometimes chip in but, to be perfectly honest, there's a braying mob of clicking Yessers out there who make rational debate on this topic all but impossible. Today's incompetent ramblings, however, can be found in a popular newspaper with a Scots independence slant.  When I see ill-informed articles in a newspaper I reckon they deserve a thorough Fisking because they carry more authority and have greater readership than blogs.   I don't really know if I'm the kind of person who has the ability to give a published newspaper article a thorough Fisking but nobody else is stepping up to the plate so this might be the best you're going to get. It obviously pays to read the linked article first before the rest of this post so go right ahead and do that.  Battle will commence in the next paragraph.  See you there for more words on the topic.

Welcome back. George Kerevan's article argues that the EU is a right-wing business group more interested in promoting German banks and German businesses than in democracy and  human rights.  It argues that this description holds true through brief case studies of policy decisions, which he believes illustrate some kind of "in the air" but as of yet undocumented doctrine at the EU.  It then concludes that iScotland should steer well clear of all this and should instead join EFTA because the addition of Catalonia and iScotland would raise EFTA to 10% of the GDP of the Eurozone, thereby allowing it to negotiate its own future. 

I'm going to go to through the case studies proposed by George Kerevan because they form the core of his argument.  If the case studies prove false then it logically follows there is no prima facie evidence for the statement that the EU is a right-wing business conspiracy more interested in promoting German banks and German businesses than in democracy and  human rights. I'll finish off with the conclusions because they are quite hilarious and we need a treat to cheer us all up.

New EU doctrine #1: “If you don’t pursue the economic policy we want, you will be deposed”.


This is the kind of Lexit nonsense that I thought had largely been debunked and forgotten but here it is, alive and well.  George Kerevan is, of course, referring to the Greek financial crisis and the oft-made claim that the European Commission and the European Central Bank together conspired to install governments around the EU with austerity agendas.  That conspiracy, in Kerevan's view, began with a threat to cut off Greek financial support during the Greek sovereign debt crisis.  The accusation here is very clear: institutions of the EU intervened in the Greek democratic process to ensure the outcome was favourable to German banks.  It went on to do the same in Italy with Mario Monti and continues its conspiracy to support austerity politicians all over the EU by propping up Rajoy in Spain. That is quite a journey of logical leaping but where to begin?

Let's begin with the Greek sovereign debt crisis.  Due to historic mismanagement and deception the Greek government had escalated their debt burden to such a degree that it could no longer affordably borrow money to pay for its ongoing deficit.  To compound its problems, it was unable to deflate its way out of trouble because the value of the Euro was outside its direct control.  Hundreds of billions of Euros were loaned to Greece under the direction of the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission.  These loans came with conditions because literally all inter-governmental emergency loans come with conditions.  We shouldn't be surprised by that because the loans were effectively underwritten by taxpayers in other countries and they'll have been wanting their money back at some stage.  The crisis escalated until Greece repeatedly threatened to default on its debts, while the Troika responded by threatening to cut off the regular loan payments that kept Greece afloat.  An economic crisis quickly became a political crisis.

We can look back at the crisis and ask ourselves if there was a conspiracy to intervene in Greek democratic affairs.  That conspiracy would have involved the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF.  It's hard to argue for a conspiracy because it was the Greek government that ran up the debts, it was the Greek government that wanted to stay in the Euro, it was the Greek government that accepted the bailout loans, and it was the Greek population that voted in a referendum to stay in the Euro.  There is a clear sequence of events beginning with Greece wanting to remain in the Euro.  In order to stay in the Euro, Greece needed money to offset its ability to devalue.  In order to get the money, it had to access emergency funds.  In order to  access those emergency funds, it had to agree to conditions designed around eventual repayment. In order to repay any portion of its debt, Greece needed to spend less or earn more.  There was no credible plan to earn more so Greece had to spend less. In order to spend less, Greece needed to spend less.  The end.  Austerity was a natural consequence of Greece's expressed desire to remain in the Euro. We can argue about the ability to earn more over spending less but the problem was made by Greece and the solution chosen by Greece through a succession of elected governments.

The Greek crisis was a bit like Brexit in that it was a problem with no solution.  The Greek population could not remain in the Euro and have happy years of Keynesian economic policy because those choices were incompatible.  Greece chose to remain in the Euro.  It chose that in a sequence of democratic events over the duration of the crisis.  It's true that Lucas Papademos was not an elected MP when he served as Prime Minister but he was chosen and ratified by a coalition of democratically elected parties.  There was nothing undemocratic in that.  After all, the only barrier to being Prime Minister in the UK is gaining the confidence of Parliament. There is no stipulation that the PM must also be an MP, even though that is usually the case.  We don't have to go back too far to remember David Sainsbury's appointment as Minister for Science, despite having never stood for election.  It was statistically unusual but constitutionally fine.

Greece could have chosen to end the crisis at any time of its own choosing by leaving the Euro.  It would have entered a bigger crisis  but it would have been free of the meddling ECB and the European Commission with all their monetary conditions and expectations of repayment.  That was not the choice that Greece made at the ballot-box.  

In retrospect we can argue about the way the crisis was handled.  The Troika chose austerity as its solution but could it have chosen other routes?  What could it have done?  I've never seen a convincing answer from anyone on the Left and certainly not from anyone supporting Lexit.  One   alternative is that the Troika could have gifted Greece money by removing the expectations of repayment and giving up all monetary conditions.  Turning the money supply on rather than off might have stimulated the economy.  It's hard to argue that because it was a reduction in earnings that precipitated the crisis in the first place.  Besides, those loans ultimately came from European taxpayers who  might not have been all that happy at gifting hundreds of billions of Euros to a country that deceived its way to the top of the debt mountain.  Like it or not, even loans to the developing world come with strings attached.  Another alternative would have been to devalue the Euro.  Which countries other than those with sovereign debt crises of their very own would have voted for that?  Which countries with the ability to underwrite the loans would have agreed?  Finally, the original debt could have been reduced.  That actually did happen to a significant degree but the debt reduction could only go so far without precariously undermining the trading status of banks around the EU. 

The idea that the ECB and the European Commission conspire to depose governments with Keynesian policies is absurd.  It's the kind of tinfoil-hattery you'd expect to hear from David Icke or Paul Joseph Watson yet George Keveran published it in a national broadsheet newspaper.  Until recently, he was an MP.  The mind boggles but, hey, maybe it means an idiot like me could wangle a column at a national newspaper.

New EU doctrine #2: “We will turn a blind eye to human rights abuses if it suits us, especially in Spain”


George Kerevan believes that the EU could and should intervene in Spanish constitutional affairs.  He  believes that the EU is ignoring its commitment to human rights and the right of peoples to self-determination.  He bases his argument on two separate strands: the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Helsinki Accords.  Let's start with the ECHR.  As we all know, the ECHR is not an institution of the EU. It is true that EU membership is conditional on first being a signatory to the ECHR, through membership of the Council of Europe, but it is important to note that these are separate institutions.  If there is a human rights problem in Europe and you want something done about it then don't waste your time and your rail fare going to Brussels for a chat with Jean Claude Juncker.  No, you really want to go to Strasbourg to visit the European Court of Human Rights, an institution of the Council of Europe.  Kerevan knows this so he slyly introduces the idea that the EU has absorbed the ECHR into its legal structures.  If it has absorbed the ECHR into its legal structures then it must be able to do something, right? Wrong.  This seems to be an oblique reference to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.  If this sounds familiar then it's because we've dealt with this before in the context of a Craig Murray blog post making exactly the same point. The Charter refers only to the implementation of EU law and to the actions of EU institutions. Spanish policing is obviously a matter for Spanish law rather than European law so the Charter does not apply. Despite the long-winded EU nomenclature this stuff is actually quite simple.  What are we left with?  Well, we're not left with anything connected to the EU.  What we're left with is the application of the ECHR, the ECtHR and the Council of Europe.  George Kerevan ought to be agitating for iScotland to leave the Council of Europe because that is the real source of his gripe.

What is this Helsinki Accord that George Kevan speaks of? Well, it's another one of those international declarations on self-determination.  If this sounds familiar then it's because we've dealt with this topic on the blog as well.  It needs to be said, however, that we didn't actually look at the Helsinki Accord, mainly because it doesn't add all that much to the debate.  It doesn't add much because it is not legally binding and doesn't answer to an international court. In short, it is a statement of intent (big shout out to the David Davis crew) rather than a legal text.  It also has nothing to do with the EU.  It does contain the signatures of many EU states but, despite Kerevan's insistence, not all of them:  Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia and Slovenia are all notably absent from the list.  It's also worth noting that states no longer in existence such as USSR and GDR are also signatories.  I'm labouring the point (and repeating myself) but this has nothing to do with the EU.  The EU doesn't force applicants to sign up and it makes no attempt to take ownership of signature the way it does with the WTO.  We cannot look to Brussels for its enforcement.

Even if the Helsinki Accord had Jean Claude Juncker's personal signature on it would it apply to Catalonia?  Not really,  no.  If you followed the post on self-determination you might have seen a pattern emerge in that a declaration makes a bold statement like "all peoples have the right..." only to backtrack later with a caveat or condition that narrows its scope.   The UN Declaration on Friendly Relations, for example,  plays this game.  It contains the text "all peoples have the right..." but ends by narrowing the application domain to situations where governments deny representation on the basis of colour, creed or race. The Helsinki Accord employs a similar tactic.  This time, it doesn't just use "all peoples" but also the word "always". If that sounds like music to your ears then you need to read the small print on the inviolability of frontiers (Principle III) and the territorial integrity of states (Principle IV).  In the spirit of all declarations on self-determination it reins itself back in with caveats that limit its application domain to a narrow field that doesn't include Catalonia.  We should probably end this bit by wondering about the intention of the authors.  What was worrying them?  Well, the absence of Lithuania and Slovenia and the inclusion of the GDR might form a clue. The Helsinki Accord is really about the right of the people of a state to be free from external influence in choosing its own form of government. The Soviet Union as an imperial power was very much on everyone's mind  back in 1975.

It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway:  the EU cannot and should not intervene in the constitutional affairs of member nations. 

 New EU doctrine #3: “We declare the right to expel groups of EU citizens unilaterally from the union, though nothing in the treaties supports this”.

I have to admit I struggled with this one because its logic is so skewed that it forms a danger to public health.  George Kerevan is referring to the ability of fledgling nations to join the EU after they secede from an existing member state.  He thinks that continued membership should be automatic and that it is dreadfully unfair that it isn't.  I'm afraid I can't fully follow his argument but he refers to the process of membership application for  post-secession states as "economic blackmail".  If  anyone can make the logical leap please help me out.

Central to Kerevan's argument is that the EU would be a fairer system (with fewer opportunities for economic blackmail) if it was more like the US.  The US constitution does indeed allow member states to divide without new entities being expelled but I don't see why that matters.  Different countries have different rules for different historical reasons with different intent.  Switzerland only allows Cantonal boundary changes if all Cantons agree to the change at referendum. Does that make it profoundly undemocratic just because it's different from the US?   I don't think it does.  EU membership comes with specific legal obligations and depends on everyone believing that those obligations can and will be upheld.  There's an extra caveat to that:  the obligations must be upheld without direct governance from the EU.  That is quite different from the US because the states that make up the US are not sovereign states pursuing their own domestic and foreign policy. An applicant to the EU must make it clear that it has in place the governmental practices and statutes that will enable it to uphold its legal obligations. As a consequence, membership could never be automatic to a post-secession state because it would have to demonstrate compliance and that takes time.

It's difficult to look at Catalonia and imagine it would automatically comply with the EU's conditions. It might, for example, be locked in a lengthy boundary dispute with Spain.  That would immediately rule out membership for Catalonia, just as it does for Macedonia (a dispute with Greece over the name Macedonia) and Spain (it gave up its claim over Gibraltar when it joined the EU and will now resume that claim after Brexit).  Moreover, Catalonia is not yet a member of the UN and therefore is not a recognised sovereign nation.  Spain could agitate against UN membership and use its allies to delay, prevaricate and frustrate.  Catalonia has no currency of its own. How does it intend to pay its share of the EU's running costs?   How does Catalonia intend to implement Directive 2012/28/EU and protect copyrighted works with historically complex ownership trails.  I could go an and on but I won't.

The EU is governed by law and process so we shouldn't be surprised that there are laws and processes for membership.  Law and process is the unique feature of the EU that allows it to achieve political consensus free from political bullying. George Keveran is surprised by that and sees it is a moral failing.  I'm lost for words.

Have Mercy On My Soul, Its Conclusion Time

The article concludes that iScotland should steer well clear of the EU. It should steer well clear of a conspiratorial, austerity-obsessed, human rights-abusing EU that acts only in the interests of German banks and businesses.  If any of that was true I might think about giving the EU a wide berth, too, but what would I do?  Would I encourage a pact with Catalonia to join EFTA and turn it into an economic powerhouse with, that's right, a whopping 10% of the GDP of the Eurozone?  In case anyone hasn't noticed the UK has 17% of the GDP of the Eurozone and it's struggling to negotiate with the EU. In case anyone else hasn't noticed 3 of the 4 existing EFTA nations are in the EEA and might not want new members tearing up their historic international relationships. In case anyone else hasn't noticed the 4th existing EFTA nation has a precarious sequence of bi-laterals that it only just rescued from its very own version of Brexit.  In case anyone else hasn't noticed, George Kerevan's policy goals might  not be aligned with EFTA with or without new members.

If any of this was true I might think about giving the EU a wide berth but it turns out that none of it was true.  Can I have a column in a national newspaper, please?

Over and out,



  1. What has happened in Catalonia has been sickening.

    But as you rightly say, it really has nothing to do with the EU.

    It seems to me to be about:

    (a) the Spanish Constitution, which denies any region (previously kingdom) to secede. The constitutions of member states are outwith the remit of the EU. An EU that had the right to interfere with individual constitutions might be interested in the anti-democratic nature of the UK constitution with its unelected aristocrats and royal prerogative...not to mention the recent return of Henry VIII.

    (b) the arrest and locking up of members of the Catalan government, which again, given the constitution of Spain, was, while despicable, not illegal.

    (c) the actions of the police. Of course once again we would have to ask if the UK would have appreciated Brussels' interference in some of their abysmal policing events of the past, perhaps those in the 1980s with regard to miners, or more recently in demonstrations, where the courts seem to have taken a very lenient view of police brutality. The UK government's has been slow to act on some and on others hasn't acted at all. I'm reminded that in 2010 the then new Prime Minister, David Cameron, instructed to English courts to come down hard on anyone who had been arrested during the riots resulting in one lad to had taken a bottle of water, receiving 6 months imprisonment, when a Nobleman who had systematically defrauded the House of Peers of thousands of pounds was given 9 days in prison. The EU said and did nothing.

    So, whilst I deplore what has happened in Catalonia, I cannot but agree with you that the EU had no power intervene in any way.

    As for iScotland eschewing membership of the EU for EFTA or EEA, I've often considered it myself. For some nations it is clearly an ideal solution.

    But it costs a lot of money and excludes the member from receiving (as I understand it) EU aid in terms of agriculture, structural funding, social finding... none of which matters much to Liechtenstein, Iceland or Norway, given how rich they are... but would seriously detrimentally affect Scotland.

    And of course, although there are, I believe, consultations from time to time between Brussels and Reykjavik, Oslo and Vaduz, that seat at the top table is no longer there. The veto is gone. Even the voice at the council is gone. There is no commissioner.

    Of course, I may have misunderstood some of the above, but it seems to me not to be as good a deal, at least for Scotland.

    I'm open to corrections, of course.

    1. The Spanish government is certainly authoritarian in its dealings with Catalonia. There are many other available paths it could have chosen but it chose this one. It seems like a counterproductive choice but authoritarian governments do that kind of thing. I don't like authoritarian governments but that's what Spain voted for. The Spanish constitution just makes the whole situation even more intractable, as you said. Spain, as you said, is following its own internal processes. These are democratic and constitutional process, even if they don't produce the results I'd like to see. But.. that's what democracy is like. We don't always get what we want; sometimes the constraints of the problem deny ready solutions.

      There are many compelling reasons for iScotland to choose EFTA/EEA over EU but none are explored in George Kerevan's article. His article is a combination of misrepresentation, misunderstanding and dissembling. It really annoys me that the debate is muddied with this kind of rubbish. He used to be an SNP MP so he has authority and a voice and an audience and a column in a national newspaper. His message, though, is errant nonsense. He's making the kind of arguments that Momentum would make about the EU. Is there a Momentum wing of the SNP? I genuinely don't know.

      Although there are compelling reasons to choose EFTA/EEU, I don't think George Kerevan is advocating that. He is advocating EFTA on its own, I think. EFTA/EEU means about 80% compliance to EU regs. I don't think that's George Kerevan's goal. He seems to suggest a brand new kind of outer orbit of the EU, spearheaded by Scotland's contribution to an aggregated 10% of Eurozone GDP. No details of what that might involve but I don't think anything connected to the EU would keep a former Marxist happy. Anyway, it's not going to happen and we need to be realistic about the available choices.

      I must admit I'm a little lost by the automatic support for Catalonian independence and the vehemence with which that view is defended by Scots Yessers. I honestly have no view on Catalonian independence beyond a wish for the situation to be democratically and peacefully resolved. I can't easily translate my reasoning for Scottish independence to other cases because I don't know the full facts. Yet almost everyone else has a clear view. How did they get there so fast? What is their reasoning? Is it the same as their reasoning for iScotland? It strikes me that the situations are very different. What does everyone think about Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Lombardy and Bavaria? Am I missing a fundamental point or just being overly analytical?

    2. You? Over analytical? Surely not!

      Views on independence can be difficult to get straight when you probe at them a bit. Initially, of course, I believe that if people vote for independence then that is what they should have.

      Boycotting or banning referenda is no way to find out what people want.

      That said, where does it end?

      In theory, I should have no problem with Shetland wanting to be independent. I'm not sure that I do, if that is what the people want. I wouldn't advocate refusing them a referendum, nor would I advise remainers to boycott it so that the result would be invalid.

      But then, how about Inverness?

      Or Cowcaddens?

      Or the Royal Mile?

      Or my street?

      Or the woman over the road's house?

      It's too difficult for this time of night, I think.

      Your piece is very well written. Will you email it to the paper as a reader's letter?

    3. Forgot to say your analysis of EEA membership is a perfect encapsulation of the situation.

    4. Indeed, independence can just become more and more granular. There is a need for scale but also a need for locality. It's a difficult balancing act and I'm unable to generalise about the characteristics about that balance. For example, I read that about 1/3 of Bavarians would like independence from Germany but does it warrant a referendum? Would that be fair given that they would be taking a disproportionate share of wealth with them? Are those secessionist Bavarians really all that bothered? How bothered would they need to be to warrant a referendum and how would that be expressed and measured? It's complicated stuff!

      Would they publish something as long-winded as my post? I suspect they want something more succinct and less rambling.

    5. I don't know if they would. Maybe you could trim it down... perhaps take out the direct criticism of the author...

      It would certainly get, what is a studied piece (for all you were pissed when you write it), a larger audience.

      And I think that that is important. Criticism of anything where due, and heaven knows the EU is far from perfect, but in this case, I can't see that they have any business interfering.

    6. I posted a summary as a comment. It only had 4 comments so it probably isn't a trending article, which makes it a bit like this blog!

  2. The only issue I have with what you wrote, Terry, is the suggestion that the national newspaper in question has a higher readership than blogs; I'm not at all sure that it does. In fact I wonder at its relevance more often than I welcome its presence.

    Other than that, Tris' comments pretty much mirror own. Thank you for your efforts.

    1. That's a great point. I'm still thinking 20th century thoughts when it comes to newspapers, even though I generally get my Brexit news from blogs and twitter nowadays. The idea that the printed word comes with a readership is hard for me to shake off.

    2. I must admit to having my tongue in my cheek a bit when I wrote the last but circulation figures for print media are generally down. Though that may be balanced by increased online readership of course so the MSM is still a significant source of (dis)information.

    3. I'm guessing The National has a very small print run. Wikipedia suggests <10k. It's hard to get data for online readers but I would guess a Munguin's Republic post gets more readers than almost any single article in The National apart from perhaps the lead. It certainly gets more comments and is a much better read.

      Newspapers definitely still have authority. Politicians seem to care about them because they're visible on the bus and at the check-out at the supermarket. I wonder when blogs will start to take over that role.

    4. I don't know about Munguin... but I'll bet that Wings' articles get a bigger readership than the National, and, for that matter, the Telegraph, Express, Scotsman, Herald and probably any local newspaper.

      I imagine that that will only increase in the future.

      Who would have thought, 20 years ago, that social media would have grown so much, that newspapers would have diminished and that mistrust of the mainstream media would be so strong.

      Once upon a time, not so long ago, good newspapers reported the news and kept their political bias for their leader columns. I used to buy the Telegraph every day. Its editorials were ridiculously Tory, but its news coverage was, by and large, sound. (Its crossword was hard enough to be a puzzle, but easy enough to complete.)

      I bought it not so long ago for a train journey.

      Never again. Tabloid standard reporting and ridiculous political bias everywhere. It made the Daily Mail look reasonable. I was waiting for Jordan's breasts to be flashed at me.

      Sorry for going off topic there.

    5. 20 plus years ago, when I had aspirations of becoming a military officer, I had to be seen to read the Telegraph even though I was a Guardian reader by preference. I tended to read both to get a bit of balance but both (and other papers of the time) could be trusted to report accurately (or so I thought anyway) even if their biases were shown in the editorials or slant of a story. Now the only time I read the Torygraph is when I visit my in-laws and the standard of journalism is appalling. Rabid stuff half the time and inaccurate the rest.

      I now see no value in following MSM sources because, while not all stories are untrue or inaccurate, it is nearly impossible to tell which ones are which devalues the whole experience. Having had a varied career I have achieved a level of professional and academic expertise in several diverse areas and whenever I read about any of them in the MSM I find glaring errors and massive holes. I now view the news as a means of lowering people's IQs and reckon you come away more ill-informed so it is better to remain truly ignorant.

      Does anyone have any English language news sources they actually consider worth reading/watching?

    6. Is rolling news to blame for all this editorialising? Newspapers and nightly TV news used to be the only way to find out what was happening but that role has been taken away by rolling, endless news on every platform imaginable. MSM needs to fill its pages with something so they turned to frothing opinion and celebrity gossip. As revenues decline, the cost per printed word has to reduce so the research and analysis also declines in quality. It's much easier to knock off 500 words about nasty foreigners than it is to report on famine or war or complicated figures that don't add up in a government report. Just a theory.

      I have a FT subscription. It's actually pretty good for Brexit news - proper analysis with links to data. I'm not terribly interested in corporate takeovers or stock market movements so the rest of it is of limited interest to me. There's the Guardian, obviously, but I mostly just read the book and film reviews these days. It's good for quotes, though. Newspapers are still the only place to get quotes and interviews with politicians.

    7. "I was waiting for Jordan's breasts to be flashed at me."

      Did you have the Daily Star secretly hidden inside your Telegraph? "Nr 67 Bus found at North Pole" shocker.

  3. Oh damn, you know my guilty secret.

    All I can say in my defence is that I like to keep up with what is happening with Diana.


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