Saturday, November 23, 2013


In recent days I have read a Tweet saying that if the next British General Election is fought on the issue of immigration then Labour will lose. I have also heard a report of a study on what the main election issues in 2015 will be. With the improving economy at the top of the list is immigration. So like it or not immigration into the UK will be hotly debated during the election campaign and Labour needs to be prepared.

It is right and proper that immigration should be openly discussed in Britain and people’s fears addressed. However there is a thin line between talking about immigration and that slipping over into xenophobic or racist attacks.

There are those on the far right of the Conservative ranks and in UKIP who are happy to discuss immigration dressed up as xenophobia. Indeed there are those in the present Conservative – Lib Dem coalition who are frightening people with tales of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians heading for our shores in 2014. This campaign reaches back to both of those countries where people feel they are the undeserved victims of racist attacks by our very own government.

This came to a head last week when MEPs’ Corina Cretu, who is vice-president of the S&D Group and Catalin Ivan, the head of Romanian delegation in European Parliament, sent an open letter to the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron. They voiced their country’s concern over the aggressive and populist way in which Great Britain regards the elimination of restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers. They have asked David Cameron to publicly condemn xenophobe and extremist messages launched by some politicians and in press campaigns, largely it has to be said in the Tory supporting media.

The letter stated: “We invite you to underline, in a firm and public message, the fact that Britain’s Government respects the European legislation and will cancel the restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers starting from January 1, 2014.” As far as I am aware Cameron is yet to respond.

The Romanian MEP’s criticized the ambiguity of Britain’s Government that encourages press campaigns against the rights and dignity of Romanian’s as European citizens. Corina Cretu and Catalin Ivan have condemned the racism and xenophobia of some political and public statements in Great Britain, pleading at the same time for condemnation without hesitation of such racist attitudes.

The two Romanian MEPs pointed to recently published data regarding the positive presence and the strong work ethic of immigrants in UK and believe the Prime Minister should use these facts to take a stand against extremist and xenophobe speeches directed towards Romanians. They referred specifically to a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report which indicates there is significant proof that immigrants bring increased value to production potential and to the level of demand in the UK’s economy, increasing the long term GDP. Also, 63 per cent of the CBI members stated that free movement of the workers in EU had a positive effect on their businesses. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of CBI members stated that immigrants had a negative impact on their businesses.

Catalin Ivan observes that the British Prime Minister should know these facts as he was present at the CBI conference.

In their open letter to Cameron the two Romanian MEPs stated: “We cannot accept all these deviant nuances of public speech towards extremism and xenophobia, especially when they are based on ridiculous exaggerations and on inducing the fear of immigrants for Britain’s citizens.”

Romania, like other former Communist Bloc countries in the EU, badly needs investment. Both these Romanian social-democrats want to encourage investors from UK to come to Romania and to create well-paid jobs so the two countries can work in partnership and not be at racist odds.

Whether the letter from Cretu and Ivan will receive a reply from David Cameron remains to be seen. Whether he steps in to put a stop to the xenophobic and racists attacks will be the litmus test of his personal beliefs. His actions will also set the tone for the wider immigration debate that the UK is heading for.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 22 2013).

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Next May the voters of the European Union will not only have the chance to elect their Euro MPs but if they vote for socialist and social democratic parties under the PES umbrella they will also be voting for Martin Schulz. Schulz is the agreed PES candidate for the post of EC President: should that grouping be in the majority he would replace Barroso.

A lot has to happen before that scenario falls in to place but if determination and a commitment to return the EU to the people of Europe counts for anything then Schulz has made a good start. He may also be the only candidate for EC President offered to the voters.

I first heard Martin Schulz speak in Sofia in June at the PES Congress. He was then, as he is now, President of the European Parliament. He articulated a clear vision for reforming the EU which struck a chord. Then he was only spoken of as a potential PES Candidate for EC President. Since then at least 20 of the PES parties have backed him and hence he is the candidate designate to be confirmed in Rome at the end of February.

Last week I had the chance to hear Martin Schulz speak again as candidate and what’s more in his native Germany to Germans. It was fascinating to hear his own party’s take on his campaign. That was set out by Achim Post, a leading SPD politician, who also happens to be the Secretary General of PES.

It was clear at the PES meeting in Leipzig just hours ahead of the SPD conference that party members are very proud that Schulz had been supported by parties Europe wide. However as Post pointed out Germans are fully aware that Germany under Merkel is far from popular in Europe and hence the need to differentiate between her CDU and the SPD. This will almost certainly be a difficult task as it is likely that the SPD will form a coalition with the CDU to govern Germany: so Schulz will be linked to the style of governance he opposes.

For his part Schulz has made it very clear that if elected as EC President he will hold the post in the name of the people of Europe and not the Heads of Governments of the EU. Next May not only will there be a new European Parliament but if Schulz is elected a hurricane of change will blow through Brussels.

So what does Schulz stand for? He talks of a more social Europe. “The EU needs to be reformed. It is neither socially just nor effective. It has no solidarity and threatens to disintegrate into pieces.” Schulz has promoted European unity as a unique project of civilization for peace, freedom and justice on the continent. In the forthcoming European elections this is threatened by backward-looking, ultra-nationalist parties:  “We have to tell them - nationalism in Europe has always been just war, destruction and misery.”

Schulz is leading the fight against youth unemployment where some Member States are stagnating at record levels of jobless young people. “We are the richest continent in the world and allow that in some countries up to 50 percent of young people are unemployed,” he told SPD delegates in Leipzig. His SPD has voted for the fight against youth unemployment to be the top priority along with growth impulses.

Schulz’s key message is for more democracy so he is fighting for increased democratic participation, equality between men and women, peace internally and externally, and a social Europe. In addition in times of digital transformation the need for privacy and civil liberties get a high priority. More will emerge in the coming weeks and months.

Andreas Herrmann is a German member of PES, the SPD and a journalist. What is his take on Schulz the candidate? “In my view Martin is a real European. He grew up in the frontier region between Germany, France and Belgium and has experienced there growing together from daily life. I live in a similar region with borders to Poland and the Czech people. That’s why I know how much work has to be invested even on regional level to bring people together and secure peace. Martin is the man who can bring this very human bottom up approach to the highest level of European policy and that’s why he is the right person for Commission President.”

So to France where the Parti Socialiste considers itself the big beast of European socialist politics. Pierre Kanuty is responsible for international affairs for the PS and he said the party supports “Martin Schulz as a PES candidate for the European Commission. We have been in favour of such a decision in the previous European elections of 2009. We thought the European socialists have to embody their political programme for Europe in a strong progressive leadership. It was coherent to propose an alternative to conservatives in Europe and then have someone else other than Barroso to vote for. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, who was in favour of this idea and who was the perfect candidate, did not get a majority among PES leaders and heads of government as a candidate. Learning from its mistakes, PES decided in autumn 2009 to have a common candidate.”

He continued: “Europe is about ideas and people who can show there is an alternative to the hysteria of austerity and to conservatives. Martin Schulz is a good candidate. As president of the European parliament, the only democratically elected body of the EU, Martin was determined enough to put his foot in the door as the Council and the Commission used to have the last words.”

Final word to Pierre on the fact that Schulz is German? Kanuty observed: “Some may think it makes a lot of Germans around. But unlike Merkel’s CDU which dreams of a German Europe, Schulz is committed to a European Germany.”

Vive la différence!

Vive la liberté et la démocratie!

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 17 2013 with versions in other publications)

Friday, November 8, 2013


On Wednesday November 6 a very significant event took place in Brussels. Martin Schulz was confirmed as the Party of European Socialists (PES) candidate designate for the European Commission President. So how does this impact on you? The answer is in a very big way.

Next May all the voters of the 28 nations that make up the European Union will go to the polls to elect the MEPs who will sit in the European Parliament. Now here comes the difference. In 2010 only the 488 MEPs voted for the European Commission and its President. Martin Schulz has stated: “In 2014 I want 390 million citizens to have their say.”

All the European socialist and social democratic parties that may up PES, the grouping that Labour Party MEPs sit under in the European Parliament, have agreed a common candidate for the Presidency and he will campaign in all 28 European Member States ahead of the May 2014 elections.

The fact that 28 national parties have been able to agree on a common candidate is a miracle in itself as those on the left are not noted for working together in such a way. However PES is the first and could be the only party grouping that actually presents its candidate for the EC Presidency to the voters.

This means that if you vote for a socialist candidate and if the PES group is in the majority across Europe after the elections there will be no stitched up backroom deals as in the past as Martin Schulz will be your EC President.

Over the next four months, Schulz will engage with Socialist and Social Democrat Member Parties before he officially becomes the ‘common candidate’ at the PES election Congress on 1 March to be held in Rome.

Speaking in Brussels after the meeting to adopt him as the PES candidate designate Schulz stated: “I am honoured and humbled to receive the confidence and support of PES” adding “I will travel to PES Member Parties to listen to members concerns and ideas.”

Schulz observed that many are reluctant to engage in this process adding; “They say that Europe ‘doesn’t need a face that people can vote for’, or that ‘the Commission shouldn’t be politicised’. To those complaints I have very simple answers. As millions of EU citizens who have felt the consequences already know, the European Commission has long been politicised. Unfortunately it has been the politics of the elite. It is time for a connection between EU institutions and EU citizens. And it is time to build a Europe that people can invest in because they know it invests in them. The best way to get the EU working for people again is to first involve them”.

It was back in 2009 that PES took the decision to deliver a democratically selected candidate for the 2014 European Elections. PES treasurer and Chair of the PES Working Group Candidate 2014, Ruairi Quinn, said: “Today we have taken a huge step. Now we must invest in and engage with our Member Parties to raise awareness among our grass root membership. Then we will be ready to bring a renewed sense of accountability to the electorate.”

Martin Schulz was nominated by his own party, the German Social Democrats (SPD). He is currently the President of the European Parliament and I briefly met him then heard him speak at the PES Conference in June in Sofia. In his early working life he was a trainee in a bookshop becoming a bookshop owner: my kind of politician. Next week, God willing, I will be at the SPD conference in Leipzig where Martin Schultz will speak. I will report on what he had to say in a future article.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 7 2013).

Friday, October 4, 2013


I must admit to being bewildered by the present Daily Mail campaign to vilify the father of the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Given the profile of the Mail’s readership I presume the majority already view Ed as Red so exactly what is to be gained from presenting his father as a man who “hated Britain”, which he clearly didn’t, is beyond me.

Certainly his father Ralph was a prominent Marxist thinker but we knew that even before we knew Ed and David. Indeed I have visited his grave in Highgate cemetery located very near to that of Karl Marx himself. Whilst Marx’s resting place is a monument that of Miliband is understated: indeed if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t find it. The Daily Mail were and did and placed a photograph of it online labelled “Grave Socialist” – an act it has now conceded as an “error of judgement”.

In his right of reply piece in the Daily Mail this week Ed Miliband said his father, a Jewish refugee fled Belgium aged 16 to escape the Nazis. He “loved” Britain and served in the Royal Navy.

I should add that it was also whilst studying at the LSE that he developed as a formidable Marxist, yes a Marxist but a British Marxist. He has been described as "one of the best known academic Marxists of his generation", on a par with Perry Anderson, Eric Hobsbawn and E P Thompson.

So whilst the Daily Mail might want to make a link between the Father Marxist and the Red Son, both of which again we knew, to suggest that Ed’s father “hated Britain” and then to raise question marks over his children’s loyalty is beyond the pale. When young Ralph wrote:  "When you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are ... To lose their empire would be the worst possible humiliation" he was talking of the British insular nationalist tendency and contempt for the Continent in general both ironically exemplified by the Daily Mail to this day.

Although Ed Miliband does not share his father’s political beliefs the Daily Mail justifies its attack on the basis that Ralph may have influenced his son. So now let’s listen to the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith who has launched an outspoken attack on the Daily Mail in the wake of the newspaper’s relentlessly hostile coverage of Ed Miliband’s late father.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Tuesday, the Tory backbencher accused the Mail and its owners, the Rothermere family, of doing "more to pursue the Nazi cause prewar" than any other publication. The Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston echoed the views of countless Twitter users by raising the Mail’s past associations with fascism and Nazism.

He said it was "odd for a newspaper to judge a man on the basis of the history of his family when that newspaper is owned by a family that did more to pursue the Nazi cause prewar than any other". 

Referencing Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere and proprietor of the Mail, who lavished praise on the Nazis in the run-up to the Second World War, Goldsmith remarked: "[Joseph] Goebbels himself wrote endless documents about Rothermere, describing him as being a strong ally and strongly against the Jews. Those are the words he used. ‘Strongly against the Jews’. Has Rothermere apologised? Have we ever had an apology from the Mail, or the Mail group, in relation to their history." 

The current Viscount Rothermere, Jonathan Harmsworth, is the chairman of DMGT, the publisher of the Daily Mail. Goldsmith continued: "Maybe they’ll say it doesn’t matter don’t judge a paper or current person on the back of their history. In which case. Leave the guy alone." I know not whether Jonathan Harmsworth is strongly against the Jews or pro-fascist I presume not. I do know though that he owns a rampant right-wing rag so it is legitimate, because his own paper says so, to ask was he influenced in his thinking by Rothermere. 

As I write the Mail group having apologised for the grave photo is now grovelling because a reporter was sent to a memorial service for Miliband’s uncle. I believe staff are being suspended: but fear not at the end of the day both Harmsworth and editor Dacre will still be firmly in place.

When the Miliband row first broke both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg were quick to back Ed in defending his father. They could see where this was going. Not so the hapless Michael Gove. Gove, he who is of the opinion that people go to food banks because “they are not best able to manage their finances,” unlike Ralph Miliband, is obviously not one of the major intellects of his generation.

Gove also believes the Daily Mail has nothing to apologise to Miliband about and newspapers have the right to offend. Stupid man! Up to now a politician’s family, certainly the parents and grandparents, have been protected from scrutiny and attack by the media. What Cameron and Clegg immediately saw but Gove is blind to is whilst it is Miliband today - if this attack on his father is allowed to stand whose father is next? Or mother come to that or granny. Cameron’s? Clegg’s? Gove’s? Osborne’s? What did they say as teenagers that can be brought to bear against today’s politicians on the basis of what they said or did could have influenced them.

Make no mistake we are on a slippery slope. No surprise the Daily Mail is responsible for setting up this fairground  slide: but it is boggled eyed Gove who is the first down the slide on the mat waving as he goes like Toad of Toad Hall.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 4 2013 and in other publications).

Thursday, September 26, 2013


This afternoon (Tuesday) Labour Leader Ed Miliband made his keynote speech to his party’s annual conference in Brighton. Speaking as is now usual for more than hour without notes Miliband set out his vision of how “Britain can do better” under Labour, with an economy that works for “ordinary people once again”.
Whereas his previous two party addresses have established who Ed Miliband was and to set out his “One Nation” philosophy this speech added the message “Britain can do better” under Labour to those themes.
His words were given rapturous standing ovations as did his departure from the conference hall with wife Justine at his side as they walked through the cheering delegates to the sound of loud music followed by the media pack. However what was important for the Labour Leader is not whether the delegates “got it” but the nation at large.
Miliband pledged that his Labour Government would freeze gas and electricity bills for every home and business in the UK for 20 months if it wins the 2015 election. He added that energy firms had been overcharging “for too long” and it was time to “reset” the energy market.
He suggested he would support measures to give 16 and 17 year old votes in general elections. 
Miliband also promised Labour would build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020. 
The Labour Leader told delegates and the watching TV audience: “David Cameron talks about Britain being in a global race. But what he doesn’t tell you is that he thinks the only way Britain can win is for you to lose.” That means “the lowest wages, the worst terms and conditions, and the fewest rights at work - a race to the bottom. The only way we can win is in a race to the top.”
Miliband peppered his statements with the tag line: “We're Britain, we're better than this” earning cheers and applause from Labour’s activists. He received standing ovations for defending the NHS and promising to axe “the bedroom tax” - and tackled Tory criticism that he lacks leadership skills head-on, saying: “If they want to have a debate about leadership and character - be my guest.”
Echoing the message from his Shadow Cabinet colleagues over the week he told the party faithful, he had stood up to Murdoch, to vested interests on media regulation and the tobacco lobby as well as made the right call on Syria.
To find out what others thought I asked Lord Maurice Glasman who is a Miliband guru. He told me: “Ed finally defines his direction. Regional banks, living wage, interest rate cap, organizing, break up of oligopoly” all of which has been promised by Labour and Ed at this week’s conference. Yet Glasman also asks: “Can he hold the position?”
Next on my list was Neal Lawson who is Chairman of Compass which campaigns for The Good Society. He stated: “Ed’s speech was well delivered. Good lines and some good policy. But no theme or argument to carry a debate.”
So how do others see us? Amongst the international delegates was Terry Connolly. As his name suggests he is a member of Ireland’s Labour Party and organizes the PES activists in Europe. His view is very positive. “It was a powerful speech that showed that Ed Miliband is ready to become UK Prime Minister. He showed a strong commitment to the social democratic ideals of universality and outlined a clear vision of the future of the UK, a future which will be shaped by the Labour Party.”
Whether that future is shaped by Miliband and Labour is down to the great British voter.

(This article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on September 24 2013 and in other publications)


Gibraltar captured the news headlines in August after the Spanish Government imposed lengthy eight hour queues to enter and leave the Rock as part of its age old campaign to regain sovereignty.  However my article today leaves aside that 300-year-old dispute and instead deals with events being played out in a dusty committee room of the House of Commons. This centre’s on the battle to ensure Gibraltarians are allowed to vote in the Conservative’s EU In-Out Referendum should the Tories be returned to power at the next UK election.

Gibraltar has been a member of the EU since January 1 1973 by virtue of Britain’s membership. However although Gibraltarians are full European citizens they were denied a vote in the European Elections until the 2004 poll. This followed a ten-year legal fight by Gibraltarians which culminated with the European Court ruling that as European Citizens they had the fundamental right to vote in the Euro elections. The UK then added Gibraltar to the South West England Constituency where it sits today.

A cynic may say there are two facts that may colour the Conservative Party’s seeming reluctance to include Gibraltar in its EU In-Out referendum. The first is that in the 2009 European Elections Gibraltar was the only area amongst all the UK Constituencies where the vote for Labour increased.

The second is that Gibraltar is very pro-Europe and indeed the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would be politically and economically disastrous for the Rock. Hence if an In – Out Referendum is held in 2017 it is likely that Gibraltarians will vote massively to continue EU membership. True Gibraltar only has around 20,000 votes but in a tight election that total could help swing the election in favour of staying in the EU.

The whole concept of the 2017 referendum is a bizarre piece of legislation. It is not the Conservative – Lib Dem Government that is proposing it but it comes in the form of a Tory private member’s bill. It would only be enacted if a Conservative Government was returned. It has little to do with the EU but rather is a tactic to fend off UKIP at the next General Election and to keep Tory Euro-sceptics onside.

The job of the current Gibraltar Government is to ensure Gibraltarians are part of any referendum with full voting rights. A general election will have been held in Gibraltar before the 2017 date comes around so it will be for the next Government to deal with the actual referendum and its campaign.

In off the record chats with Gibraltar Government officials I have been told that the UK has given the impression that Gibraltarians would be allowed to vote in the referendum. However there is nothing in writing and the current bill being discussed in Committee at the House of Commons, the Conservative Private Member’s Bill, does not allow for Gibraltarians to vote.

The Conservative Minister for Europe David Lidington had the chance to clear up the matter last week when he addressed the committee stage of the Bill. He said that regardless of whether or not Gibraltar is included in the In-Out referendum on the EU, which has yet to be determined, the UK should consult the Government of Gibraltar to fully understand its views as Gibraltarians would be affected by the decision either way.

Indeed they would Mr Lidington but asking the Gibraltar Government its views is a far cry from allowing Gibraltarians, as British and European citizens, to vote and is simply not acceptable. The suspicion that the Tories intend to deny Gibraltarians the vote is strengthened by the fact that Lidington did not take the opportunity when he had it to state categorically that Gibraltar would be allowed to participate which would have cleared up all doubt.

Instead it has been left to Lidington’s shadow, Labour Europe Minister Emma Reynolds and her team to fight Gibraltar’s corner. Reynolds is worried that the bill as currently drafted fails to appreciate the particular and unique legal and constitutional position of Gibraltar as both a self governing British Overseas Territory and as part of the European Union.

As the Bill is currently drafted, the entitlement to vote in the proposed referendum will be restricted to “persons who, on the date of the referendum, would be entitled to vote as electors at a parliamentary election in any constituency.”

Whilst Gibraltarians are entitled to vote in European Parliamentary elections as part of the South West England Constituency they are self governing and not represented in the UK’s Parliament. The people of Gibraltar would therefore not be able to vote on whether to remain or leave the European Union should a referendum take place. There is also the prospect of Gibraltar having to leave the European Union, alongside the UK, without its people having had a say. Labour has proposed two key amendments: the first to ensure that Gibraltarians as British citizens are included and the second that Gibraltar’s result is declared separately. Will the Tories take note? No sign so far!

For Gibraltar this is a two-fold issue. Gibraltarians, as European Citizens, must be allowed to vote on their future in Europe. Withdrawal would have important negative economic implications for Gibraltar.

Gibraltar’s successful business model has taken the best part of the past forty years to develop as Gibraltarians have matured into their role in Europe. In an address to the Fabian Society in London in April Gibraltar’s socialist Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, stated: “Our success in tourism, bunkering, telecoms, financial services and gaming as well as the many other sectors of our economic activity depends on our membership of the EU giving us unimpeded access to the Single Market in services and free movement of people and capital.” He added: “Now would be the wrong to time to change one of the few successful economic models in Southern Europe.”

The prospect of Gibraltar’s economy being destroyed by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, via a referendum in which Gibraltarians as British and European Citizens had no say, would be disastrous for Gibraltar and disastrous for our concept of democracy. It is the duty of the Conservative-led Government and the Conservative Party to ensure that does not happen.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on September 16 2013 with a version also in the Gibraltar daily, Panorama).

Saturday, August 10, 2013


In March I attended a Party of European Socialists conference in Budapest. Although the event dealt with Europe-wide issues Hungary was specifically chosen to show solidarity with the MSzP, the country’s socialist party.

There are fears that democracy is under attack in Hungary from the centre right Fidesz government of Viktor Orbán: this is an issue which has preoccupied the EU for some time.

On my way to a MSzP rally I found myself by accident walking with jackbooted supporters of the far-right Arpad. Four alleged members of this organisation were recently convicted of murdering six Roma gypsies between 2008 and 2009. I detailed the experience in my London Progressive Journal at the time. Fidesz and Arpad are both affronts to our understanding of democracy.

The President of PES is the Bulgarian BSP leader Sergei Stanishev. A general election had just been called in his country in March and he shocked PES delegates in Budapest by asking them to come Bulgaria to act as monitors on polling day. He said that when talking to other EU leaders they were in disbelief when he told them that free and fair elections could not be guaranteed in a member State, his country. My later investigations showed this had been the case in Bulgaria for many years. Even Stanishev concedes he did not do enough to tackle corruption when he was prime minister.

Before I went to Bulgaria as one of those election monitors in May I wrote again in the LPJ begging the question how was this country allowed to join the EU before it could demonstrate it was fully democratic. I have since revisited Bulgaria in June, again documented in a LPJ article and have to report that democracy is in a very fragile state indeed.

As soon as I knew I would be going to Bulgaria for the elections I made contact with Transparency International, which has been working in that country for a number of years. TI set out a plan for free and fair elections before the May poll which were signed up to by some, largely ignored by others even those who signed on the dotted line.

The new Bulgarian Government has undertaken to make changes to the Electoral Legislation and TI has submitted a lengthy report on what practices it wants to see implemented. At the start of this document it states: “The monitoring of the election process conducted by Transparency International - Bulgaria in 2013 identified some recurrent deficits– a dominant share of irregularities in the organisation, unlawful practices of controlling the will of voters and vote-buying, violations of the rules for campaigning that go unpunished.” It then goes on to list five main groupings of actions that it deems to be necessary to bring about democracy:

I. Changes in the electoral legislation to ensure a new approach to compiling the electoral rolls; lowering the strict criteria for candidate registration; ensuring wide and free of charge access of registered candidates to the media; and introducing guarantees for efficient functioning of the electoral administration bodies.

II. Changes in the practices of institutions vested with powers in relation to the election process to bring about a more efficient collaboration among them.

III. Building the capacity of the elections administration at the lowest level where the main deficits in the election process have been identified – namely the election committees at the level of polling stations.

IV. Changes in the media environment to ensure the principle of political pluralism, wide access of registered candidates to media coverage, adequate provision of information and guarantees against monopolistic positioning in the media market.

V. Ensuring consensus among the political parties regarding the actual implementation of measures against unlawful practices in the election process. This consensus should be part of a larger-scale transformation in the way political parties function, thus ensuring that the Bulgarian political parties truly represent the interests of their voters, and genuinely abide by the established democratic standards thus contributing to these standards being followed in the overall political life of the country.

So it is quite clear that Bulgarian standards of democracy do not meet EU norms. There are real fears that Hungary will fail too when it comes to its own general election next year. They are not alone: there are other New Europe countries in the same plight.

In Spain there is a widespread collapse in the trust in democracy, largely brought about by political corruption. You can add Greece and Portugal to that list who both scored ahead of Spain in a TI corruption survey. Other EU States from Old Europe can probably identify similar voter concerns even if the voting will be free and fair.

Nor is this just a matter of internal concern for each of the member States of the EU. Next May Europeans will go to the polls to elect a European Parliament. Bulgaria, Hungary and other nations where there are serious concerns over the electoral process will participate. Hence some MEPs taking their seats in the European Chamber may be there, not because the people elected them freely and fairly but because the vote was rigged. Indeed that will almost certainly be the case. The European Parliament will be devalued if it cannot be the true voice of the people of Europe – and in those circumstances it can’t. So the EU cannot turn a blind eye and pretend this isn’t happening or doesn’t matter.

Let me quote from the EU itself. It grandly states: “The European Union believes that democracy and human rights are universal values that should be vigorously promoted around the world. They are integral to effective work on poverty alleviation and conflict prevention and resolution, in addition to being valuable bulwarks against terrorism. Having come into force on 1 January 2007, the Europeam Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights is the concrete expression of the EU's intention to integrate the promotion of democracy and human rights into all of its external policies.”

A fine ideal. However might I suggest that the EU starts off by integrating “the promotion of democracy and human rights” in its own member States before it worries about taking the message to the world. As things stand elections in many parts of the EU are not free and fair: so it does not have the moral right to lecture anyone.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on August 10 2013).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


One-off opinion polls can be dismissed: but when various polls from different sources set a trend we have to look at them very seriously indeed. Over the past months I have written a number of articles for the London Progressive Journal reflecting the collapse in Spain in the people’s trust in their politicians, the political parties and now most worrying of all in democracy itself.

Several weeks ago Transparency International in a survey reported 86 per cent of Spaniards believed their politicians to be corrupt. Now the latest poll from Egopa covering Andalucía suggests they are fast giving up on democracy too. If you remove democracy, what do you have left: a dictatorship?

The Egopa study carried out by a division of the University of Granada showed that the people of Andalucía take a negative view of politics. Indeed in July 74.5 per cent voiced a negative view of politicians and their parties, the highest level since the surveys began in 2007. It is also very close to the Transparency International findings for all of Spain.

The most serious problem is that the disenchantment on the part of the public with their politicians has now transferred to a disapproval of how democracy itself functions. Of those questioned 83 per cent say they had little or no satisfaction with the functioning of democracy, a level that has grown significantly since 2008 when the figures was just 35 per cent.

However the positive news for PSOE is that if elections were held now in Andalucía, which has its own regional government, then the socialist party would win with 36 per cent of the votes. This gives them a seven point lead over the centre-right Partido Popular, which has been rejected by voters due to their handling of the country’s economy and the fallout from the Bárcenas corruption scandal. The PP would now take just 29 per cent of the votes with the far left Izquierda Unida the biggest gainers riding high on 18.7 per cent.

The fall of grace of the PP has been dramatic down to just 29 per cent from a survey level of 48.9 per cent in the summer of 2011. The PSOE vote is slightly up over the two year period from 34.3 per cent. Far left Izquierda Unida has tripled its support over the same period as has the UPyD from to 6.7 per cent from 2.3.

The “political sympathy” level for the IU now exceeds that for the PP (15.8 per cent against 13.6) but both are behind PSOE on 29.5.

If an election was held now only 50.7 per cent of people in Andalucía would bother to vote, the lowest level since 1982. The performance of the PSOE – IU Andalucía government is rated as bad or very bad by 58 per cent of Andaluces, which again is the highest level since these surveys were started in 2007. So when you look deeply at the support figures for the parties you seen they are frighteningly low: the fact is Spaniards have turned their backs on all politicians be they right, left or centre.

This disillusionment with politicians and democracy is a very toxic mix indeed. As we currently see there is a Spanish Government largely out of control listening to nobody including its own people and party.

The current crisis between the Spanish Government and Gibraltar is not perceived by Spaniards as being over the sovereignty of the territory but as a frantic attempt by Madrid to distract attention away from the Bárcenas corruption scandal than envelopes the Partido Popular and the Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Bárcenas was the PP treasurer with millions stashed away in secret bank accounts abroad. Rajoy, who supported his treasurer, is mired in the perception of corruption. Bárcenas insists he made him and other PP top politicians illicit payments, and as a result because he refuses to resign the prime minister is isolated by the other parties in Parliament.

In a Spain of record high unemployment, a severe economic crisis, thousand on thousand losing their homes but still owing the banks for their mortgages, of countless homeless, the need for communal kitchens to feed hungry men, women and children, food banks for disadvantaged families and used clothing for those who have nothing, Spaniards are not going to stand by and let their corrupt politicians get away with it.

They see the attempts by Rajoy and his Foreign Minister Margallo to confront Gibraltar as a cheap attempt to divert their attention. As one Spanish newspaper asked on Saturday: do they think we are stupid? No Spaniards are not: but they are very angry indeed and their politicians will pay the price. The question is: if democracy goes, what then?

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on August 6 2013 with other versions in various publications)

Monday, July 29, 2013


No Gibraltarian and come to that anybody living in the real world will believe the confrontations at sea last week over the reef laying and the six hour car queues to leave Gibraltar at the weekend were anything but linked. Thanks to the world media from the BBC to Fox News much of the rest of the world now knows that too. Even Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Foreign Office issued urgent protests to Madrid.

The confrontation started last Wednesday when a tug was laying concrete blocks in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters between the North Mole and the runway. Nor was this action a surprise because the creation of reefs in different parts of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, as part of Gibraltar’s marine protection strategy, was announced when the Government published the fishing report. These reefs will increase biodiversity and provide refuge for many marine species.

This was not some whacky idea dreamed up by Environment Minister Dr John Cortes over a plate of calamari but approved science. So whilst the Andalucía Government accuses Gibraltar of potentially damaging the environment it has emerged that Sevilla has created 480 square kms of exactly the same reef structures off its own coastline – a coastline that it shares with Gibraltar.

So why has Andalucía done this? It has installed 25 artificial reefs over the period 1989 to 2011to protect the marine environment and promote traditional fishing methods. These being more selective allow the regeneration of fishing resources and to ensure rational exploitation.

The whole scheme has cost 12 million euros and whilst Andalucía has paid 25 per cent of the cost the balance has come from EU fisheries funds – in other words EU tax payers throughout the community.

Andalucía has installed these reefs which contribute to the protection of the coastal zones and some of these are of high biological interest just as Gibraltar’s waters are. Most importantly they are also a defence against overfishing.

The reefs prevent the use of drag nets which are not authorized and their installation preserves the ecological value of the sites. It also promotes the breeding of many species of interest to fishermen. Once the number of these fish increases it is possible for them to be caught in a sustainable manner.

Perhaps somebody needs to sit down and explain all of this to the owner of the “Divina Providencia”, which fishes illegally in Gibraltar’s waters and the neighbouring La Línea and Algeciras fishing communities. The Andalucía Government, which is a socialist and far left coalition, should be asking itself a lot of uncomfortable questions on this issue too.

All of that being so the actions of the Guardia Civil at sea last Wednesday and Thursday and also of Spain in protesting against Gibraltar’s reef laying had nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with their claim over Gibraltar’s waters. Sovereignty in other words. Yet Gibraltarians and indeed the UK Government knew that anyway.

Hence we move on to Friday and the weekend when Spain again shot itself in the foot by making Gibraltarians, Spaniards, EU citizens and other nationals queue in their cars in the blistering heat for up to seven hours to cross the border in to La Línea.

Whatever argument Spain may have about Gibraltar protecting the environment, and on the face of it there is none, all the world has now seen the true face of the Partido Popular Government in Madrid. Nobody believes the queues had anything to do with the search for contraband but everything to do with Gibraltar having stood up for its internationally recognised rights. Its territorial waters are recognised by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea so it is Spain and not Gibraltar that is the law breaker.

Spain has been shamed, Gibraltar’s environment is better protected and Gibraltar moves on whilst Madrid shows that it is Franco’s heart that that provides the beat of Rajoy’s Government.

(Photograph: Gibraltar’s Environment and Health Minister, Dr John Cortes, and Culture – Sports Minister Steven Linares hand out water to queuing motorists waiting to enter Spain on Saturday)

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on July 29 2013).