Friday, 23 December 2016

Euro Christmas Wishes

It's been a whirlwind of a year, hasn't it?  At times it's felt like being locked in a car with a psycho at the wheel intent on driving off an approaching cliff.  You could even say that we're trapped, like fools in a cage, so confused we can't get out.

I still cast my mind back to June and remember how genuinely horrible it was during the whole EU referendum. It became impossible to even listen to pop music on the radio without hearing the hourly news bulletins that would neutrally inform you of the latest racist or xenophobic outburst from the Leave campaign.  Even without that it was just week after week of people yelling lies at each other from all directions.  Really, really awful stuff.  In the end I just had a news blackout for the whole month, fired up spotify and busied myself with DIYchores around the flat.  Apart from Sunday evening Tatort (a downbeat and occasionally not completely awful German detective procedural) I only broke the TV and radio embargo just before I went to bed as the vote counting started.  When the result became clear I was shocked and then shocked that I was so shocked.  It had never occurred to me that I was so attached to feeling European.  Brexit seemed to cut to the core of who I am much more than it threatens my plans. 

Blogging about Brexit has been a total revelation.  It's given me a (completely false) sense of control over the situation. Even if that is totally misguided it has made me feel so much better.  It wouldn't be the same without everyone who has stopped by to read my witterings, comment on them or even share them on something called twitter (being a middle-aged loser, I still don't fully understand Friendface or whatever it's called).  Anyway, a massive Christmas thank you to everyone who stopped by but especially to Tris from Munguins RepublicThank you! 

Frohe Weihnachten und ein gl├╝ckliches neues Jahr to everyone who stopped by.  I'll be back in January for more witterings, pop videos with semi-appropriate song title, wild speculation, updates on the emotional Brexitcoaster, and Euro facts.  To play out 2016 here's one of my favourite songs of all time.  It has nothing to do with Christmas or Brexit but it never fails to bring a smile to my face. What more do you want than a French singer wailing in German and then translating into English for the call back? Wait, you do want more?  Grrr, some people.  Get your dancing shoes on and simply enjoy the best German/French musical partnership ever.

Over and out,


PS RIP Colonel Abrams.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Psychotic Reaction

Oh, the arrogance of the blogger.  In my own mind I am now a renowned expert on the European Project.  Of course, I'm not actually an expert on anything except for multi-threaded optimisation in heterogeneous computing environments.  To be perfectly honest, I'm not even that much of an expert at that and sort of make do and mend as I battle each day at work.  Just don't tell my boss any of this in case it affects my hourly rate.  Anyway, the Scottish Government published yesterday their proposal to keep Scotland in the EEA and I'm going to damn well comment on it.  Even though literally nobody asked for my take on this I'm going to spew my inexpert opinion all over the internet like a laser-guided vomit machine.  Enjoy.

Let's start with my first impressions.  Against all my expectations, this is a serious proposal. Really, this reads like a serious proposal that demands a serious answer from the UK Government.  Well done everyone involved (apart from some careless typos). I'm especially impressed with the spirited and technical defence of the EU and EEA. This is probably the first time a mainstream politician has laid out the reality of the EU and the EEA without either using these terms interchangeably or making glaring factual errors driven by prejudice and ignorance. The Scottish Government has a good grasp of the obligations and advantages of EU/EEA membership and spells them out clearly.  Bravo!  Have a Euro party!

What exactly is it all about?  Well, it takes us through a range of outcomes in decreasing order of desirability from the perspective of the Scottish Government.  Obviously, it starts with an independent Scotland in the EU but dismisses that because the proposal seeks to solve the Brexit problem without invoking independence.  It then moves on to the UK remaining in the EEA as a next best option.  In doing so, it lays out a summary of Scotland's interests in any future European deal.  Personally, I'd recommend cutting out the text of "Section 8: Defining Scotland’s interests" to keep as a quick test of the quality of any future UK deal.  This option is also dismissed as an unlikely outcome due to the UK Government's various red lines on immigration and not being beholden to European courts.  The real meat of the document is a proposal to keep Scotland in the EEA while also remaining in the UK.

The document spells out the obligations required to uphold EEA membership.  It doesn't go into complete detail here but gives a broad brush of the kinds of obligations and legislative powers that are involved.  The problem, of course, is that the Scottish Government only has powers over devolved matters, while most of the powers required to uphold EEA rules are reserved for Westminster.  All of these powers would need to be moved to Holyrood. Crucially, that includes powers over migration,  employment, company law, professional regulation, telecommunications, financial services.  In fact, it's hard to think of a power that would be retained by Westminster apart from policing the border; currency and interest rates; and the military.  If the Labour Party are serious about Home Rule then it will be hard for them to disagree with any of this.  The Conservative Party, of course, are not minded to be in favour of this transfer of power.  Let's assume that Labour will be against it in some form or other too.  Add the Lib Dems to that list.  They seem to dismiss anything that gets in the way of a 2nd Euro Ref, despite having only 8 MPs of whom 3 abstained in the recent Article 50 vote.

Scotland would certainly need to have extensive powers over its own affairs but it also needs agreement from the EEA in order to join without first achieving full independence.  How would the permission of the EEA be sought?  Several possibilities are presented.  The first is that Scotland becomes an associate member of the EEA, while the second is that it becomes a member indirectly through EFTA membership.  A final proposal is that the UK joints EFTA or the EEA and then strikes an opt out for rUK, leaving Scotland as the only territory that will be bound to uphold EEA rules. All of these proposals require the good will of one or more third party.  The document is a bit short on detail here but does list precedents of the Faroe Islands and Liechtenstein as examples of EEA/EU flexibility. I can't argue with the precedent of flexibility but so far these precedents have been for micro-states the size of Kilmarnock.  Scotland has 5 million inhabitants, oil fields, banks, a chemical industry etc etc.  It will require a lot of good will.  I suppose it is Christmas.
We will need plenty of good will from the EU Pawliament. It might be ruff going.  Oh dear.
A key point in the proposal is that Scotland follows rUK in or out of the Customs Union.  This stops Hadrian's Wall becoming an external border of the EEA and eliminates all of the customs complications that would involve.  What about that border?  Would it really be free of customs and passport checks?  If rUK leaves the Customs Union then Scotland and rUK would both be free to strike a trade deal that would keep the border open.  The difficulty would be for goods imported to Scotland from rUK and then exported to the EEA.  This is the kind of problem that Norway already faces.  The solution is a customs check for goods leaving or entering the UK but there is no explicit need for internal checks. There is good precedent for this and it shouldn't be a problem beyond the expense.  It's worth noting that the proposal doesn't add to the customs expense because that is going to happen anyway if the UK as a whole leaves the Customs Union.  If the UK remains in the Customs Union then the Scotland/England border is unchanged.

The proposal addresses travel as well as residential and employment rights.  Travel rights will continue as they do now under the auspices of the Common Travel Area, thereby eliminating the need for a passport border.  The right to travel, of course, is quite different from rights of residence and employment.   An obvious problem is that a German worker in Edinburgh will not have the automatic right to reside or work in England or Wales.  How will this be policed?  The proposed solution is to enforce those rights at the point where they are granted.  An English employer, for example, would need to inspect the passport of all potential employees.  The same would be true of landlords, banks and building societies.  This all sounds workable, although it does make it difficult for business to relocate staff. Implicit in all this is that UK citizens can work anywhere in the UK.

The weakest point in the proposal is the thorny issue of EEA nations granting rights to Scottish citizens that they automatically grant to citizens of other EEA nations.  Let's imagine that I moved to Austria to take up a job there. How would I prove to the Austrian authorities that I have the automatic right to reside and work there?  I don't have Scottish citizenship or a Scottish passport.  The proposal merely notes that "domicile would be the determinant of those rights".  That isn't really enough, I'm afraid.  Somehow or other I would need to formally register as Scottish in a way that satisfies all EEA nations. That requires more of that good will but also a formal sense of Scottish nationhood.
This is a genuine proposal that acknowledges its success lies in flexibility and good will from the EEA, EFTA, the UK Government, and the EU. I'd like to believe it could come true but ultimately I have no faith in it whatsoever.  Does anyone really think Westminster is going to grant Scotland all of that power?  I don't.  My view here is that the UK Government should give the go-ahead to Scotland to continue talks with the EEA/EFTA/EU and then wait for them to knock this back.  That would be the smart thing to do because there is simply no appetite in Europe for special deals that add complexity. There's nothing smart about the current Government so they'll just reject it.  In fact, they already have rejected it.  It seems certain now that we'll have a 2nd indyref at some point in the near future.  No need to hurry with that, though, because Brexit will take years and years and years.

Over and out,


PS  There's a particularly interesting sentence buried in the report.  Here it is: "Assuming that the decision to exit the EU is irreversible for the UK Government – politically, if not legally – EEA membership is the outcome the Scottish Government considers to be the least damaging to Scotland’s interests".  This seems to suggest the Scottish Government take the view that Article 50 is reversible. Have I read that correctly?

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Great Repeal Bill aka I Am The Law

The Scottish Government will reveal its plan to keep Scotland in the EEA on Tuesday.  Before that happens it seems like a good time to discuss the Great Repeal Bill and how it will impact the First Minster's chances of achieving her goal.  This is quite a tedious and boring post so feel free to skip it but you'll only have yourself to blame if you end up scratching your head at everything that follows after Tuesday.  Quick trigger warning:  there is a picture of a flushing toilet later in this post so look away if that's not your thing.

Over the course of some months this blog has endlessly posted about some of the most dull and boring aspects of the way that the EU keeps the wheels of trade turning.  This has led to extremely uninteresting expositions on the principle of limited harmonisation and mutual recognition, which is achieved by bringing EU Directives into domestic law.   There's also another much deeper level of integration, however, achieved through EU Regulations passed by the European Parliament.  Pretty much anything that can't be left to individual countries to sort out on their own or anything so crucial that small divergences in implementation can't be tolerated is passed as a Regulation.  That might include anything that crosses a border.  Pensions transfers and pilot training spring to mind.  It might also include the handling and transport of toxic chemicals through the REACH Regulation.  In each case the European Parliament legislates to transfer powers to an institution that will provide technical  oversight.  These institutions are, in turn, accountable to the EU Parliament and have formal links with other EU courts and institutions to resolve disputes through arbitration. As a member of the EU, the UK Government is accountable to all of these institutions.  Leaving the EU means cutting the cord of accountability.  It's not hard to imagine the complex matrix of dependencies that needs to be untangled.  This is not trivial.

The UK Government at least understands some of the complexities of leaving the EU. To prevent a legal vacuum on exiting the EU it has proposed to simply bring all EU Regulations into UK law.  This process is known as "The Great Repeal Bill".  Over time Parliament will be able to modify, repeal and replace the mirrored EU Regulations as it sees fit and at a pace of its own choosing. This all sounds great, doesn't it?  Hmm, I'm not so sure.  Let's dive into the detail a bit.

The UK's 3rd largest export to the EU is pharmaceutical products.  Now, the pharmaceutical industry has a rather nasty habit of selling drugs that poison and kill innocent patients. Sometimes it just rips us off and feeds us tablets with zero efficacy.  Mostly, though, it does a pretty good job but that is only because it is a highly regulated market with patient health and safety in mind.  With this in mind EU Regulation  No 726/2004 sets out the powers of the European Medicines Agency.  A short summary of its powers is that new drugs need to be approved by the EMA before they can be sold in the EEA. When the UK leaves the EU it could choose to continue to work under the auspices of the EMA but that comes with accountability to both the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice.  To be honest, I can only guess at the other institutions and courts and treaty agreements that might be involved.   The UK Government will never accept this situation because it doesn't sound like taking back control. What must the UK do?  Well, in addition to the legal text and technical specifications of all Regulations, it needs to mirror all of the courts and institutions in the UK.  Has anyone heard the UK Government budget for this?  That's right, it has simply never been mentioned, even though every single technical institution and court in the EU would need to be mirrored and fully operational by March 2019.  In short, we are heading towards a legal vacuum. In that legal vacuum drugs cannot be certified; hazardous chemicals can't be stored or treated; the pensions market will be frozen; pilots won't be able to take off or land; the Channel Tunnel will be out of operation; sewage treatment plants will no longer be governed by environmental controls.   The most basic elements of the legal framework that control the day to day operation of the UK will cease to exist. 

Even the disposal of "black water" is governed by EU Regulation.
Let's cut the UK Government some slack and imagine that they have a plan up their sleeve to set up all the necessary institutions.  Is that enough? Well, it would mean that a pilot could fly safely from Glasgow to London but not to Paris because that would require certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency.  It would allow safe rail travel from Bristol to Bath but the Channel Tunnel would be closed until certification from the European Railway Agency is complete.  The problem is that the EU will need to formally recognise all of the UK institutions, typically achieved through bi-lateral treaties.  Does that sound like Switzerland?  Yes, over a period of 25 years and 120+ treaties that's exactly what Switzerland did.  This is an ongoing process because every time the EU changes its technical requirements Switzerland has to respond.   If the UK goes down this route it will need to do exactly the same.  If it doesn't the EU will claim the treaty is broken; it will cease to recognise the integrity of UK institutions and the drawbridge will come up.  This is about the right to trade rather than its cost.

Theresa May has gone to great lengths to point out that the UK will have a bespoke deal unlike Switzerland or Norway.  The Norwegian model requires accountability to EU courts and institutions so we can dismiss that because it doesn't tick the "take back control" box.  The Swiss model requires the adoption of bi-lateral treaties that act to harmonise legislation across the border.  For reasons not yet made clear the UK Government have dismissed this model, too.  To be honest, time isn't on our side here so I'm going to dismiss it as well.  There is simply no way that the Swiss model could be configured in the limited time available.  What is the alternative?  The only remaining alternative is to pretend that the EU simply doesn't exist.  Let's all close our eyes, pull up the drawbridge and learn to enjoy picking potatoes.  There is, of course, one other option:  add  the advisory result of the EU referendum to all other available advice and come to the conclusion that the UK is better off in the EU.

Let's turn our attention to Scotland and its goal of staying in the EEA.  Let's also imagine someone who takes up a new job and wants to move their occupational pension from Norwich Union to Scottish Widows.  Norwich Union is based in England so it will be regulated by the fledgling rUK Occupational Pensions Authority.  If Scotland wants to fully remain in the single market then Scottish Widows will be regulated  instead by the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority.  Without a bi-lateral treaty between rUK and the EEA it will be impossible to transfer the pension without the kind of legal vacuum that encourages scams, fraud and tax evasion.  The same conundrum appears if you try to get on a train, board a plane, buy some aspirin, catch a fish, generate electricity, sail a boat, set up a Facebook account or flush the toilet.  We already know that EEA membership for Scotland requires the devolution of almost every power imaginable but in addition it requires the UK to be closely integrated into the EU just like Norway or Switzerland.  I'm not hopeful these conditions will prevail but only time will tell.

Over and out,


PPS  The right to trade must first be established before discussing its cost.  That's why a EU/UK trade deal can only be discussed after A50 establishes the legal framework of those rights.  This point seems lost on David Davis, who is still banging on and on and on about trade deals.  Utterly useless.

PPS Here is a complete list of EU technical institutions.  Taken from here.

Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER)
Office of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC Office)
Community Plant Variety Office (CPVO)
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA)
European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex)
European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (eu-LISA)
European Asylum Support Office (EASO)
European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)
European Banking Authority (EBA)
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop)
European Chemicals Agency (ECHA)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA)
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound)
European GNSS Agency (GSA)
European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)
European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA)
European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA)
European Medicines Agency (EMA)
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)
European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA)
European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training (CEPOL)
European Police Office (Europol)
European Public Prosecutor's Office (in preparation) (EPPO)
European Union Agency for Railways (ERA)
European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA)
European Training Foundation (ETF)
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA)
European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO)
Single Resolution Board (SRB)
The European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (Eurojust)
Translation Centre for the Bodies of the European Union (CdT)

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Brexit Carol Act III

Everyone can relax because this over-extended joke is nearly at an end.   Before this turns into "Keith Lemon: The Movie" let's get on with Act III.  This time, we meet up with Bernd in the year 2021, some time after the UK has shot itself in the head and left the EU.  Advance warning: the dramatic tension of the piece is rather undermined by the simple fact that nobody from Germany will be looking to further their career as a technical specialist in the UK five years from nowI know that, you know that, we all know that.  Nevertheless, let's trudge on with the conceit and get this tidied away once and for all.  Simply enjoy.


Act III: The Ghost of Brexit Future

Stage directions: A grotesque and frightening apparition appears at the side of the stage. It has the head of Boris Johnson. It also has the body of Boris Johnson. Basically, it is Boris Johnson. Apart from the sign now saying "Pleasure Pal 2021", the stage is otherwise unchanged form Acts I and II.

HR Person: Well, Bernd, we'd love to make you an offer. We desperately need technical leadership on our team and you're the man for the job. What do you think?

Bernd:  I am a bit concerned about the salary.  It is a bit low, to be honest.

HR Person: Bernd, Bernd, Bernd, this isn't the job it would have been five years ago.  Stripping away all the health and safety concerns means that our product pretty much designs itself.  No need for all that technical expertise to get through the safety testing these days.  That really held back our product line.  Happy?  We just need to get you to fill out some paperwork so we can apply for a work visa.

Bernd: A work visa? You mean that my right to work in the UK is tied to my employment here at this firm?

HR Person: That's right, Bernd. That's the only way we can legally employ you. 

Bernd: That's a big risk on my part. What if it doesn't work out? I'd need to leave the country if it is only my STAINS credentials that secure the visa.

HR Person: Yes, you would need to leave, I'm afraid.

Bernd: And my wife? Can she get a visa?

HR Person: Is she also a STAINS engineer?

Bernd: No, she's an optician.

HR Person: I doubt she'd get a visa for that. Does she like picking fruit? Potatoes? Turnips?

Bernd: Not really. But even if she doesn't work she can still come and live here, I guess.

HR Person: Let me just check the minimum income requirement for spouses of non-UK nationals. Right, she can join but remember that is subject to changes to the legislation. We're basically paying you in stock so your actual salary is quite close to the boundary.

Bernd: Oh. What about my son?

HR Person: What about your son?

Bernd: Can he transfer his university course over here?

HR Person: That depends. Hmm, there are only so many student visas issued each year. He might have to wait or get lucky. Can't answer that definitively, right now. He definitely can't work here, just need to make that clear.  Oh, and he'll have to buy his own health insurance.  The NHS isn't for you lot, you know. 

Bernd:  That sounds a bit expensive, to be honest.

HR Person:  Well, yes and no.  Lots of cheap potions floating around here now.  Word to the wise, Bernd, be careful at the chemists.  They never did sort out a replacement for the European Medicines Agency so, you know, take a squizz at what they're giving you.  Don't want anything turning your water green.  Ha ha ha.

Bernd: Oh. Any news on pension transfers? How does that work when I retire back to Bochum?

HR Person: Well, you'll need to cash your pension in here. The UK Government is no longer beholden to the European Occupational Pensions Authority.  In fact, this'll tickle you, the UK Government isn't beholden to any pensions regulator because they haven't yet set one up.  Bernd, we're in control here now.

Bernd: That sounds a bit risky. I'd obviously want my pension in Euros.

HR Person: You could always rent your house out after you leave. That could make you a few quid extra.

Bernd: Am I allowed to buy property here?

HR Person: Need to look that up, old bean. The UK Government never actually legislated for that after we left the EU. My advice is just don't tell anyone you're German. It's one of those hanging threads, you know? You getting cold feet, Bernd? Hey, we'll throw in gym memberhsip for the first two years. Happy?

Bernd: Not really. 

HR Person:  Quick word in your shell-like, Bernd?  Stay away from the nuclear plant.  You'll know you're near it if you see a glow on the horizon.  Turns out those Euratom chaps knew a thing or two. But we're in control now and that's more important, in my book.  

Stage directions: Bernd stands up with all the effort of a broken man. He begins sobbing uncontrollably as his dreams are crushed. A crash sounds out from stage left, followed by an enormous lumbering mecha-bot belching smoke and dripping milky goo in its trail.  The mecha-bot is firing its venom in all directions.  Bernd ducks and experiences a series of near misses.  HR Person isn't so lucky and take a direct hit that floors him, while steam rises from his dissolving suit.  The curtain closes to the sound of wailing and crying at all the lost opportunities.  The house lights come up as the apparition walks menacingly to the centre of the stage and stares with evil intent at the audience.

Apparition:  We've taken back control.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Stage Directions:  The apparition's laughter sounds out with a punishing cascade of never-ending feedback. 

Note:  All exit doors are to remain locked throughout to ensure that nobody can leave to go and watch a better play at a rival theatre. Passports to be carried at all times.


*******************The end**********************

Friday, 16 December 2016

A Brexit Carol Act II

Yesterday was Act I of "A Brexit Carol".  Catch up if you haven't already read it.  Actually, don't bother because you can "enjoy" Act II without any knowledge whatsoever of Act I. To be honest, I don't think satire is my strong point. Anyway, it's Christmas and we should celebrate our last year as full members of the EU with a terrible play.  Let's just get this over with and tidied away as quickly as possible.

Act II: The Ghost of Brexit Present

Stage directions: A grotesque and frightening apparition appears at the side of the stage. It has the head of Liam Fox. It also has the body of Liam Fox. Basically, it is Liam Fox. Apart from the sign now saying "Pleasure Pal 2018", the stage is otherwise unchanged form Act I.

HR Person: Well, Bernd, we'd love to make you an offer. We really need a top STAINS guy on our team and you're the man for the job. Welcome aboard! Now, you said you had some questions.

Bernd: Yes, just a couple of questions. Will my wife be able to join me and work? She's a qualified optician.

HR Person: That's all a bit up in the air at the moment, old chap. She'll be able to work in the short term but after 2019 that might no longer the case. Don't worry, with the wages we're paying you I'll bet you can get a lawyer to sort that out and get her qualifications recognised here in the UK. That should stop her being deported, at least.

Bernd: Any chance you could pay me in Euros? I'd be a lot happier with a stable currency.

HR Person: Not really, Bernd. Our European investment fell through so we're entirely funded in Sterling now.

Bernd: Oh. Any news on the ERASMUS scheme? My son is finishing up his studies and will likely join us here.

HR Person: As long as he finishes his course by March 2019 I don't see a problem there.

Bernd: I'm not sure that works out for him.  He was talking of a gap year. Hmm.

HR Person: Anything else?

Bernd:  I'm very close to my mother.  She's always wanted to visit Scunthorpe.  Will she need a travel visa?

HR Person:  Hey, you think I'm a fortune teller now?  I can't answer that kind of question.  I do know that a visa for non-EU nationals can run up to a couple of hundred pounds.  You might as well ask me to estimate the cost of importing your possessions across the customs border.  Ha ha ha.  

Bernd: Ah, right, what about my pension. Do you know if pension transfers will still be available when I come up to retirement age?

HR Person: That one's in the stars, Bernd. Do I look like I know Liam Fox?

Bernd: I guess I'm still a bit worried about my ongoing rights and the attendant costs of living here with a potentially diminished status. You know, access to healthcare, property, unemployment benefits etc.

HR Person: Are you playing hardball, Bernd? We really can't increase our offer just on the basis that you might have to pay for access to the NHS at some point in the future. That wouldn't be fair to our UK staff.

Bernd: Hmm, I need to think about this.

Stage directions: The pair stand up and solemnly shake hands. Bernd and HR Person wander off stage right looking worried. The house lights come up and the apparition walks menacingly towards the centre of the stage and faces the audience.

Apparition:  That's more like it. We've taken back control.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Stage directions:  The apparition looks very pleased with himself and throws his head back to laugh a demonic laugh that echoes throughout eternity.


Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Brexit Carol Act I

It's mid-December so it's high time that we all enjoyed a Christmas special to get us in the mood for the last ever season of EU goodwill. Not only is it Xmas but this blog is coming up to 6 months of unnecessary verbiage and is already on its 52nd post. There is a lot to commiserate. Sorry, I meant celebrate. How best to do that? Well, I thought that a play might be the appropriate choice. The play is called "A Brexit Carol".  It is a two-hander featuring Bernd from Bochum (great guy, look him up if you're ever in Bochum) and a highly nuanced character called "HR Person".  Watch out for the special guest stars in each Act.

Please take your seats.  5 minutes to showtime.
The play is in three parts, building up to a dramatic crescendo that will surely begin my new career as leading satirist and enfant terrible of the theatrical world. In the play we finally get to meet Bernd from Bochum. He is at the top of his game in the nascent sex robot industry and has applied for a job at a leading research company in Scunthorpe. With Bernd's talent and their European investment everyone is going to become stupidly wealthy. Can anything go wrong? Let's find out over the course of three drama-filled Acts. Act II will be posted tomorrow and Act III will follow the day after. I know that makes no sense at all but I haven't yet finalised the rest of the play that is the way it is in Brexit Britain.  Blame Farage if you want.

It's time to take your seats and watch the curtain rise for the first Act.  Enjoy.

Act I: The Ghost of Brexit Past

Stage directions: A grotesque and frightening apparition appears at the side of the stage. It has the head of David Davis. It also has the body of David Davis. Basically, it is David Davis. He is watching two people sitting opposite each other at a desk in the centre of the stage. One is wearing a suit and has a large box folder labelled "Human Resources" to the side. The other has thick glasses and all the outward signs of a STEM mentality. Above the desk there is a huge corporate sign spelling out "Pleasure Pal 2015: the whole experience, get yours today".

HR Person: Well, Bernd, everyone here is really impressed with your skills in the emerging field of Stimulated Artificially Intelligent Neural Sensing. It really is an honour to welcome one of the top global STAINS experts to our team. It's your turn to ask the questions now before we sign the deal and bring you over from Bochum.

Bernd: Thanks, I'm really excited. I have a few questions, if I may. Will my wife be able to work here? She's a qualified optician, which is handy in my line of work.

HR Person: Sure, all EU citizens can work here. We're in the EU and I can't imagine that ever changing. Ha ha ha, what a thought! She can apply for any job she likes or even set up a business. Ha ha ha, she could even become a dog hypnotist. That's a thing, you know.

Bernd: My son is a student. Do you know if the ERASMUS scheme operates here?

HR Person: It certainly does. He'll be able to transfer over and continue his studies. There are excellent universities with a real international flavour right here in town. He can even take up a part-time job to help him pay for nights out and fund his band. Young people always have bands, don't they?

Bernd:   I'm a bit worried about my pension. Can I transfer that back to Germany?

HR Person: Of course! We're regulated by the EU Occupational Pensions Authority, you know. Bernd, let me assure you that this isn't some cultural or financial backwater. This is modern Scunthorpe. We don't hang monkeys as spies any longer. Ha ha ha.

Bernd: This all sounds great. Just a few more questions. We'll all have access to the NHS? I mean, I won't have to pay extra for health insurance. That would make your job offer much less attractive.

HR Person: The NHS is available to all residents of the UK. We don't discriminate here, Bernd. It's only monkeys we hang as spies, remember?

Bernd: This all sounds great. How about buying property? Do I have full rights with property? Renting here is so expensive and I've heard that there are very few protections from landlords.

HR Person: Yup, if you see a house just go ahead and buy it. We're all going to be stupendously rich, Bernd, so I'd advise getting the biggest one you can find. Plant a massive German flag in the garden, if you want. We're a very tolerant nation.

Stage directions: Bernd and HR Person stand up and shake hands. They then throw huge piles of money in the air and laugh uproariously until they are hoarse and fall to the ground exhausted. The curtain falls to the sound of echoing guffaws and uncensored joy.  The house lights come  on.  The apparition wanders to the centre of the stage and stands in front of the curtains staring with evil intent at the audience.  

Apparition:  This has to stop.

Stage directions:  The apparition laughs demonically, throws the black hood of his coat over his head and then shuffles off the stage.



Saturday, 10 December 2016

Citizens Under Suspicion

Who hasn't dreamed of remaining an EU citizen for the rest of their days? I certainly have. I wake up in the morning and scamper happily to the kitchen safe in the knowledge that I am forever protected by Regulation 575/2013 (who isn't passionate and partisan about the prudential requirements for credit firms?).  My mood only darkens when I've woken up enough to remember that Brexit is really going to happen and the UK Government are floundering around like novice synchronised swimmers with aquaphobia. I'd always thought it no more than wishful thinking that I could remain a citizen of the EU but now Guy Verhofstadt, the EU's chief negotiator, has signalled he will make EU citizenship a priority in the divorce talks. Thanks Guy! Now, I'm a dour Scot so before we get too carried away let's think about this for just a second.  Actually, it will take longer than that so here is a song with semi-appropriate title to aid the illusion time is going faster.  For extra tantalisation there is some wild speculation at the end.  Enjoy.

The rights of EU citizens are really derived rights rather than rights directly bestowed from the European Union itself. Another way of putting this is that the EU rights enjoyed by residents of the UK are only the rights that the UK Government put into force because they were compelled to by treaty agreement. For example, the rights of EU nationals to work in the UK is a right arising from the UK Government implementing Directive 2004/38 into domestic legislation. Conversely, my right to work in Germany is a right derived from the German Government adopting Directive 2004/38 into their domestic law. All EU countries are compelled to adopt EU Directives so there is an automatic reciprocation of rights and responsibilities. This holds true for rights that follow from all EU Directives: people in the UK only enjoy the right not to be electrocuted by their toaster because the UK adopted into domestic law the corresponding legislation on toaster safety. What about EU Regulations? They're a bit different from EU Directives because they are passed by the EU Parliament and are never formally adopted domestically. The key point here is that EU Regulations are only recognised in the UK because the Government signed a treaty setting out their responsibility to adhere to EU Regulations. As soon as the UK Government rescinds or rewrites those treaties those rights will disappear. The principle that all EU rights are actually gifted by nation states holds true no matter which way you look at it. This is an uncomfortable truth for Leavers because it turns out EU democracy is limited by the democratic conventions of its member nations. It's also bad for Remainers because the power to leave the EU and thereby modify the rights of its entire resident population is very much in the gift of the UK Government.

Citizen Smith of the EU. Would have been for or against?  Hard to tell these days.
I hope I've made it clear that the concept of EU citizenship is poorly defined but if it means anything at all it means being a citizen of a country in the EU.  There is simply no way for the EU to impose responsibilities on the UK Government after it has torn up all those satanic European treaties. It follows that when the UK leaves the EU I will no longer be an EU citizen.   If I want to remain being a citizen of the EU my only real hope is to apply for citizenship of any country that remains in the EU.  I don't think Guy Verhofstadt is proposing that we solve all our Brexit problems by issuing Austrian and Danish citizenship to willing volunteers from the UK.  That would never be politically acceptable.  What is he offering, then?  The only thing he could ever offer is that UK citizens will continue to enjoy the rights they have now to work, live, travel and invest in the countries of the EU. For that to happen he needs the agreement of all countries of the EU.  Politically, this will be very hard to achieve but I wish him the best of luck.

What is Guy Verhofstadt really playing at?  Well, there's a very real problem awaiting the UK and the EU that needs to be solved with the utmost urgency.  The problem relates to families holding a mixture of UK and EU passports, especially those on low income that haven't yet established permanent residency.   The right to permanent residence in an EU nation for non-EU nationals is granted after 5 years continuous residency.  I don't see the EU changing that just because the UK is leaving and I certainly don't imagine it would apply the rule in a discriminatory way.  If you're a family with a UK member living in the EU you shouldn't experience any problems if you've already hit the 5 year target.  I can breathe a huge sigh of relief because I find myself in that exact situation (I know I'm not a family but you get the idea).  It is not yet known if the UK will continue with the 5 year rule or if it will make up a new rule.  We do know, however, that non-EU individuals can only attain permanent residency if they can prove an income of above £35k.  Moreover, UK nationals can only sponsor their partner if they earn more than £18,600.  What does all of this mean after Brexit?  Will EU citizens with permanent residency under EU rules have to re-apply and prove they earn more than £35k?  Will UK nationals need to meet a minimum income requirement if they want to remain in the same town as their EU partner?  None of this has been decided or announced and time is running out.  My guess is that Mr Verhofstadt wants to make this a top priority and force the hand of the UK Government. Let's be honest, this needs solved and nobody is looking to David Davis for the solution.
He can definitely count to 1 but I've never seen him get up to 2.
To finish with some wild speculation I think that Guy Verhofstadt is playing a rather clever game.  My guess is that he's going to dangle all those EU rights in front of UK citizens, who will then expect the UK Government to snap them up and make some concessions in return. The UK Government will be completely against this because they will start to imagine the legal nightmare of a domestic rights war, even though that could never happen.  The penny will never drop, though, that they will be refusing something that could never actually be offered. Their refusal will make them look miserly, especially to the 48% who voted remain.   Even Leavers might start to think that a free gift has been rejected.  Guy Verhofstadt is just making trouble by confusing Team UK and creating domestic arguments that will take up valuable time and effort. That is his job and he appears to be rather good at it.  If he forces the UK Government's hand on how to deal with everyone stuck in limbo then good on him.  That really does need resolved, along with everything else in the quagmire of indecision and idiocy that follows Brexit wherever it goes.

Over and out,


PS I never really blogged about EU Regulations, did I? Anything that requires the cooperation of 2 or more member states is decided in the EU Parliament by MEPs and adopted as a Regulation. In general, that means anything that moves across a border such as pilots, aeroplanes, pension transfers. Anything that can be implemented by nations on their own is typically a Directive and is adopted into domestic law. Examples might be employment rights, the labelling of jam and marmalade, and the disposal of batteries. There is nothing undemocratic in either Regulations or Directives because they are either agreed by MEPs or by representatives of each nation at the Council of Ministers.  Tell that to Farage!

PPS There is a Xmas special coming up. It might take a little longer to write than usual so there may be a short break while I prepare my seasonal extravaganza. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


I've avoided divorce so far by never achieving the blissful joy of marital status. I say that as though my hermit lifestyle was by choice or design. It isn't. I've mentioned this several times but for new readers I have a deeply unattractive STEM mindset that acts as a highly effective partner repellent. If you also have a STEM mindset and have found success in affairs of the heart do get in touch with tips as a matter of urgency because the handsome looks you see in the profile photo are fading fast. If you're one half of a STEM couple then I recommend getting in touch with Norris McWhirter or Brian Cox because you've either broken a world record or a physical law of the universe.  Enough with this nattering, let's get on with the UK's divorce settlement with the EU, otherwise known as Article 50.

What sort of issues will be discussed in the A50 negotiations? Let's look at just one issue to see how complicated it can get and also to illustrate how trade negotiations can only begin once A50 is complete. In the spirit of a deeply unattractive STEM mindset let's look at pensions. My old mate Bernd from Bochum (party guy, look him up when you're next in Bochum) has a lot of concerns about this because his sex robot technology business is directly affected. Bernd, this one's for you if you have any remaining eyesight. To be honest, I've not had much contact with Bernd lately. He's spending an awful lot of time in the office with the door locked and all the blinds down. What is he up to in there?

I wouldn't customise a sex robot with glasses, a wedding ring and a purple shirt but she looks happy enough with her purchase.
The EU has a number of satellite organisations such as the European Medicines Agency and Euratom, which provide oversight on technical aspects of European policy. If you're lucky enough to live it large on the EU gravy train then you are legally entitled to the pension laid out in your employment contract. That holds true if you are an unelected fat-cat Nazi Stalinist at the EU Commission or a lowly admin assistant at one of the other fronts for Satanism set up by the EU. Part of that pension will have been funded by the contributions that the UK has been making to the EU. It's not hard to see that the UK has obligations to continue funding those pensions. After all, they worked on behalf of us for many, many years so we need to keep up our side of the bargain. How do we do that after we leave the EU? Well, that needs to be negotiated. It needs to be decided if there will be a one-off payment or if the UK will continue to pay annually for all of its accumulated obligations. It might get even more complicated if the UK decides to remain accountable to some EU institutions but not others. Arriving at a final separation figure can quickly turn complex and fractious, just like any other divorce. There is a lot to agree and time is short.

Can it get any worse? Yes, of course it can. The EU allows all workers to transfer their pensions as they move from one country to another.  In fact, you don't even need to move country to move your pension because it is a single market and EU citizens can decide where to stick their cash as they wish.  The operation of the transfer scheme is laid out in Regulation No 1094/2010 of the European Parliament so this is legislation that will be included in the Great Repeal Bill.   I'm directly affected by this because I have paid 7 years into the Swiss state scheme and to a scheme set up by my Swiss employer.  If I wanted to leave Switzerland at some point in the future it would be good to know that I could take my contributions with me to wherever I end up. What happens after Brexit? Will the UK simply terminate all its obligations, meaning that pensions in the UK are stuck there and pensions in the EU can no longer transfer to the UK? That doesn't sound right because those pensions were accumulated with the understanding that a future transfer was possible. I don't see the good citizens of Canary Wharf being very happy about that, either. In simple terms, the UK has obligations that it needs to maintain.  This is what Brexit actually means.

What on earth are we going to do with all those pensions?  An even more fundamental question is whether the UK intends to remain shackled to Beelzebub himself through the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, the EU institution that provides oversight for EU pensions.  The UK Government has made no statement on this to date. I doubt if they even have a plan.  To be honest, it doesn't even appear to be on their radar.  There is actually a problem with the timeline here because the Government can't really walk into A50 negotiations without first having a clear strategy for how it will manage all the UK's ongoing obligations to the European pension system. If they decide to tear up an obligation they will either have to pony up some dosh as reparation or replace it with a separate system to moderate UK/EU relations.  A replacement system will require the appointment of a court to adjudicate on disputes, the creation of an institution to provide technical oversight, and some kind of committee that defines the minimum commonalities of the EU and UK pension systems required to allow pension transfer. It will look a lot like the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority sitting alongside the European Court of Justice and the EU Commission.  For this to operate the UK will have to contribute to the salaries of all sorts of unelected bureaucrats, many of whom will be active diabolists. Does Brexit still look like Brexit?

Anton Lavey snapped in the EU's main library. He is making the Satanic sign of "Brexit means Brexit"

Instead of worrying about the divorce settlement the UK Government are banging on and on about trade and tariffs.  Right now, this is not the priority. I'm hoping I've made it clear that any discussion about a trading relationship can only begin after the UK has finalised its long-term commitment (or not) to its existing EU obligations. An integrated trade deal is obviously contingent upon the UK maintaining as many of its EU obligations as possible through treaty agreements. Conversely, the more we divorce ourselves from EU institutions and courts, the harder it becomes to reach an agreement about participation in the single market.  My point is that trade can only be discussed after  the legal relationship between the EU and the UK is clarified and ratified.  The EU knows this well but my hunch is that the penny hasn't yet dropped for David Davis.

My gut feeling is that the UK Government is completely clueless. Are we really going to walk into the A50 negotiations without a divorce plan?  Are we going to see David Davis inexpertly try to talk trade and tariffs during a scheduled session on the technical aspects of replacing Regulation No 1094/2010.  You know what, I think that really is going to happen. 

Over and out,


PS I cover up my STEM mindset with topical impressions of zeitgeisty luminaries such as Ronnie Corbett, Michael Parkinson and Frank Spencer. The laydeez love it but I think I'm losing their attention when I use the word "zeitgeisty".

PPS I once had a short-tempered boss who haughtily told me, "you're not on the EU gravy train now, this is the real world". At the time I worked in a research group at the University of Bristol. Oh, the irony.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Paging Nicola Sturgeon

I don't normally blog about Scottish politics because I don't live there and worry that not having to face up to the consequences will cloud my judgement.  To be honest, I've always felt it a bit cheeky of Alan Cumming to turn up in Edinburgh on his annual holidays and immediately start banging on about what Scots should and shoudn't do.  He can sit back and watch events unfold from his fancy New York apartment eating artisan shortbread without ever having to accept the inherent risk of constitutional change.  I can do exactly the same thing from my modest Zurich abode, even if artisan shortbread is a bit harder to source here.  Don't worry about me, though, because I have access to craft Stollen and organic Lebkuchen aplenty. Yum yum yum.  Despite everything I just said I'm going to blog about one aspect of Scottish politics that has been troubling me.  I'm afraid there are some uncomfortable truths coming up if you support the SNP and their Brexit strategy.

They're deliciously gingerbready.  Get them now before the tariffs hit hard.
Nicola Sturgeon has made a huge play of trying to formulate a deal that allows Scotland to remain in the EEA (Single Market) while still remaining part of the UK.  The uncomfortable truth is that this is just as ill-judged and dangerous as Boris Johnson's assertion that the UK can abandon the obligations of single market membership yet still remain a full participant. Moreover, it is equally as clueless as appointing Liam Fox as Secretary for International Trade without first announcing a formal policy on the UK's future membership of the European Customs Union.  It pains me to say this but it is just as bewilderingly dopey as announcing The Great Repeal Bill without understanding that it will lead to the UK being unceremoniously kicked out of the Single Market, assuming we don't formally leave it first.  To understand why Nicola Sturgeon has taken a wrong turn we first need to understand the principles of limited harmonisation and mutual recognition that define the single market.  It's a short hop from there to see why only independent nation states could ever hope to achieve membership.

The EEA is different from almost every other trading partnership because it prioritises fairness and enshrines that principle into legal obligations for all members.  The idea here is to make sure that the market operates with a level playing field for all participants.  This is achieved by issuing directives that are absorbed into the domestic legal framework of each nation in the EEA.   It's worth noting that there is no attempt to harmonise the legal systems of European states because that would be absurdly complex, overly prescriptive and doomed to fail.  Instead, the implementation of each directive is left to each member because the EU doesn't understand the inner workings of all 28 states and has no particular interest in meddling where it isn't needed or wanted.  Directive 2004/38/EC, for example, governs the freedom of movement of people in the EU and EEA.  That one seems to get the ideologues hot under the collar but it is just one of thousands of directives that define the operation of the single market.  Let's look at another, shall we?  Slightly more banal but equally as valid is Directive 2001/113/EC, which describes the sale of jam, jellies and marmalades.  At some point in time a UK civil servant will have been given the job of legally asserting that jams with 3 or more fruits can be marketed as mixed fruit jam.  Ponder on that for a second if you think your job is a bit boring.

All that limited harmonisation sounds great but it seems to depend on mutual trust.  I'm a particularly suspicious character and don't even trust my own family with a fiver so how could I ever trust Norway to play fair with their fruit jelly legislation?  The answer is that every member of the EEA is accountable to European institutions that check on the technical aspects of the adoption of directives.  Moreover, every member is accountable to European courts that adjudicate on suspected infractions.   This is all laid out in treaties that establish the operation of the European Union.

It should hopefully be clear that a Scotland-in-UK does not have the power to sign up to the obligations laid out by the single market.  Migration, for example, is a reserved matter controlled by Westminster.  As a consequence, the Scottish Government simply has no authority to implement Directive 2004/38/EC.  I very much doubt if it even has the authority to implement its own jam policy. I'd be surprised to learn that food labellling is a devolved matter but if anyone knows more about this please leave a comment.  The EEA could simply never accept Scotland as a member if it remains in the UK because it would be unable to uphold the membership requirements. 

I worry that the First Minister is playing a dangerous game.  First, she is not telling the harsh truth about the EU and the EEA.  Pretending that European institutions have powers or structures they could never have is not helping the debate.  Her position might even be worse than Boris Johnson's because while Boris refuses to accept the obligations, Nicola Sturgeon doesn't even have the power of refusal.  I'm guessing she is playing a game that frames the UK Government in a bad light by promoting the idea that they are getting in our way.  If Nr 10 was any wiser they would just tell her to go to the EEA, work out a deal and then the UK will work out the constitutional arrangements to make it happen.  That's what I would do because we all know that she is going to get absolutely nowhere in Europe.  The UK Government would then look as though they would have bent over backwards to help the Scots, while the EEA would suddenly look like the real enemy.  It's only the utter incompetence of the UK Government that stops this happening but sooner or later they're going to work it out.

I'd far rather Nicola Sturgeon just came right out with it and said that EEA and EU membership are only on the table if Scotland becomes an independent nation.  If it's not enough to swing the population behind her then that's just the way it is.  Perhaps spelling out the pitfalls of leaving the EEA would be an effective strategy because that is guaranteed to happen on the current path.  Really, it's time somebody took a rational approach to this mess.  I don't support any political party but I have quite a lot of respect for the First Minister so it's a bit disappointing to see her playing the same game as Liam Fox and David Davis.  Scotland needs to face the fact that the UK is forcing it out of the EEA.  Given that certainty, Scotland then needs to work out where it stands as soon as possible because time is not on its side and it doesn't get to dictate the schedule for departure.

Over and out,


PS I know this post is a bit of a repeat of a repeat but the principles of EEA membership are so poorly understood that the public stance of almost every politician and public pronouncement needs to be corrected.