Archive for the ‘European politics’ Category

Across the water: personal and political reflections on holding dual British-Irish citizenship

richard graysonAfter the Brexit vote, Richard S Grayson (Goldsmiths, University of London) became an Irish citizen, meaning that he has dual British-Irish citizenship. This was partly from his desire to retain a European identity. More importantly, it reflected a Northern Irish ancestry which, before and after partition, was intimately bound up with the rest of the island. He suggests that for those with ties to Ulster, holding dual citizenship may help to break down barriers between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Mid-morning on Christmas Eve 2016, I had what felt like a present in the post: my first Irish passport. I applied for citizenship of the Republic of Ireland in July 2016, like thousands of Britons, following the vote to leave the European Union. The first stage was obtaining my ‘foreign birth registration’, a document from the Irish authorities confirming my Irish citizenship on the basis of being born overseas to an Irish parent. When that appeared in November I rapidly applied for a passport.  The application was through my Grayson ancestry, using what is commonly thought of as a ‘grandparent rule’ (a grandparent born on the island of Ireland).  It is more accurately a ‘parent rule’: my Essex-born Dad was considered Irish by the Irish government since he had at least one Irish-born parent (actually both in his case).

My application came after the referendum, but was not only for that reason.  I did feel a profound sense of alienation from the majority opinion as reflected in the vote, and wanted to do something as an act of resistance against the Brexit vote. I also wanted to maintain a formal sense of being European, beyond the emotional one of cheering for Europe during the Ryder Cup. Many people have taken this step for pragmatic reasons, such as wanting shorter queues at airports. But I would have felt uneasy about applying for citizenship solely on those grounds. For me, taking dual citizenship had to mean being able to feel some sense of commitment to both states and their peoples.  In this case, I do. For the past seven years I have been working on a book about Dubliners involved in the First World War and the Irish Revolution. I have spent much time in the Republic of Ireland, feel a connection particularly to Dublin’s story and its people, and am at home in the city. But my legal connection makes the way I feel about all this more complicated.

lough neagh

Looking towards the north shore of Lough Neagh. Photo: Oisin Paternell via a CC-BY-SA .0 licence

The Grayson family roots are in Lurgan in Northern Ireland, not the state which issues the Irish passport.  The family story is of six Grayson brothers first going to Ireland as part of King William’s army over three centuries ago.  Family graves in Lurgan are more than two hundred years old, and we farmed the same land at Kinnego on the edge of Lough Neagh for nearly the same length of time. Grandfather Edward Grayson married Maud Powell, born in County Down, whose family claimed some Huguenot ancestry.  From then, it would scarcely be possible to construct a story covering more aspects of the Ulster Protestant narrative (though one Ulster great-grandmother was born into a Catholic family): mass family signing of the Ulster Covenant, a great-uncle in the 1913-14 Ulster Volunteer Force, and extensive service in the British military in the First World War, including on the Somme in 1916 in the iconic 36th (Ulster) Division.

So my personal identity is complicated. I am ‘from’ Hertfordshire: I was born there and have lived there most of my life. But there has long been an emotional connection in the family to Ulster and its link with Britain. Born in 1969, I was conscious at an early age of Ulster being unique, not only because of the Troubles. But my grandparents were pre-partition unionists and such people also had a wider connection to Ireland. My position was summed up by supporting England at cricket (note that England’s one-day team is now captained by a Dubliner) and Northern Ireland at football.  For a time, with a nod to my Mum’s family roots, I supported Scotland at rugby, but the anti-Englishness that sometimes involves was alarming, so I switched to Ireland years ago. My Dad died in 2009 so can’t give me his thoughts on all this, but he certainly had a multi-layered identity. One weekend during the Six Nations, I spoke to him on a Saturday when he said ‘We won’ of an Ireland match and then next day ‘We lost’ of England.

These complications raise significant cultural and political questions about someone from my family background holding dual British and Irish citizenship. If you support the Union and its continuation, is it plausible to be a citizen of two states, and show loyalty to both, when one was born out of rejection of the other?  If I couldn’t answer yes, I wouldn’t have applied for Irish citizenship because I was not fundamentally driven by the pragmatism which has driven many, even if Brexit prompted the timing. For me, some reference to the historic nature of unionism is necessary, whatever its contemporary tone might be. Just as Redmondite Irish nationalists sought devolution within the UK, not full independence, unionists historically recognised an all-Ireland dimension to their lives. Edward Carson did not seek partition at the outset of his campaign for the Union. In ways that are seen now most clearly seen in support for the all-Ireland rugby team (and other sports) and membership of the Church of Ireland, institutions intimately connected to pre-partition unionists were all-Ireland: from ‘Irish’ rather than ‘Ulster’ regiments of the British army, to Trinity College Dublin, and the Irish Times. Politically, some of this came back more than two decades ago, but said ever so softly. The Belfast or ‘Good Friday’ Agreement of 1998, for all the flaws of Stormont politics, deftly constructed greater all-Ireland cooperation on practical matters, accompanied by often underestimated changes to the Irish Republic’s constitution to reassure unionists.  So by having citizenship through my grandparents, I feel that I am regaining some kind of all-Ireland connection which they had, while not being any less British, nor signing up to a state which denies the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s connection to Britain. Loyalty to two states is possible when those states are no longer in conflict in the way they once were.

The future political significance of unionists in Northern Ireland being willing to hold Irish passports (which is complicated, but is happening) can only be speculative. But surely the fact of embracing some formal connection with the Republic, even if only pragmatically, opens up the prospect of changes on the island. One is that the act of holding an Irish passport might open minds to useful practical cooperation on more matters of economy and society than is already the case, even if that might just mean deeper working on agriculture and tourism. Another, and arguably more important emotional change, is that if more and more people hold two passports, those doing so are less likely to see ‘British’ and ‘Irish’ as mutually exclusive. That view has dominated life for the past century but was not the case prior to the First World War. A change could have profound effects on how unionists view the place of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, becoming less inclined to see development of the language as a gain for the ‘other side’, and perhaps even increasing engagement with it.

None of this will happen quickly, but could be unintended consequences of Brexit. So while Brexit might erect barriers between the UK and the continent which I hoped never to see, it could do something to break them down within these islands.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Richard S Grayson is Professor of Twentieth Century History at Goldsmiths, University of London. Dublin’s Great Wars: The First World War, the Easter Rising and the Irish Revolution is to be published by Cambridge University Press in the summer of 2018.

Theresa May Pledges to Keep EU Arrest Warrant and Europol Links

Theresa May will pledge to keep Britain closely tied to the EU for security reasons this week as she launches a final push to settle the UK’s blueprint for Brexit, The Sunday Times reported.

The prime minister will use a speech in Munich on Saturday to announce that Britain will remain part of the European arrest warrant and Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency. She will make the case that the arrest warrant has kept British citizens safe and demonstrates that the UK can benefit from continued close co-operation with Brussels.

In 2016-17, 196 people were arrested using the warrant after a request from this country, up from 150 the year before.
May will make a “big offer” to the EU to continue security co-operation, including vital British intelligence.

France Calls For Opening of Humanitarian Corridors in Syria

 France wants air strikes in Syria to end and calls for the opening of humanitarian corridors as soon as possible, the French defense minister said on Friday.

“We are very preoccupied and are monitoring the situation on the ground very carefully. The air strikes need to end,” Florence Parly said on France Inter radio, giving no further details.

“Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable,” she added.

The Syrian civil war, now entering its eighth year, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes, while drawing in regional countries and global powers supporting client factions on the ground.

The U.S.-led coalition and its local allies in Syria struck pro-government forces with deadly air and artillery fire to repel “an unprovoked attack” near the Euphrates, the coalition said on Thursday.

The incident underscores the potential for further conflict in Syria’s oil-rich east, where the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias holds swathes of land after its offensive against Islamic State.


Source: Reuters

The Deputy Chief of the European Parliament has Been Removed Because of Insulting Opponents

By 447 votes in favor and 196 against, MEPs voted to deprive the European Parliament's deputy - Polish Ryszard Czarnecki, of his post. He was dismissed for insulting words towards  Rosa Thun, a fellow countryman in parliament, according to BGNews.

The European Parliament has for the first time resorted to such a procedure, which was broadcast by the European Commission's video service.

In front of the German-French TV channel Arte, the representative of the Polish opposition party "Civil Platform" Thun accused the ruling party in Warsaw of retreating from the democratic principles. In response, Czarnecki, a member of the ruling  Justice Party, commented on her statement in an interview with the portal.

There he said that "Mrs. Thun has played the role of a snitch against her own country." The deputy also stressed that "during the Second World War we had" szmalcownik "and today we have Rosa Thun and unfortunately it fits into a particular tradition." Czarnecki's statement was also published on his blog.

The word "szmalcownik" was used during the war for the Poles, who had blackmailed Jews for money, so as not to pass them on to the Nazis.

Did the unfounded claim that Turkey was about to join the EU swing the referendum?

james ker-lindsayEven in 2016 – before Turkey’s latest turn towards authoritarianism – the chances of the country joining the EU before 2030 were remote. Yet this did not prevent Vote Leave from claiming towards the end of the referendum campaign that Turkey was poised to join. This unfounded claim, writes James Ker-Lindsay (LSE), played into voters’ existing worries about immigration. It may even have swung the result.

More than a year and a half after the EU referendum, debate still rages as to what exactly led 52% of the population to vote for Brexit. While many argue that sovereignty was the issue that resonated most with Leave voters, others point to the claims about the amount of money that would supposedly be saved – and thus put into public services – if Britain left. Whatever the merits of these arguments, there can be no doubt that for a significant proportion of British voters the question of immigration was at the forefront of their decision.

Although EU membership had not traditionally been as great a concern for British voters as many suppose, the question of immigration became steadily more important from the mid-2000s onwards. Britain, unlike many other EU members, did not institute transitional controls on freedom of movement following the so-called ‘Big Bang’ enlargement of the EU in 2004. Early predictions of a relatively small number of arrivals proved to be way off the mark. By 2011, the number of people residing in the UK who had been born in Poland was officially 579,000. This was the second largest foreign-born community in Britain, after those born in India (694,000).

istanbul cafe

An Istanbul cafe in 2014. Photo: Pedro Szekely via a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence

Growing concern about immigration, particularly in Eurosceptic rural England, was effectively exploited by UKIP in its campaign against British membership of the EU. In 2014, it won the largest share of the vote (26.6%) in European Parliamentary elections – a result that eventually prompted David Cameron to begin his ill-fated effort to renegotiate Britain’s place in the Union, and then hold a referendum on its continued membership.

In early 2016, as the country prepared for the formal launch of the referendum campaign, it was very telling that UKIP continued to keep up its focus on immigration, airing a political broadcast focused solely on the prospect of Turkey’s membership of the European Union. In a video that received widespread criticism for its racist and Islamophobic undertones, UKIP claimed that Turkey would join the EU by 2020 and that as many as 15 million people would leave the country for the EU in the first ten years of its membership.

Of course, to anyone who was following Turkey’s accession process, these claims were unfounded. Although Turkey had begun accession talks in 2005, the pace of progress had slowed dramatically. In fact, increasing authoritarianism in the country had effectively put paid to any prospect of Turkish membership. Even if the country radically changed course, it seemed inconceivable that it could possibly join any time before 2030. And even if it did join, it would seem almost certain that the EU would institute a lengthy transitional control on freedom of movement.

At first, the official Vote Leave campaign conspicuously avoided the issue of immigration. Instead, it focused on economic and sovereignty arguments. However, as these were increasingly and effectively challenged by the Remain campaign, they too shifted the debate towards Turkey. This resulted in a controversial poster campaign claiming that ‘Turkey (76 million people) is joining the EU’.

By this point, even those Brexit-supporting Conservative MPs who had previously strongly advocated Turkish membership of the EU were lining up to highlight the threat this would pose to Britain. The most prominent of these was Boris Johnson, who even wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking for his guarantee that Turkey would never join the EU. (After the referendum, he again changed his mind and reverted to his previous support for Turkey’s accession.)

Although Cameron tried to play down the prospects of Turkish membership, he deliberately avoided going as far as to offer the lock that Leave campaigners were asking for. According to accounts by those close to the Remain campaign, this was due to concerns about the wider impact that this would have on British-Turkish relations. In many ways, this is one of the big ‘what ifs’ of the campaign. What would have happened if Cameron had issued a statement that Turkish accession would be subject to a referendum?

As the campaign entered its final stretch, the question of immigration was clearly a key issue for many voters. Moreover, analysis by Martin Moore and Gordon Ramsay at King’s College London on the press coverage at the time has shown that Turkey, far more than any other country, dominated this debate. The next country in the list, Albania, did not come close in terms of mentions.

Ultimately, the claim that Turkey was on course to join the European Union, and that this would lead to an almost immediate surge of immigrants into Europe, and thus the United Kingdom, seems almost certain to have shaped the views of a significant number of voters. Whether this was merely an additional reason to leave – or was the issue that swung it – is hard to say. However, given the significance or the immigration debate and Turkey’s central role in that discussion, and given how close the final result was, there is a good case to be made that the unfounded claims made by the Leave campaign about Turkish membership of the EU have ultimately cost Britain its own membership of the Union.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

James Ker-Lindsay is Professor of Politics and Policy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and Senior Research Fellow at LSEE-Research on South East Europe, European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science. This post is based on his article in Turkish Studies (Volume 18, Number 1, 2018).

George Soros Donated Money to Campaign For a Rerun of Britain’s EU Referendum

 George Soros, the billionaire who earned fame by betting against the British pound in 1992, contributed 400,000 pounds ($554,840) through his foundations to a campaign group which is seeking to halt Brexit, the group’s chairman said on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
“George Soros’s foundations have along with a number of other major donors also made significant contributions to our work,” Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who is chair of the Best for Britain campaign group.

“Indeed through his foundations he has contributed £400,000,” Malloch-Brown, who has previously worked in senior positions at the United Nations and Britain’s foreign ministry, said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Best for Britain aims to halt Brexit and secure a rerun of the 2016 referendum on EU membership. Soros’s contributions to the group were first reported in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Opponents of Brexit see leaving the EU as the biggest mistake in post-World War Two British history, and fear it will undermine the remaining financial and political clout that Britain still has.

Supporters of Brexit say it will free Britain from a German-dominated experiment in European unity and allow the economy to eventually thrive.

In the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million people, voted to stay.

Prime Minister Theresa May says Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019 and that there will not be a rerun of the referendum, though opponents of Brexit want another vote.

“We think the British people deserve a final say on the Brexit deal and believe the country has been led down a dangerous false turn,” Malloch-Brown said.

“This is a democratic and patriotic effort to recover our future and we welcome support for our efforts from many quarters,” he said.

A spokesman for Soros did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Soros used his Quantum Fund in 1992 to bet successfully that sterling was over-valued against the Deutsche Mark, forcing then-Prime Minister John Major to pull the pound out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

Soros, who was born in Hungary but made his way to London as Communists consolidated power in Budapest, said last year that Britain was approaching a tipping point that would see the economy slow to such an extent that Brexit might even be reversed.

The Race for Juncker’s Successor at the Helm of the European Commission is Fueling Tensions

The race for successor of Jean-Claude Juncker, heading the European Commission, has already begun. But the EU's twenty-eight member states are still far from agreeing on the rules of the game. Among the possible candidates to replace the Luxembourg representative in the autumn of 2019, the name of the current chief negotiator of the EU for Brexit, the Frenchman Michel Barnier, is most prominent. His candidacy was already under consideration from 2014, but the political family of the European People's Party (EPP, a right-wing formation with a majority in the European Parliament) then chose the current European Commission President.

Juncker was designated as the EPP leading candidate (SPP), for this procedure, which requires the European parties to promote the "leading candidate in the list" for the European elections. The idea of ​​this approach, adopted in 2014, is that the European Commission chairman must become the candidate of the party that led the election. The European Parliament, which appoints the President of the Commission by a vote, wants to use this method again. In doing so, it sees a guarantee of greater transparency and of strengthening its political legitimacy, as well as that of the Commission.

However, European treaties have entrusted Member States with the qualified majority to appoint the candidate for President of the European Commission, though the texts require from them a rather vague look at the " Parliament elections." But many European leaders, headed by Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, are opposed to this method - something they are also expected to remind at the summit in Brussels on 23 February. "In 2014, there was disappointment in many capitals because the procedure leading to the appointment of Juncker was not transparent enough," said a European source. According to some critics, this system has led to politicization of the Commission, which is considered harmful. Others fear the hypothetical rise of Eurosceptic parties in the European elections, which could lead to the election of a candidate from their ranks.

Faced with such ambiguity, MEPs plan to raise the tone of the plenary session in Strasbourg this week. "The European Parliament will reject any candidate for President of the Commission who is not proposed as a" leading candidate "in the European Parliament elections," warned German Manfred Weber, EPP Group Chairman in the European Parliament. And if the governments of the member states try to break this principle, he adds to President Macron, "they will have to explain why despite the great talk about the need for democratic change in Europe they are in practice not willing to give up on opacity and secrecy ".


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