How democratic is the EU?

How democratic is the EU?

Berkshire for Europe’s resident EU expert, Andrew Knapp, Emeritus Professor at the University of Reading, tackles the challenge raised so often by proponents of Brexit: that the EU is undemocratic.

The Kiss

I was working with a local painting group on the theme of Klimt’s painting, The Kiss, and we were asked to produce our own version of an embrace painted in Klimt’s style. I took a painting by Theophile Steinlen and adapted it.

While I was painting, it occurred to me that Klimt’s painting is far more predatory than romantic and, at the same time, I was whimsically reminded of Trump’s hair by the shape of Steinlen’s hat. I suddenly saw an opportunity to express the apparent seduction of our Brexit-obsessed government by a US-led economic fantasy as a substitute for our membership in the EU and the loss of all the rights that that entails. Mrs May looks conflicted in her response to Trump’s advances as the European crown slips off her head. Will she or won’t she succumb?

The attempted subjugation of Mrs May and our future independence by the wrap around Stars and Stripes in some fantasy, post-Brexit world market also alludes to the current revolt against sexual harassment. The #maytoo was a gift!

A hazy view from the mainland

“Dense Fog in the Channel: Continent isolated.”

This mythical British newspaper headline may never have existed, but it precisely illustrates the view from the mainland of a hazy state of confusion across the Channel. From the mainland, we see the United Kingdom retreating into a stifling fog of its own making, through which the mainland is squinting for glimpses of rationality. For the past six months I have watched the unfolding of events in the UK from my home in Leuven, Belgium where I live in a young, energetic, highly intelligent student community. They bring their own unique perspective to the debate on affairs in the UK. The emotional reaction is what you really notice – their attempt to puzzle out our self-imposed quarantine. In this article I will share their views and reactions towards the events taking place in the UK, and particularly the emotional response within this student community.

The view from the international community on the mainland

Firstly, there’s the fascination and bewilderment. My Europe is perplexed by what’s happening in the UK. Why, they wonder, does the population so passionately support such a destructive and divisive action? What do the people actually want to gain from Brexit? Why don’t they care about the damage to businesses and the economy? And ultimately, why did the Cameron Government trust a decision of such magnitude and complexity to an unprepared electorate?

Following the perplexity, there’s the sadness. My Europe is watching our brutal act of self-harm, and it brings no pleasure to watch it all unfold. There is sometimes a sense of hurt. The UK has attained a uniquely advantageous position within the Union: it has enjoyed the privilege of opting out of the monetary union, and the passport free Schengen zone; it has maintained sovereignty over monetary policy and justice and home affairs legislation; it is not bound by the public deficit cap set at 3% of GDP. In addition to its special status, the UK has prospered from EU membership. It has benefitted from free trade within the EU and had access to EU external trade agreements which have been negotiated on bilateral terms. EU law has tightened consumer protection and employment rights, set environmental and food quality standards, all of which contribute to the safety and wellbeing of UK citizens. The EU is one of the most powerful and influential actors in the global arena. Being a strong player within the Union, the EU provides a platform for the UK on that global stage. After the UK has profited so greatly from EU membership, my Europe is offended by the rejection.

The last emotion you notice is the shock. In the midst of such turmoil, why, they wonder, are the British public so complacent? Where is the resistance? Don’t they care that their economy is floundering? That the Chancellor has set aside £3 billion of tax payers’ money to cushion the economic blow, on top of the billions already wasted in the process of administering the act? Don’t they care that they are going to lose their power and influence in the global political arena? Don’t they care that while Europe continues to trade freely within itself and with its many external trade partners, the UK will become isolated from the world’s already complex network of trade links?

What’s also noticeable is what they don’t say. With all attention on government rhetoric, nobody appears to have heard the impassioned voices of the fervent anti-Brexit movement in the UK. And of course, nobody congratulates the UK on the ‘new opportunities’ that await. Nobody is impressed at this bold, reckless leap into the unknown. At best there is sometimes a sense of nostalgia. The EU will continue to thrive without the UK, but it won’t be the same. Europe is compassionate and sentimental. We will be missed.

The view from the British national on the mainland

So how do I respond to my Europe, as a British national, living on the mainland in an international community? My answer: the people don’t care because they don’t understand that they have been conned. After all, these dire consequences were known before the 23rd June 2016, but the media and pro-Brexit politicians have continued to manipulate the public view throughout the past 20 months since the referendum. The manipulation of public opinion has been conducted with masterful deceit. There was little ideological opposition to the EU before the referendum. Nobody explained why it would be so wonderful to be ripped out of the single market and customs union, what great fortunes would result from having our EU citizens’ rights annihilated. Indeed many of these inevitable outcomes were denied as ‘project fear’. Nationalist sentiments were stirred through claims to sovereignty and patriotism, with meaningless slogans promising to ‘take back control’. An anti-immigrant sentiment was whipped up with baseless rhetoric sketching a distorted picture of the UK at ‘breaking point’ with ‘mass immigration’, so scapegoating the very people whose contribution to our country has assured our public services, advanced our economy and enriched our diversity. And the majority of media sources have perfidiously added fuel to the doctrine, throwing in hyperbolic slurs which label pro-EU campaigners as anti-democratic ‘remoaners’ and politicians as ‘enemies’ or ‘traitors’.

The many advantages of EU membership have been twisted to support a skewed argument that we’ll somehow profit from our isolation. In any future trade agreement with the EU, the UK will have to maintain standards set by the EU, but without a voice in setting those standards; maintaining access to the single market will mean respecting the four freedoms. These conditions always existed; indeed the prominent promoters of the Leave campaign should be utterly disgraced by the reality that is now emerging. But instead of reflecting on these facts and considering whether this is the right way forward, the stance of the Leave supporters has grown stronger – ‘look at those EU bullies’, they say ‘enforcing their rules and quality standards. How lucky we are to be leaving the EU’. When you’re faced with such a warped view of reality, it’s not so difficult to understand why the people (especially the young who are going to be most brutally hit) are just rolling over and taking the beating.

Amidst the perplexity, the sadness, the hurt and the shock, the EU will reap any benefits it can afford. Brexit is bad for all of us, but from the view of the mainland, it is a British problem. Nobody likes it; nobody will profit from it. But crucially, nobody will be harmed more than the UK itself. The Eurosceptic sentiment which has swept over many parts of Europe in recent years, has subsided as it witnesses the chaos unfold in the UK. A growing sense of unity, of Europeanness is unfolding. To the blessing of other Eurosceptic member states, the UK jumped first. And no one else is about to follow.

Hania, Berkshire for Europe member now living in Leuven, Belgium

Time for a Groundswell?

A point of view offered by a local activist from Berkshire

A recent poll found 40% of 18-24 year-olds would be willing to campaign against Brexit in some form over the coming months ( That would be 2.8 million people from this age group alone. Yet I’ve spoken to so many young people, and older people too, who are horrified by Brexit but are doing nothing because they simply don’t realise there is anything they can do. Very few have heard of Best for Britain or Britain for Europe. They have no idea that there are any organisations campaigning to change course on Brexit, nor that it might be possible to do so. When they do hear it would be possible, many are greatly uplifted at the news. So how on earth can we allow a situation where citizens in a democracy with a fundamental right to seek a change of national policy are instead acting like prisoners on death row with no hope of appeal ? How on earth can we allow Brexit to go ahead when the majority don’t want it, just because so few realise they could still choose an alternative?

A game-changing groundswell against Brexit is currently waiting in the wings for the right cue to call it to centre stage. But will that cue ever come? This is how I dream it could happen: Please imagine for a moment that everyone in the country hears that popular big names have got together with youth campaigners and launched a new umbrella movement on Brexit. Let’s imagine that a host of popular figures, led by David Attenborough, JK Rowling, Brian May, and young campaigners, have stood up publicly to launch this umbrella movement which they have named “Hope in Unity”. The launch is well covered across national and social media. Everyone hears that Hope in Unity’s purpose is to campaign against the social and economic effects of Brexit and for a popular mandate to restore the UK’s full EU membership . They hear that the movement aims to renew not only the UK’s place in our regional community, but also to replace the growing inequality and intolerance in our society with growing solidarity and hope. They hear that a new umbrella “Supporters’ Base” website has been launched, underpinned by a whole network of pre-existing campaign groups. Memes go viral suggesting this might be the tipping-point for changing course on Brexit. All who agree with the movement’s aims are encouraged to register. From the Supporters’ Base website all these people can then access their Constituency Events Wiki, Special Interest Groups (eg under-18s, workers’ rights, NHS etc. ), access the Network Resource Catalogue, and potentially choose to join a Constituency Planning Forum. From the Constituency Events Wiki they would find info on all the street stalls, door knocking, leafleting, MP visits, “flash choirs”, media events, community events, training etc., both those already being organised on a limited scale by some brilliant grassroots groups, as well as advice on how to start these up and expand them. “Barnstorm”-style campaign training sessions could be rolled out online, to be undertaken at home with a group of friends or organised to do with others at a local meet-up in a cafe or pub. The Network Resources Catalogue would provide a searchable catalogue of creative ideas and downloadable, printable and orderable materials supplied by the various campaign organisations and a few by the umbrella network itself. Within a week of the launch hundreds of thousands of people have registered, and Hope in Unity “Join now!” posters are going up in windows across the country. Just imagine how such a visible and unified campaign could release a groundswell of new-found hope. People would start believing that change might be achievable. The national narrative will change as everyone sees that the younger generations will inevitably reverse Brexit in a future mandate. So the discussion becomes not a question of whether, but rather when, and after how much loss, the UK will renew its EU membership.

I believe this vision of the near-future is not just a dream but a real possibility. However, whether it actually happens will depend on visible popular demand for it. Public figures may be reluctant to put themselves forward, or even to respond to approaches from a particular group, but they may be more responsive to a plea from thousands of their fellow citizens. And equally, an initiative by an external figure or figures with widespread appeal and a grassroots mandate could bring together all the different groups. That is why I have started a petition for just such an umbrella launch to release all those millions currently imprisoned by a belief in Brexit Inevitability. We need the whole country to hear our calls for #TheSavingsOfUnion not #ExtraCosts, #WelfareState not #TaxHaven, #Protection not #Deregulation, #TradeDemocracy not #SecretSellOuts, #HumanRights not #LossOfAppeal, #Freedom not #Barriers, #Unity not #Enmity, #Influence not #Isolation, #Solutions not #Scapegoating, #AllOurVoices not #PressBaronPower, #OurSay4OurFuture not #LackOfFranchise, and #FullEUMembership not #PoorerDeal or #CliffEdgeCatastrophe. And who better to appeal to given the need to select, than JK Rowling, the author from whom the generations most opposed to Brexit learnt so much about sticking up for others, fighting prejudice and discrimination, the power of love and friendship over hate and arrogance, and the possibility of changing course? Then, for even more generations, David Attenborough has been the voice of wondrous discoveries. He must know the threats of Brexit deregulation to the environment, and having seen our continent at war and grown up with two refugee foster sisters, he has seen first-hand the worst effects of nationalism and scape-goating. As for May (the guitarist not the nation-wrecker), there are few with such ability to bring together and empower people to work as a team through songs like “We will Rock You” (sometimes now sung in rallies as “We are E.U”). Who better to bring together massive Unity Concerts to show friendship with the other 27 and make Britain’s young people visible to all in summer 2018? It is after all these young voices which most need to be heard on Brexit. They are the ones who would live with the worst consequences of a mandate from the grave. The petitioned “Our Future, Our Choice” was founded by a young student of EU and human rights law along with a young Bregrexiter. It already has connections with the major pro-European groups and recently landed an effective interview with Sky News. “Team Future” was founded by Manchester teenagers after the 2016 referendum as a response to being cut-out of the crucial decisions about their future, both during and since that vote. They want a say for those who will be most affected, i.e. young people, and in particular, Northern working class young people like themselves. Of course, there is already much great work being done by existing campaign groups, and this would underpin and determine the success of an umbrella campaign. That’s why the petition will also be delivered to campaign groups “Britain for Europe”, “Best for Britain”, “Another Europe is Possible”, “European Movement UK”, “INFacts”, “Open Britain”, “Healthier in the EU”, “Scientists for EU”, “Wales for Europe” and “Border Communities Against Brexit”.

Together, a coalition of sympathetic national treasures, determined young people, and a whole network of co-ordinated campaign groups. How else to break through onto the front page and release a truly grassroots groundswell of activism? And how else than that to defeat Brexit?

Kate Smith (mum of 2 young kids, SEN assistant, concerned citizen)

#HopeInUnity #groundswell #VOTErenEUal #PleaseTeamHufflepuff

When Brexit hits the NHS it will mean real pain for many

We often talk about the pain and distress caused by losing our job or not having enough money to see us through the week. If it’s a consequence of Brexit, this will probably be declared as being a small price for someone else to pay for the imagined benefits of leaving the EU. To such people, Brexit means that Britain can halt immigration and have money left over to spend on the NHS. But not only that has now been exposed as a false promise, but it has also revealed the real physical pain that will be caused for many by its damage to the NHS.

Without any government commitments on residence, Brexit is clearly bad news for EU qualified medical professionals who want to live in Britain and build a career in the NHS. But it is looking to be even worse news for those of us who cannot afford private medical care and rely on the NHS for all of our medical needs. We may not be personally affected by the anticipated job losses in a Brexit battered Britain, nor may we be worried about substantial price increases arising from the pound’s loss of value, but we will all feel the effects of a NHS that is starved of funds and manpower.

NHS figures already acknowledge that Brexit will result in a loss of staff originating from the EU. Around 4.5 per cent of the total NHS workforce of about 1.3 million comes from the EU. They work as doctors, nurses, health professionals such as radiologists and physiotherapists and also as the lower skilled health care assistants who keep the hospitals and care homes running. The NHS admits that it currently needs to recruit another 40,000 nurses. Nobody knows where they might be coming from but we can be pretty sure that it won’t be from the EU. Since the Brexit referendum, the NHS has confirmed that 10,000 staff from EU countries have already left and there is nothing to suggest that this trend will be reversed. In fact, since the referendum, there has been a 96 per cent drop in the number of nurses from the EU applying to work in the NHS. The newly hostile attitude to immigrants and the low value of the pound now make Britain an unattractive destination as a place to live and work. This is likely to persuade health industry workers from the EU and elsewhere in the world to keep away from the UK for the foreseeable future.

To some, the idea of 4.5 per cent of the NHS workforce possibly leaving to seek employment elsewhere may not sound like a big disaster as that figure can probably be absorbed. Unfortunately, that 4.5 per cent is not spread evenly across the country but is concentrated around London and the South East. The region’s health care network is therefore disproportionately dependent upon EU staff which means that any absence or reduction in workers will be far more noticeable.

It is important to remember that a high percentage of people attending hospital do so because they are in some form of physical pain. A broken ankle, a worn hip joint, a cancer that needs surgery, agonising kidney stones. Unlike the emotional pain of redundancies, these afflictions really hurt and due to the predicted staff shortages and funding cuts caused by Brexit, these people can expect to be enduring their pains for significantly longer.

A recent article in The Lancet has explained that after a ten-year financial squeeze imposed by the Conservative government, the NHS is not in any condition to put up a robust defence against its difficulties. Yet the effect of the NHS losing staff from the EU will mean more than just a reduction in manpower. For many of the NHS’s customers, it will amount to a genuine continuation of physical pain. The patients who found themselves waiting for hours on trolleys in the corridors outside A&E centres last winter can attest to knowing something about real pain. The signs are now that in future, patients must be resigned to even longer waits.

When a hospital is short of resources, whether staff or funding, everything slows down. If it relates to the predicted loss of the 10 per cent of doctors who come from the EU or of the lower skilled health care assistants who keep the hospitals functioning, any reduction in their number will affect the hospital’s ability to treat its patients.

It is important to note that this is not Project Fear. Just do the maths. When, due to its inability to recruit or retain staff from the EU, a care home is unable to take-in more residents, patients without independent support cannot be moved from their hospital beds. This means that the trauma victims in pain who are waiting in a hospital’s A&E must remain on their trolleys until a bed becomes available upstairs.

The same predicament affects local GP practices. If two GPs in a small surgery can deal with around 100 patients per day, there is no leeway if one of them decides to return to their home in the EU. Replacements can take months or years to find and the remaining doctor has no capacity for seeing more people in one day. This means that potential patients may be waiting for weeks of pain, discomfort or worry before they can have an appointment with a GP.

Watching loved-ones waiting in pain for an operation that is repeatedly postponed is likely to become a more real consequence of Brexit as the NHS struggles to cope with the increasing demand caused by an ageing population. As the Lancet article pointed-out, being a tax-funded system, any economic shocks that reduce tax revenues will have an impact on the NHS. Its funding may be ring-fenced by the Treasury at present but two thirds of NHS Trusts are already in deficit. They cannot be expected to compensate for the post-referendum devaluation of the pound which is increasing the cost of medicines and vital equipment. This can mean that potentially life-saving drugs may not be available to those who need them and their pain and suffering will continue.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) oversees medicines regulation in Europe and has become one of the first organisations to announce its plans move back to Europe due to the UK’s intention to leave the EU. Once a new medicine is approved by the EMA it becomes immediately available for clinical use throughout Europe. When the UK leaves the EU it will no longer have access to those new medicines and must quickly establish an approvals organisation of its own. This has happened to Switzerland which has discovered that the majority of new medicines only gain approval for use in the country after a six-month delay. Pharmaceutical companies prefer to have their products approved for the big markets such as the USA and the EU first. Small markets such as Switzerland and, potentially, the UK have a lower priority for costly and time-consuming approvals processes. In medicine, a six-month delay before a potentially life-saving drug becomes available is likely to be too long to wait for many families. Britain will be at the back of the queue for new medicines and is likely to remain there indefinitely.

When Nigel Farage surrendered to his lack of will-power and resumed smoking cigarettes, his excuse was that, thanks to his detailed knowledge of modern medicine, he believed that “the doctors have got it wrong about smoking.” He must now be hoping that he is right and that he will never need to call-upon the services of the NHS. However, as the instigator of Brexit he is probably fully aware of the consequences that his actions will have for ordinary people. If he subsequently discovers that doctors really did know more about lung disease than he did, we must not be surprised if we find that he has gone private.