EU Referendum: propaganda organs

Wednesday 5 August 2015  


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The Telegraph website offers a timeline for Ted Heath's career, with the gem illustrated above, telling us of him winning a 1971 referendum to take us into the Common Market. There, in one entry, we have three errors: the referendum was in 1975, not 1971, it was under Wilson not Heath, and it was to remain in the Common Market. We did not have a referendum on entry.

If I made this sort of schoolboy howler, my blog would rightly be laughed out of court, yet this is a newspaper which advertises itself as the source for the "best reporting and analysis", and proclaims itself "proud to deliver news to 16.8 million people every month".

This is the same newspaper which manages a scarcely believable level on incompetence in its reporting on asylum seekers and is thus surviving by prestige alone, demonstrating once again the point made by Gustave le Bon that:
… the special characteristic of prestige is to prevent us seeing things as they are and to entirely paralyse our judgement. Crowds always, and individuals as a rule, stand in need of ready-made opinions on all subjects. The popularity of these opinions is independent of the measure of truth or error they contain, and is solely regulated by their prestige.
The seriousness of this is readily apparent when we realise that these are the organs that are going to seek to influence the debate on the EU referendum, purporting to explain the issues and then advising us how to vote.

Campaigners are going to have to realise that they can rely on nothing they read in the media, and need to become more self-reliant, checking information before using it and taking more care before accepting what they are told.

One readily appreciates that not all people have the time to do this, in which case it is better to be silent than to spread false information. We have to regard everything as provisional until it is possible to check it.

And that, of course, applies across the board, with the Guardian - predictably – just as capable of spreading misinformation as the "right wing" press. The mistake is to believe that there is any difference between them. None of them are reliable, even if the errors sometimes cover different territory.

In this case though, we are getting applied stupidity from Matthew d'Ancona, who argues that the Calais situation is providing the "perfect showreel" for the "no" campaign. Oddly, this comes just at the point when the Mail publishes a sympathetic piece about the plight of asylum seekers, itself illustrating that, whenever there a focus on a particular story, you eventually get a backlash, when the other side gets an airing.

Going back to the ghastly Telegraph, we have the stopped clock effect – even a stopped clock tells the time accurately twice a day. The only problem is, you don't know when. This story, though, has the right "feel" to it, having the "furious" French blaming the UK for the "Calais chaos". They complain that we are dumping our problems on them by refusing to process migrants on our own shores.

This, indeed, is the case, If it was not for the fact that British immigration officials in the port of Calais were refusing to accept asylum claims, and handing back asylum seekers to the French authorities, invoking the Le Touquet Treaty, then there would not be a backlog of migrants waiting to cross the Channel. Instead, we would have the problem in the UK, having to open up special camps for them.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the UK's "predicament" is getting scant sympathy in Brussels, with a long report in the Financial Times bringing forward comments that other countries are having to deal with ten times the volume of migrants. In what is a global crisis, the UK is getting off relatively lightly.

There lies another problem with the media. Even if individual stories are accurately reported, the distortion comes in the emphasis on one particular issue, or on just one aspect of it. We are not getting a balanced view, and the sin of omission dominates the coverage.

Not least, there is a continuing situation between France and Italy, where border controls have effectively been reinstated. Nearly every train from Ventimiglia, the final Italian railway station before Menton, is searched for Middle Eastern or African-looking passengers.

French authorities, according to the FT, are saying that they are catching about 1,000 migrants a week, reaching the record levels of a year ago when about 15,000 were turned back to Italy. It is not as if the French are not taking action therefore – just that the British media is not reporting it.

From our point of view, as "no" campaigners, this is potentially dangerous. Ukip and others have mistakenly hitched their wagons to the Calais issue, in the hope that it will bring them support. But the referendum is a long time coming, and by the time it arrives, the current scenes will be history. The public perception of the problem may be very different to what it is now.

We're seeing the same thing with Greece, where the "eurosceptic" press have insisted on affording it victim status, contrasted with the big, bad bully EU, which its grinding its face into the dust. But now we get the Guardian, countering the meme raised by its own star columnists. There is, it says …
… much that is wrong in the left's narrative. It doesn't mention that Greece had many deep-seated problems that pre-dated the creditor-imposed austerity: rampant tax evasion, an epidemic of early retirement, a bloated public sector and a private sector carved up by special interests. These problems need to be corrected before Greece can thrive. It doesn't help to label these necessary reforms as neoliberal. What is progressive about people not paying taxes and retiring under the age of 50?
Once again, with the referendum a long time coming, we may see a change of mood, with a very different presentation in the press on Greece by the time we come to vote. Those who have relied on the picture so far, painted by the bulk of the media, may have been sorely misled.

And that makes the overall point. Despite the claims of the Telegraph, the so-called "newspapers" no longer deliver news – if they ever did. They are propaganda organs, with their own agendas and their own distorted views of the world.

In fighting the "no" campaign, we have to realise that the media's agenda is not our agenda, and if we follow their lead, even if their line looks promising, we could end up like a beached whale when the tide of public and media sentiment turns.

We needs to be in command of our own agenda. That means being better informed than the media – which is not difficult – and defining our own issues and priorities. Just because something is temporarily high profile in the propaganda sheets does not mean it is good for us, or that we should follow it. 

Discrimination and a longer term overview would serve us better than any media "take" on events.



Richard North 05/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: what to do about Ukip?

Tuesday 4 August 2015  


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Anyone following social media (and especially Twitter) and watching the comments on newspaper articles relating to the Calais migrant "crisis" will be only too aware of the presence of Ukip supporters and, at times, the almost rabid antipathy towards immigrants.

This has been reinforced by Nigel Farage's comments about the conduct of the referendum campaign, making it very clear that he intends to put immigration at the top of the list, giving the green light to the zealots in his own party, who like nothing better than railing about the subject.

Then there is that frankly asinine comment by Farage in the Mail, where he writes:
It is time to get tough and defend our borders properly. We must put in place a checking system at Dover for every car and lorry coming into the UK. The utopian dream of free movement has hit the buffers.
When one assesses everything that Farage has said, this is amongst the most disturbing, at several levels. Firstly, he appears not to know that the movement of asylum seekers across borders owes nothing to EU "free movement" rules, stemming as it does from the 1951 UN Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

Secondly, he very clearly does not understand the dynamics of the system. Seeking "a checking system at Dover for every car and lorry coming into the UK", he would allow asylum seekers onto UK territory so that, when they are discovered, all they have to do is demand asylum and we have to admit them.

Thus is why, of course, that the UK Government concluded the 2003 Le Touquet Agreement with the French, so that immigration checks are carried out on French soil, where the UK bears no responsibility for asylum seekers.

And it is because these checks are so effective that migrants have resorted to hiding in lorries and cars – not to evade controls in Dover but to by-pass the checks in France. Once they get to England, there is no longer any need to conceal themselves, and most migrants surrender to the authorities once they know they have arrived in this country.

Of course, there is some provision in the immigration rules under the EU's Dublin regulations to return migrants to the EU Member State where they first arrived (see para 345). However, the rules are so hedged with caveats that, from over 30,000 asylum seekers in the UK, only just over a thousand Dublin requests are made in a typical year, while incoming requests in 2012 actually exceeded outgoing. In all cases, though the number of actual transfers is considerably less.

As it stands, therefore, the French authorities provide the main defence against asylum seekers and, if the hostility shown by the likes of Farage towards France continues, we could find ourselves in the devastating position where the French pull out of the Le Touquet Agreement, as they are threatening to do.

But with or without French assistance, the core problem remains – the fact that the signatories (or "contracting states") to the Refugee Convention are effectively giving would-be asylum seekers a gold plated invitation to come to their territories.

On the other hand, as we saw yesterday, there is no shortage of reputable authorities who are or have been calling for the abolition or amendment of the 1951 Convention, and its replacement with something more suited to the conditions of the 21st Century.

And it is here that the "no" campaign in general and Ukip in particular are missing a trick. Within the target group of "undecideds" and soft "yes" voters, who we must get on-side if we are to get our 51 percent in the referendum, there will undoubtedly be many who see these migrants for what they are - refugees and, far from rejecting them, actually welcome them.

These are votes we can't afford to lose, with hard-line rhetoric about migrants and immigration. More to the point, we don't need to lose them, as there are ways we could achieve the effect Farage and his supporters desire, without resorting to the extremes that they do.

What the "no" campaign (including Ukip) could and should be doing is campaigning either for the repeal or the removal of the 1951 Convention (and Protocol) and its replacement with something better.

This is a line the EU can't follow, as the provisions of the 1951 Convention are embedded in the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, which would need major treaty change to happen – which never will. Therefore, the need to address the 1951 Convention is in itself good grounds for leaving the EU, as the only way the UK could broker a new agreement.

Crucially, any new agreement should seek to integrate foreign policy and foreign aid, industrial policy, trade deals and things like third country fishing deals – as well as defence policy – so that we have joined up policy when it comes all to removing or reducing "push" factors.

With its effect on migration generally, we could then afford to be fairly generous with the relatively small number of people who demand asylum (less than ten percent of our net annual immigration), taking them directly from camps bordering the trouble spots, cutting out the smugglers and the predators.

Taking such a line would position the "no" campaign (and Ukip) as forward-looking, with a global vision, offering a positive outcome without having to verge on racism, as Ukip is doing. In other words, the wrong-headed focus on the EU is both unnecessary and counter-productive.

For the "no" campaign to adopt this view is a possibility, but that still leaves open the question of what to do about Ukip. In an ideal world, it would be possible to discuss things with the party, but time and again we see their obsessive behaviour as being beyond reason.

We can't stop Ukip though, so if it doesn't change, we have to disown it. Silence is not an option because, if we say nothing, the opposition will charge that their messages have the support of the "no" campaign in general. We disown it publicly, or it gets attributed to us. 

Eventually, as the campaign runs into its second year, we can see Ukip running out of steam, its members disillusioned and deserting in their droves as the polls refuse to move. At that point, I think we launch our "reserves" with a fresh campaign, leaving the taint behind us. And unless Ukip changes its ways, that is going to have to be the way we handle it.

The campaign is bigger than Ukip (and more important than Nigel Farage's ambitions). We cannot afford to give them the game, any more than we can allow the real "yes" campaign to have its own way when it finally reveals its hand.



Richard North 04/08/2015 link

Another small project

Tuesday 4 August 2015  


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Many moons ago, when the project had just started, this was all you could see for the effort - the very incomplete hull of a Panzer Mk IV or, if you want its formal designation: PzKpfw IV Ausf H.

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Over a thousand parts later (for this is the Trumpeter 1:16 model, with over 2,000 parts) and the hull is getting close to its finished state. Note my first attempts at spray-painting the camouflage scheme, before the (borrowed) airbrush packed up.

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This is the front view, with a tiny glimpse of the interior ... I can't take the lid off at the moment to show you more as the skirt armour isn't fixed ... and there are still some parts to come, not least the hull machine gun. There's all the tools to fit as well.

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The turret basket is nearly complete, with the massive KwK 40 L/48 gun and mantle dry-fitted to test the functioning parts.  It now needs to be mated with the turret.

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And there's the final model - it's a cheat, because the turret is dry fitted and nothing is glued. It'll fall apart if you lift it. But it gives you the shape of things to come. There's still another 200 or so parts to fit, and then there is the camouflage scheme and weathering.  That should be fun - I'll post it if I'm not too ashamed of the results.



Richard North 04/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: more media incompetence

Monday 3 August 2015  


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It should hardly need saying that the subject of immigration is a sensitive one, fraught with complications. And nothing is more calculated to inflame passions than the reports of "swarms" of migrants "flooding" into Britain via the French port of Calais.

Given this, no reasonable person could dispute that this is a subject which should be handled with the greatest of care by the media, with a strong emphasis on accuracy and dispassionate reporting.

Sadly, neither of these properties now seems to apply to the British press. The last few days, on top of weeks of slanted and disjointed news and opinion pieces, it has delivered a torrent of misinformation. So bad has it become that United Nations special representative for migration Peter Sutherland has been moved to accuse the British media of exaggerating "beyond belief" the accounts of recent migrant and asylum seeker movements.

One would not disagree with the thrust of Mr Sutherland's complaints, but what was of special interest was his view that, "distinguishing between a refugee and a migrant is absolutely fundamental". He goes on to explain that a refugee "is a person escaping persecution", then telling us that: "Under a 1951 convention legally we are all obliged to keep a refugee and not to send a refugee back to the country where he or she was being persecuted. So there's a huge difference between the two".

On this, though, the former EU Commissioner is wrong. Refugees are migrants – in the strict technical definition of the word. What distinguishes them is that they by-pass normal immigration rules by demanding "international protection" under the aegis of the 1951 UN Convention on the Treatment of Refugees, and the 1967 Protocol.

On the other hand, Sutherland is absolutely right to stress that those who claim protection cannot be deported from the country where they seek asylum and, if they qualify for refugee status, normally they must be given permits to reside in the countries to which they have applied. Only in special and legally-defined circumstances can they be transferred to another country.

The distinction most marked, however, is between the economic migrants presenting as asylum seekers but who do not qualify for that status. These become "failed" asylum seekers and may be returned to their country of origin, but subject to so many caveats that many remain and eventually acquire citizenship.

The distinction between the two categories, however, is not clear-cut. Some asylum seekers do qualify as refugees, but are also economic migrants. Having removed themselves from immediate danger to a first country, they then move on, often passing through several other countries before arriving at the country where they claim asylum.

These complications are recognised by humanitarian and French politician Bernard Kouchner who, in an interview also warns of confusion between the migrants, in general, and asylum seekers.

Those people leaving from a war, a dictatorship, those who cannot come back home without risking their life, being jailed or tortured, he says, should be accepted, under the terms of the Geneva convention (1951). Those seeking job, however, are economical migrants and not protected by the Geneva Convention.

Nevertheless, even if migrants are fleeing for economic rather than political reasons, we cannot refuse to rescue them if they are drowning in the Mediterranean. And even after they come to Italy or to France or to Spain, we cannot just let them die.

Kouchner's first answer to this problem is that we should share the burden, not to let them stay in Italy by the thousands and tens of thousands. We have to share the migrants round all 28 countries of the EU.

It is his second answer, though, that is more interesting. Immigration is a problem, he says, so we must come up with new answers, changing the Geneva Convention? It will be very difficult, Kouchner says, but we should do it.

This is by no means the first politician to recognise this. He is preceded by Tony Blair and Michael Howard, from different sides of the British political divide. And anyone who has carefully studied this problem will come to the same conclusion. At the root of the problem is the Geneva Convention. Designed for the aftermath of the Second World War, it is no longer fit for purpose. It must be changed.

But, for the UK, perhaps a greater problem is the inability of the legacy media to identify the source of the problem and its staggering incompetence in reporting on and discussing the issues.

And while, in choosing examples of media dereliction, we are spoilt for choice. One of the more egregious examples can be found in yesterday's leader from the Sunday Telegraph.

It starts going off the rails when it opines that "it would help if the erroneous description of many economic migrants as 'asylum-seekers' was stopped", thereby demonstrating an alarming ignorance of the state of play.

Defining certain migrants as asylum seekers simply reflects, in an entirely non-judgemental way, the fact that they are seeking asylum. Their right at this stage is to have their claims properly examined and to have determinations made. There is no error in describing economic migrants as asylum seekers, if that is what they are doing.

Compounding its own error, though, the newspaper goes on to tell us that, "Under the Dublin Convention, immigrants into the EU can claim asylum in the first safe country they reach, but only there".

As an aside, it is long time since 20013 when what are now colloquially known as the Dublin Regulations replaced the Convention. Now cast as Dublin III, they are embodied in Regulation 604/2013, applicable since 1 January 2014.

Where the Telegraph goes seriously wrong here is that the Regulations do not impose any general requirements on migrants. Rather, they impose requirements on EU Member States, "establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast)".

Crucially, unequivocally, therefore, the claim that asylum seekers can only claim asylum in the first safe country they reach is not true. In this and many other documents, the UNHCR affirms that: "There is no duty in international law for an individual to seek asylum in the first country that they enter".

Under EU law, there is Asylum Procedures Directive and its Article 26 refers to the concept of first country of asylum but, we are told, it is a permissive provision and Member States are not required to apply the concept.

Now in the Telegraph we see the culmination of their errors, with the paper wrongly stating that: "Few of the migrants entering Britain from Calais – or many other places – can therefore be said to have legitimate refugee status".

Asylum seekers have status as asylum seekers. That is why they are called asylum seekers. Most of the migrants entering Britain from Calais have a right to have their claims processed and determined. Then, if they qualify as refugees under the terms of the 1952 Convention, they become "legitimate" refugees, irrespective of where they lodged their claims.

However, the Telegraph, in its ignorance, would have us breaking international law, wrongly telling us that "those who have no right to asylum in Europe" should be rapidly returned home – where possible from their first country of arrival.

Strangely, it doesn't seem to have occurred to the paper that, if it was that simple, we'd have already done it. But then it probably believes we're so simple that we believe its trash. Media incompetence combined with arrogance, is leading its readers astray and, doubtless, we're supposed to be grateful.



Richard North 03/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: migrant misinformation

Sunday 2 August 2015  


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I've been in the business of communication for a long time and one of my guiding principles is articulated by Gene Sharp in his campaign guide. "Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual", he writes. "Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance".

You can get away with inaccurate reporting for a long time and, if you are preaching to the converted, telling them what they want to hear, you can get away with it forever. Addressing that audience, there is often no advantage in delivering facts – people will turn away from detail they don't want to hear.

In this coming referendum campaign, though, we have to secure more than 50 percent of the vote. That means we need to covert of lot of people to our way of thinking – far more than is needed in a general election campaign. And there the Sharp precept must apply: claims and reporting must be strictly factual. Accuracy is at an absolutely premium.

Crucially, if we sell a false bill of goods, our target audience will not come rushing to tell us we're wrong. Most won't argue with us or even reveal their disagreement. They'll simply note the mismatch – very often intuitively. And stripped of that all-important credibility, we'll fail to convince – we won't convert the people we need to our way of thinking, and the left-wing media will have a field day.

And there is nothing more calculated to burn up our credibility than the rhetoric on migration, as currently focused on the situation in Calais. Rarely, it seems, has there been so much misinformation being poured out by eurosceptics, all doubtless pleasing the converted but with a potentially devastating effect on the "no" campaign in the longer term.

The heart of the issue, as one might imagine, is the degree of responsibility which can be attributed to our membership of the European Union and whether leaving the EU would solve the problem of migrants coming to the UK.

The "withdrawal" question is actually easy to answer. In short, leaving the EU would not improve the position and could make it worse. The reason why there would be no difference is because asylum seekers are a matter of international law, not directly initiated by EU law.

The crucial law is the 1951 UN Convention on the Treatment of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. As long as the UK is party to these, the Government is obliged to respond to any non-nationals on its territory who demand asylum. First, it must formally assess each case individually, to determine whether the applicant's status conforms with the definition of a refugee. If they do, they must be goven leave to remain, and basic support, including food and shelter. The "contracting state" has no discretion in this matter – this is a treaty obligation and, for the UK, stands above our membership of the EU.

Nor are the people seeking asylum in any normal sense "illegal" immigrants. The Convention., under Article 31, specifically prohibits refugees from being penalised for their illegal entry or stay.

While that provision originally applied to those "coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened", the exemption from prosecution has since been extended by case law. It now applies to all asylum seekers, even when they have come via intermediate countries. This is applied worldwide by all contacting states, even Australia.

As such, people entering the UK without authorisation, but who intend to claim asylum, tend to be called "irregular" migrants. For most practical purposes, once on UK territory, they cannot be refused entry and as long as they qualify as refugees, they cannot be deported.

When it comes to migrants travelling from their point of entry into the territory of an EU Member State (often Italy or Greece) to France and thence to Calais with a view to seeking asylum in the UK, as individuals they break no law by not applying for asylum in the first country they reach.

Technically, the receiver state may be in breach of the EU's Dublin Regulation, but whether they are or not is and would be unaffected by the UK's membership status. It can be presumed that some irregular migrants would seek asylum in the UK, irrespective of whether we were in the EU.

Once these migrants reach Calais, under normal circumstances, there would be nothing to stop them boarding Eurostar or a ferry and travelling to the UK, thence to demand asylum. There are not normally any controls on leaving a country – the controls are usually applied on entry. And since these migrants would then be on UK soil, they could not be refused entry as asylum seekers.

However, as Booker points out in his column, by arrangement with the French government, we are allowed to station our immigration officials in Calais. They, not the French authorities, decide whether a traveller boards the transport to the UK. If at that point, migrants demand asylum, they are still on French soil. Thus, they are referred to the French authorities. Because they are not on UK soil, we have no obligations towards them.

This arrangement is formalised in the Le Touquet Treaty of 2003 (with another agreement covering Eurostar), which means that there is no legal route from Calais by which migrants can enter the UK.

Even the Huffington Post knows this. It observes that UK border police operate at Calais to check documents and prevent illegal migrants from reaching the country - which is why, it says, many turn to desperate measures like jumping into vans and clinging onto trains.

The Le Touquet Treaty is, of course, a bilateral treaty between the UK and France. It would not be directly affected if we left the EU. However, the French government could respond to our withdrawal by pulling out of this treaty and opening the gates of the ferry terminal. It could then allow migrants free passage, whence we could be confronted by hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, with no option but to let them in.

Whichever way this is cut, there are no grounds for arguing that the EU is directly responsible for the situation in Calais. In fact, there is a tenable case that the Le Touquet Treaty, jointly agreed between France and the UK is at fault. Without it, we would simply have the migrants passing straight through, like any other passengers.

To keep this issue on an even kilter, Eurosceptics should stop pretending that the EU is to blame. And people like Nigel Farage should get their facts right. These migrants are not illegal immigrants. 

Furthermore, anyone associated with the "no" campaign should avoid trying to elide the EU's freedom of movement provisions with asylum seeking (although it is valid to make an indirect link). Instead, they should acknowledge that at the heart of the problem lies the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, which is not affected by EU membership in the sense that it would cease to apply once we left.

But that does not mean there is no EU involvement. Within the Charter of Fundamental Rights, incorporated into the EU Treaties under Lisbon, the provisions of the 1951 Convention have been enshrined in EU law. Leaving the EU does not remove our international obligations, but in order to modify or amend them, we need to leave the EU. But leaving is a necessary move. It is not sufficient in itself.

There is the credible case for leaving the EU. It allows us to deal with the root of the problem - the 1951 Convention. Anything else simply damages the cause and renders the argument toxic.



Richard North 02/08/2015 link

EU politics: treaty change on the agenda

Saturday 1 August 2015  


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The Times under the by-line of Bruno Waterfield is telling us of a "German call for EU overhaul" which, it is said, "helps make Cameron's case" for reform of the EU. Germany, Waterfield writes, is pushing to strip key powers from the European Commission, seeking to separate its increasingly political role from its central job as the enforcer of European Union rules.

Before going into detail, we would suggest that the important thing about the Times article is that it is the first time (that I can recall) that we see a British newspaper  acknowledge that major changes are afoot to the treaties which, Waterfield writes, "would come too late for Mr Cameron's planned referendum by the end of 2017".

Thus does Waterfield state that this: "could mean that Britain has two EU referendums within five years, with a second, on structural reform in Brussels, early in the next decade".

He adds that: "While France and Germany disagree on the enforcement of spending rules, both countries recognise that the EU must be reorganised around a core 'political union' of eurozone countries, with an overhaul of European treaties by 2025".

Interestingly, when the idea of a second referendum was brought up at Farage's press conference on Thursday, it provoked much mirth – from journalists as well as Farage. This was one of several pointers indicating a lack of strategic appreciation. Those there seemed to have no understanding of the bigger picture.

As to that bigger picture, the source of Waterfield's story is the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. This has German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble calling for some of the Commission's powers to be cut back, with the institution completely restructured. His concern is that the Commission under Juncker is increasingly politicised and having to make political compromises which are not compatible with its role as "guardian of the treaty".

The German Finance Minister is thus suggesting that the functions are split and enforcement tasks are outsourced to politically independent institutions, which will take care of functions such as single market administration and competition policy. This leaves us with a "political commission" which is then free to act more as a European government.

Schäuble, we are told, wants to feed his ideas in the discussion on EU reform and is looking to London for support. But both the British ideas and Schäuble's considerations need changes to the EU treaties.

Since, says FAZ, this also applies to French President Hollande's ideas for economic government in the euro area, treaty change "cannot be completely excluded" - even if the underlying ideas are very different.

And there the story stood, not only as Waterfield picked it up but also as the Financial Times carried it, this newspaper reporting that it had been "partially confirmed by the finance ministry" as "part of a growing debate over the future of the eurozone".

This paper also reminds us that Hollande has pressed for an overhaul of the eurozone, while Italian finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan has called for a rapid move to a full political union. But, it says, the the new ideas being advanced have highlighted the differences between eurozone countries on the way forward, particularly between the French and Italian camp and Berlin.

However, the story does not finish there. As FAZ later reports, there are differences in Berlin as well, with Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel complaining that he knew nothing of Schäuble's proposals. A spokeswoman for Gabriel tersely remarked that: "This is a proposal of the Federal Ministry of Finance", effectively disowning it as an official government viewpoint.

Schäuble, of course, is an enthusiastic Europhile, and it is said that he sometimes forgets who he works for – that he's a minister in the Federal Government. It takes the Irish Times to remind us of this, citing Berlin officials saying that Dr Schäuble has always been a defender of the Commission. His remarks were nothing new, they said, but part of a "wider, medium-term" discussion about the future role of Brussels institutions.

We are certainly seeing that discussion in the German media. GoogleNews records hundreds of articles in the last couple of months – against a mere handful in the British press. Süddeutsche Zeitung, for instance, refers to the Five Presidents' Report, which has got scant publicity in the UK, noting that it has been put in the agenda of the EU finance ministers. Ministers from London and Paris, and from Helsinki to Rome, are setting out their views.

Die Presse notes that, "after years of reform fatigue, the debate about a restructuring of the EU is in full swing". Greece has been the catalyst and "provocateur of the hour" is Wolfgang Schäuble. The fact that the European political protagonists are pursuing different interests, it says, is not new. This time, however, there are at least three different fronts: between the European institutions and the Member States, between the individual EU member states and between the UK and the rest of the Union.

Schäuble's "mind games", says Die Presse, can be understood as a response to the Five-President Report, which has called for the gradual deepening of economic and monetary union. In that respect, Schäuble is giving the UK an opening - depoliticised oversight of the internal market in return for greater integration within the eurozone.

That may in fact be Schäuble's real intention, as Die Zeit dismisses rumours of tensions between him and Juncker. It cites a Commission spokesperson saying that Juncker pursues "with great and friendly interest" all the ideas puts forward by Schäuble. And, as the discussion widens, more and more we are seeing the same narrative - that treaty change will be required.

There can be no doubt about this – treaty change is in the air, building up a momentum. It is a path fraught with danger for Member States, and one where there is much trepidation. Thus, whether it happens is anyone's guess, but no one can deny that it is now firmly embedded in the European political agenda. Only in Britain do we see so superficial a discussion - and utterly bewildering considering we are in the run-up to a referendum campaign. 



Richard North 01/08/2015 link

EU Referendum: not just another meeting

Friday 31 July 2015  


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So, with an eye to maximising publicity, Mr Farage yesterday decided to tell the world that Ukip was launching its campaign "on the ground" from the beginning of September. He is, we are told, to "mobilise a people's army" in favour of leaving the European Union, and will launch hundreds of public meetings.

Mr Farage was of the view that the referendum could be held as early as "March or April", and if he believes that, then that explains why he is in such a rush to get things moving, telling the "no" side that it needs to "get off its backside". It needs to do two things, he says: to "get cracking" and "come together".

However, in one thing, Mr Farage is certainly wrong. There will be no referendum in March or April, nor in June. It seems unlikely that there can be one before October of next year, while we maintain that the most probable date is October 2017.

On this basis, we believe that to ramp up the campaign early is premature - and potentially harmful. Given the need for a grand strategy, the time would be better spent working on this, and then organising and training our side, better to execute the campaign.

Crucially, before we commit ourselves to a strategy, we need a clearer idea of what Mr Cameron is planning, especially if "associate membership" becomes a reality. If it does, and there is a second referendum to follow, this will be a game changer. It will demand a precise and measured response.

Sadly, it is not within our capability to influence Mr Farage. He set his face against anything we might have to offer over a decade ago, having decided that the way to success was though gaining MPs in Westminster, a strategy that has yet to produce results.

Nevertheless, that does not mean there is nothing we can do, or that we have to stand idle while Farage insists executing what appears to be a strategy-free campaign.

Essentially, if we are in for the long haul, then we need a group of campaigners who can act as a backstop, to block the gaps left by the orthodox campaigners. We need people capable of stepping in, long after the early starters have peaked, with an intelligence-led response to developments as they occur.

To that effect, with the support and generous sponsorship of the Campaign for an Independent Britain, the Referendum Planning Group (RPG) is convening a workshop at the Woodland Grange Hotel in Leamington Spa, on 12 September.

The workshop numbers are limited, but it is open to all those who want to take an active part in the campaign and are capable of organising and building their operations for activation when the time is right.

While there will be a number of formal campaigning groups – and an official "no" campaign - we will be looking for organisers who can set up additional, autonomous groups, to augment official activities. These groups, in our view, need to be function-orientated, capable of taking rapid and effective action in areas where larger, formal groups are unable to operate.

Our preliminary agenda for the workshop splits the day into four parts, starting at 10am and finishing at 4pm. In the morning, we will start with an outline of RPG's intellectual base and, for the second part, we will look at campaign structures. After lunch, we will kick off with presentations by existing activists, represented by the CIB, the Bruges Group, EUReferendum.com, Futurus and The Harrogate Agenda.

Then we plan to turn the meeting over to our potential volunteers, to hear from them as to how they think they can contribute to the campaign, what they need from us, and how best we can all work together.

I would stress that we are not planning to go into competition with other groups – this is for self-starters who are not happy working within the framework of traditional, hierarchical groups. We are looking at cell structures, on the lines of a guerrilla army, capable of identifying the enemy's weak points and acting decisively without needing external leadership.

For the day, we are asking for a contribution of £25 from each attendee, although there are a number of sponsored places for those with limited means.

The day, though, is for the independently-minded, those who do not want to be bystanders in the coming campaign. If you want to punch above your weight and make your contributions count, Leamington Spa on 12 September is the place to be.

Admin is being handled by Dorothy Davis. If you are interested, you can contact her by e-mail via this link in order to make a booking. We look forward to seeing you there.



Richard North 31/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: a grand strategy

Thursday 30 July 2015  


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Sitting on my desk for a long while have been many books on revolutionary theory and the acquisition of power, including in which number has been Gene Sharp's book on "Power and Struggle". Not until recently, however, have I acquired (at the behest of The Boiling Frog) Sharp's slender but vitally important volume entitled " From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" (free .pdf download here).

Although intended to assist campaigners attempting to overthrow dictatorships and install democracy, much of the advice is relevant and useful to our campaign to leave the EU, and especially the chapter on strategic planning. So important is it that I decided to reproduce the essence of it in this post, adapted to apply specifically to the referendum campaign.

If what he says can be summed up, it is in one sentence. Sharp says, "If one wishes to accomplish something, it is wise to plan how to do it". But, he then goes on to say:
The more important the goal, or the graver the consequences of failure, the more important planning becomes. Strategic planning increases the likelihood that all available resources will be mobilised and employed most effectively.
To plan a strategy, Sharp tells us, means to calculate a course of action that will make it more likely to get from the present to the desired future situation. In terms of our current struggle, that means getting to a state where we are a free, independent function country, outside the EU.

Taking from Sharp and modifying his work, we can say that a plan to achieve that objective will usually consist of a phased series of campaigns designed to produce a majority of the people in favour of leaving the EU, and to weaken the determination of those who would keep us as members.

Sharp acknowledges that strategic planning is a difficult task. But, he says, the failure to plan strategically means that one's strength is dissipated, one's actions are ineffective, energy is wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilised and sacrifices are for naught.

If we do not plan strategically, we are likely to fail to achieve our objectives. A poorly planned mixture of activities will not move us forward. Instead, it will more likely strengthen the opposition. In order to help us think strategically, Sharp says, clarity about the meanings of four basic terms is important.

Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, political, organisational, etc.) of a group seeking to attain its objectives.

By focusing primary attention on the group's objectives and resources, grand strategy determines the most appropriate techniques of action to be employed. Leaders must evaluate and plan which pressures and influences are to be brought to bear on the opposition. It will also include decisions on the appropriate conditions and timing under which initial and subsequent campaigns will be launched.

It sets the basic framework for the selection of more limited strategies for carrying out the campaign. It also determines the allocation of general task to specific groups and the distribution of resources to them.

Strategy is the conception of how best to achieve particular objectives in a conflict, operating within the scope of the chosen grand strategy. It is concerned with whether, when and how to fight, as well as how to achieve maximum effectiveness. A strategy has been compared to the artist's concept, while a strategic plan is the architect's blueprint.

In devising strategies, planners must define their objectives and determine how to measure the effectiveness of efforts to achieve them. Tactics and methods of action are used to implement the strategy.

Tactics relate to the skilful use of one's forces to the best advantage in a limited situation. A tactic is of limited action, employed to achieve a restricted objective. The choice of tactics is governed by the conception of how best to utilise the available means of implementing the strategy.

To be most effective, tactics and methods must be chosen and applied with constant attention to the achievement of strategic objectives. Tactical gains that do not reinforce the attainment of strategic objectives may in the end turn out to be wasted energy. A tactic is thus concerned with a limited course of action that fits within the broad strategy, just as a strategy fits within the grand strategy.

Tactics are always concerned with fighting the campaign, whereas strategy includes wider considerations. A particular tactic can only be understood as part of the overall strategy. Tactics are applied for shorter periods of time than strategies, or in smaller areas, or by a more limited number of people, or for more limited objectives.

Method refers to specific means of action, which in the context of a political campaign can mean the social media, letter-writing to local newspapers, leaflets, rallies and public meetings.

On the broader front, the development of a responsible and effective strategic plan, concludes Sharp, depends upon the careful formulation and selection of the grand strategy, strategies, tactics, and methods. The main lesson is that a calculated use of one's intellect is required in careful strategic planning. Thus:
Failure to plan intelligently can contribute to disasters, while the effective use of one's intellectual capacities can chart a strategic course that will judiciously utilise one's available resources to win the campaign.
Interestingly, Sharp suggests that there are sound reasons for making the grand strategy widely known. The large numbers of people required to participate may be more willing and able to act if they understand the general conception, as well as specific instructions. The knowledge could potentially have a very positive effect on their morale, their willingness to participate, and to act appropriately.

The general outlines of the grand strategy would, of course, become known to the opposition but they would find out anyway. Knowledge could cause them to change tactics to our advantage, while contributing to dissension and defections from the Europhile camp.

All it needs then is that there should be a grand strategy – one that we are all capable of following, one that we can all feel that we own. Your views on that would be much appreciated.



Richard North 30/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: the mess they're in

Wednesday 29 July 2015  


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Do we need a treaty change, or don't we? Well, for the changes that Mr Cameron says he wants, the Government thinks we will need one, and one which goes beyond the Article 48 "simplified procedure".

The House of Lords Select Committee reserves judgement on whether any agreement would require treaty change, but it also accepts that it is not feasible for changes to the EU Treaties to come into force ahead of a referendum, even if it is held at the end of 2017.

But, assuming that a treaty change is necessary and Mr Cameron can't deliver in time, how does he convince the British electorate that the "colleagues" are prepared to ante up when they do have a treaty, especially as there is no way there can be any legal guarantees.

On the other hand, since Mr Cameron has promised a treaty, why would anyone be impressed with Ian Martin's "take" on what George Osborne has to offer?

Yet Martin is one of those who seems to think that Osborne can broker a deal by Christmas, ready for that referendum in June 2016. However, while ostensibly writing about "Europe", he is making the mistake common to English journalism of looking at events through the prism of domestic politics. 

Despite the historic nature of the referendum, and its vital importance to future generations, all that matters to this hack is short-term domestic politics. The important thing to him, therefore, is that Osborne can use the contest to "further his leadership ambitions", but only if he can "present whatever the deal is as a magnificent achievement and a marvellous vindication of his efforts".

But why a deal short of a treaty should be acceptable to us, because it is from the Chancellor, when the same deal from the Prime Minister would not be, is not explained. Not even the Daily Telegraph attempts that. Instead, it gives Osborne licence to claim he's achieved the political equivalent of turning water into wine – having Britain's relationship with the EU "return to the concept of a 'single market of free trade'".

Someone really should take Osborne aside and tell him that the EEC was from its very inception a political construct. Even Harold Wilson knew that. Is our current Chancellor so untutored that he doesn't realise that the Treaty of Rome had as its primary objective "ever closer union". It cannot return to being a "single market of free trade" because it never was one.

What price a newspaper, though, that interviews the Chancellor and doesn't point this out – that lets the man spout his mantra, and then treats it with a respect that it is certainly not its due, putting a nonsense pledge on the front page? Do politicians now have a free pass to mislead, without intervention or comment from the fourth estate?

Leaving that aside, in an attempt to get some sense, I suppose we could try Janan Ganesh's in the Financial Times , but he has caught the trivia disease. Again, ostensibly writing about "Europe", he is obsessing about the referendum timing and domestic politics. Mr Cameron has no reason to go for an early referendum, says Ganesh. The moment the referendum is over, it marks the beginning of the end to his career as Prime Minister. The later he leaves it, the more time he gets to pursue his agenda as prime minister, and secure his "legacy".

However, neither one of these geniuses - Martin or Ganesh – seem to have worked out the political implications of a new treaty agreed after the referendum, and the near-certainty of it triggering a second referendum, most probably in the mid-term of the next parliament.

With this, one can posit a scenario of Mr Cameron going to the country in 2020, with a "yes" vote under his belt, promising anther referendum to cement the deal. And what better reason could there be for him to stay on for another term as prime minister?

Not even Rafael Behr of the Guardian seems to have put it together – prattle seems to have infected the fourth estate and addled their brains. The "only certainty" about the deal that will be offered to the British public, intones the mighty Behr, "is that it will include compromises and imperfections – characteristics of the European project that have always been unacceptable to much of [the] right and are rapidly falling out of favour on the left".

Undecided voters, he adds, "can surely be persuaded that Britain is better off staying in the EU, but the prime minister is making that task harder by insisting that the case for 'yes' hinges on the detail of his renegotiation".

In the Behr scenario, therefore, "asking people if they like the half-baked deal that the prime minister brought home from Brussels seems, in the current climate, to be an invitation to say 'no'" – in which event Mr Cameron, we are told, "will have to pivot away from treaty changes and … make the broader case for Britain in Europe".

The assumption here is that Mr Cameron is going to bring home a "deal" from Brussels. But, most likely, all he will bring is the promise of a treaty in the near future, in which the UK will be relegated to "associate membership" status. Not a hint of that comes from Mr Behr.

For all that the concepts of a "two-speed Europe", the avant garde, the "core group" and "associate membership" are not exactly state secrets. One might, therefore, have thought that just one British journalist might break ranks and talk about what is in dozens of news sources on the continent – and available to British readers via the magic of the internet and Google translate.

Apart from Booker, though, you will have to go back to 21-22 June before you will find even a passing reference in the British media to "associate membership". Only the Guardian in recent times will allow a mention of "core Europe".

There was actually more news on the subject in the British media in 2012, when the idea was being mooted for inclusion in the next round of treaty-making. Yet, now that it is close to becoming a reality, the media are making omerta look more relaxed than the regime in Speakers' Corner.

With better than 40,000 references to Kernuuropa over the last couple of years, the near-obliteration of any reference to the English-language equivalent can't be accidental. One has to work extremely hard to cultivate a level of ignorance that manages to guard against even an accidental mention.

Rather than address this issue, we have the Express present us with Lord Hill, vice-president of the European Commission, who admits that Mr Cameron's "renegotiation" demands have "not yet" been made clear to the "colleagues". "The British government have not yet set out their clear and detailed list of their requests," he says.

The Times has Emmanuel Macron, the French economy minister, saying much the same thing. After a press conference with the Osborne, he declared that "we need to understand what the UK wants", reflecting - says the paper - a frustration felt across Europe at Britain's delay in spelling out its demands.

With the HoL Select Committee making a similar complaint, you might have thought that even one enterprising journalist might dig behind the headlines. If renegotiation is supposedly a central part of Mr Cameron's referendum strategy, why has there been so little effort to put the agenda in front of the "colleagues".

The most obvious explanation is that the renegotiations are no longer a central part of Mr Cameron's strategy - and that the outcome is irrelevant. That certainly could apply if the Prime Minister was not in control and was merely waiting for an announcement about a new treaty, whence we will be told that the "real" objective of the talks all along was "associate membership".

Vainly, though, do we search for any semblance of intelligent life in the media, or anything approaching coherent analysis of what is a bizarre and unexplained omission. What passes for journalism in the Express is a pathetic hack trying to sell us the idea of "Brexpulsion" – a facile "exclusive" from Prof Iain Begg (he of three million jobs fame), which has the UK at risk of being kicked out of the European Union.

Never mind that there is no provision in the treaties for the expulsion of a member state – if this is quality journalism, one can only observe that the media has plumbed new depths. But even the best is low grade. Coverage of the EU, in the round, is a total mess.

As regards referendum coverage, as the campaign gathers momentum, the public needs better and deserves better. The mess that comprises the current coverage is a disgrace, an affront to the very idea of responsible journalism. It is also a threat to what is left of our democracy.



Richard North 29/07/2015 link

EU Referendum: a concoction of confusions

Tuesday 28 July 2015  


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If anyone actually thinks they know what is going on, they haven't been listening – or so the old joke goes. But, if anyone is relying on the Guardian or any other media to tell them what is happening with the EU referendum, they are unlikely to end up well informed.

David Cameron, we are told by the Guardian, is to stage another round of separate meetings with European leaders this autumn. These will be "critical" to determining whether he thinks he can go ahead with a referendum next year or should instead wait until 2017.

This "intelligence" comes in the wake of the Independent on Sunday claiming to have inside knowledge of Mr Cameron's intentions, selling us the unlikely line that a June referendum is on the cards.

A day later, we get the Prime Minister from Indonesia declaring that "the negotiations would determine the date of the referendum, not the other way round", something also picked up by the BBC. It has Mr Cameron asserting that he did not have a referendum date in mind. Instead, he tells reporters that, "When the negotiation is complete then we'll set the date for the referendum".

Cameron also claims that "technical discussions" are "well under way in Brussels to work on the legal parameters of a deal", and "weekly analytical discussions" are looking at the legal form to the changes the UK is seeking. Officials and lawyers are considering whether they would require treaty change, primary legislation or something more modest.

At the same time, we are given to understand that Mr Cameron has accepted that treaty change is not possible by next year. It is nevertheless reported that he could "still win a legally binding agreement in writing that treaty change would follow", once other EU states had finished their own negotiations about revising governance in the euro area.

This is about as clear as mud, not least because there can be no legally binding agreement. Brussels is not in a position to guarantee a treaty change, and neither is any member state. In the absence of the ability to deliver, no agreement can be legally binding. That is a basic principle of law. 

Nevertheless, we are supposed to believe that Mr Cameron wants that further round of talks with key European leaders such Angela Merkel, at the end of September, supposedly  "to test out how quickly a deal can be struck".

However, if we put this into the context of what we already know, it does not compute. The timetable for treaty change is already set, with the first stage of the roll-out in late 2017, leading to a convention starting in the spring of 2018 and a treaty agreed by 2022. 

This, then, rather relegates the Prime Minister to a play-acting role. He will be able, we are told, to make a preliminary judgement at the autumn European Council as to whether to go short or long on the referendum date, but the narrative has him wanting to decide after the December Council.

This, of course, makes a total nonsense of the Independent story. No decision on the referendum date has been made. But, beyond that, we really are none the wiser, especially as the key decisions are not in Mr Cameron's hands. 

Nor does it help if we cast the media net wider. The Telegraph also has David Cameron conferring with Angela Merkel and other European leaders, but it reminds us that the timing will put his meeting just before the Conservative Party conference. Then, he "will come under immense pressure from backbenchers to show a more ambitious menu of proposed reforms than has so far been disclosed".

Clearly, the Telegraph is after something dramatic so, for his meeting with Merkel et al, it has Cameron "now preparing to set out a far more detailed set of demands" than have so far been tabled - backed by a politically illiterate leader that shows it hasn't a clue on what is going on.

It doesn't get much better if we turn to the Times, though, because there we get George Osborne wanting to "wrap up negotiations with Brussels by Christmas". These days, we don't even get government by leak. Instead, we have to rely on what the Chancellor has told his friends, who then presumably confide in the Times lobby correspondent. From this unimpeachable source, we get a variation on the theme offered by the Guardian.

He (the Chancellor), we learn, would like to strike an agreement at the December Council on "the four target areas of British sovereignty, fairness for non-eurozone members, competitiveness and immigration". This, of course, is not possible and the narrative does not entirely match what the Guardian is telling us. 

Furthermore, none of the media sources are factoring in the new treaty and the potential for the UK being consigned to associate member status. Without this crucial intelligence, it is not easy to make any real sense of what is happening. But, when it comes to the referendum timing, even the Times has it that "Downing Street sources insisted" that "no decision had yet been taken on the date".

As to the bigger picture, the only real sense we can get is gleaned from the Financial Times. It gives us French economy minister Emmanuel Macron, declaring that, "We need a stronger eurozone, more integration and to reaffirm the political project of the eurozone but at the same time we need fair treatment of the [non-euro] countries".

That seems to be a coded reference to a "core group" and the concomitant "associate membership", although Macron stops short of spelling it out. And all we get on the referendum timing from the FT is that the European Council on 15-16 October will give European leaders "a collective chance" to "take a view on how quickly detailed discussions can be wrapped up".

Cutting to the chase, therefore, all we can really surmise is that the media don't have a handle on things. Trapped in their desperately Brit-centric perspective and reliant on publicity handouts from the Cameron and Osborne media teams, they can't see the inconsistencies in what they are told, and don't have the knowledge to see the bigger picture.

Unsurprisingly, the result is simply a concoction of confusions, strengthening our view that the British media is inherently incapable of sensible reporting on European Union issues. But then what really comes over is the sense that we are being played. And that comes as no surprise. We've known that all along.



Richard North 28/07/2015 link
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